Sunday, August 27, 2006


What’s blooming in the area: Apache plume, winterfat, lance-leaf yellow brush, datura, fields of golden eye, tahokia daisy, stickleaf, white evening primrose, velvetweed, horseweed, toothed spurge, pigweed, ragweed, Russian thistle, white sweet clover, golden hairy aster, goldenrod, bigleaf globeflower, purple mat, bindweed, roses, sweet pea, purple phlox, new flowers on bouncing Bess, canna, heavenly blue morning glory, cardinal climber, trumpet creeper, silverlace vine, Maximilian, native and farmer’s sunflowers, muhly ring and black gramma grasses. Hay cut.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Black-eyed Susan, blanket flower, lance-leaf coreopsis, chocolate flower, perky Sue, Hartweg evening primrose, fern-leaf yarrow, Mexican hat, yellow cosmos, creeping zinnia, nasturium, butterfly weed, chrysanthemum, miniature roses (Sunrise, Rise and Shine).

Looking east: Yellow evening primrose, garlic chives, California poppy, crackerjack marigold, tall zinnias, winecup, floribunda (Fashion), large flowered soapwort, pink bachelor button, Shirley poppy, sweet alyssum.

Looking south: Small zinnias, crimson rambler morning glory, sensation cosmos, heath aster, blaze, rugosa and rugosa hybrid (Elisio) roses, tamarix.

Looking west: Perennial four o’clock, purple coneflower, white phlox (David), larkspur, frikarti aster, lead plant, veronica (Goodness Grows) catmint, sea lavender, Russian sage, ladybells, purple ice plant, caryopteris.

Bedding plants: Dalhburg daisies, marigolds, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunias, profusion zinnia.

Animal sightings: Small green hummingbird, quail family, small chartreause bird with blank and white tail eating yellow cosmos seeds, middle sized brown bird, baby gecko, worm, bees on sedum, ladybug on horseweed, ants, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, flies, horse, sheep.

Weather: Rain Sunday, Monday morning, early Friday morning and spitting attempts yesterday; heavy dews on other days.

Weekly update: Last Sunday I transplanted piñon trees that had germinated around the house. When I tried this two years ago, I did it during a rainy spring. They weren’t ready for last year’s drought. This time I waited until rain had soaked the ground and there was a chance temperatures would be cooler.

I never have much luck moving trees because it’s so hard to get roots, and these were about 18" high. Piñon apparently have relatively short tap roots, and extensive, shallow roots that seek surface water. One was so small I tried a trowel and ended up pulling it up; the plant was 9" high, the woody root equally long, and the main lateral root as long as the two together.

I’m not absolutely sure these are piñon. They don’t behave like I’ve heard, but I don’t know what else they can be. They are blue or blue grey and obviously conifers. When I looked them up to confirm the identification I discovered they’re not the common trees found around here, Pinus edulis, which have clusters of two needles. These very clearly have thick, sharp, single needles on branches spaced along reddish brown stems. The only pine that meets that criteria, Pinus monophylla, grows farther west, over the mountains in the Great Basin.

The first seedling I noticed was in my neighbor’s yard growing under the eave of his metal barn. Some ten years later, it’s about 4' tall. A few year’s later one appeared under the down spout too close to my house.
I saw no more until the year after the Cerro Grande fire of 2000, when two appeared. Since I’ve had several emerge each year, always in a drip line or along a hose in a garden bed. I moved a dozen in 2004, and six this year. There’s another I can’t move without risking the flower bed, a fugitive I couldn’t find hidden among the Mexican hat, and I one I forgot growing near a hose with the yucca.

The life cycles of the two piñon are similar, and they’ve been known to interbreed. At one time, they were thought to be subspecies of Pinus cembroides. How it got here, who knows. Along the main road and in the village, blue and green conifers are mixed with other trees, and some have obviously been planted. Perhaps the owners brought them from land they had, far enough way to be the one-leaved variety, perhaps men working in Nevada or southwestern Colorado. It’s possible someone at the ranch estate across the arroyo transplanted seedlings from someplace like Arizona.

The introduction of the alien species had to have happened at least 35 years ago; it takes that long for the trees to produce seed. Piñon take 150 years to fully mature, and live at least 400 years.

Seeds take three years to form, then have a relatively short potency period. The single leaf variety usually drop near the parent and are moved by birds or rodents. Rodents plant the natives. Although seeds are wingless and rarely fly, I’m assuming mine blew from the south or southwest and landed where wind currents changed around buildings. I find it hard to believe deer mice carry food a mile then hide it in the wettest places available.

Piñon usually require what’s called a nurse plant to shelter them during their early years. Even then seedlings grow about an inch a year, and growth is determined by the water supply. Apparently my house is acting as a wet nurse and they grow quickly. The one I noticed in 1999 by the down spout was 6" high the next year, and a foot in 2001.

When I lived in Michigan, I had problems with maple and box elder seedlings. The state warned they were responding to drought by producing more seed than usual in an attempt by the species to survive the death of mature trees.

I assume something similar is happening here. The combination of the fire, drought and bark beetles have severely threatened the trees. Any time you talk with people, they’ll tell you how many trees they’ve lost in the past few years, even here in the valley, down from Los Alamos.

Even though the forest service says it takes 20 to 30 years for piñon to begin to recover from a fire, that’s because it takes that long for protectiveshrubs to regenerate. My guess is the wet season of the 1997-1998 El Niño stimulated more seed that was ready for trees to process when threats materialized. Certainly high spring winds could carry seed to my unintended nursery.

If I botched the transplanting, they’ll die right away. More likely, they’ll succumb to the winter cold or next summer’s heat. If I still have them in a year in their less advantageous locations surrounded by winterfat, I may just be able to see them along the drive when I die. Statistics on growth don’t promise anything more.

Notes: United States Forest Service. "Pinus monophylla," available on-line.

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