Sunday, March 25, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Apricot, dandelion. Daffodils are opening down the road, but just emerging by my garage.

What’s blooming in my yard: Forsythia, hyacinth; pushkinia and native dandelion in bud.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, kalanchoë, zonal geranium, coral honeysuckle.

What’s reviving in the area: Bradford pears, weeping and globe willows have leaves, arborvitae turning green, tansy mustard in neighbor’s drive. Outer edges of piñon turning blue in village; four of the six I transplanted last summer survived; seven more need moving.

What’s reviving in my yard: Purple mat, bouncing Bess, large-leafed soapwort, yellow evening primrose, loco, vinca, daylily, tulips, tahokia daisy coming up; iris, red hot poker and winterfat have new leaves; California and Shirley poppies germinating; coral bells, beardtongue, pinks, small-leafed soapwort and purple aster turning green; Russian olive, purple-leafed sand cherry, and snowball leaf buds expanding; spirea and lilac buds showing green; peach and apple buds fattening with leaves beginning to open at branch tips.

Animal sightings: Put down ant dust last Sunday; new hills by Thursday.

Weather: Waxing moon; ground was turning to dust when trod before three days of rain saturated the soil and temperatures dropped.

Weekly update: Spring arrived in the valley last Sunday when apricot buds burst open.

Apricots have been grown here as long as this land has been entailed. Ibn al-Awam saw al-burquk in Moorish Andalucia in the middle 1100's. They weren’t on the list of plants prescribed by Spanish officials anxious to transplant their cattle and grain economy to the new world, but the pits were easy to stow, the flesh sweet and nutritious. Like those legendary emigrants sneaking past the Holy Office, the trees defied officialdom.

Alonso de Benavides, a Franciscan associated with the Inquisition in Cuernavaca, noted albaricoques were grown in Santa Fé in the late 1620's, when he came north to superintend the missions. In 1776, another Franciscan, Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, reported the rosy-hued, orange-colored fruit in small orchards on family-owned ranchos around Santa Fé. That was probably two generations after my local village was settled.

The interior department sent its own observers in the 1930's. In the Española settlements east of the river, Prunus armeniaca was an important crop in the "heart of the fruit-growing region." When the trees produced, which was about one year in four, the flavor was "excellent" and the yield "exceptional." Most years, frost nipped the blossoms.

They had already spread to the Tewa, where anthropologists from the Smithsonian discovered the Santa Clara had extended the terms for chokecherry, "be" and "bep’e", to all fruit trees in the rose family, including "apple, peach, plum or orange." I assume the outlanders, who’d lived in Arizona, California and Colorado, mistook the white flower clusters that sheathed dark branches for the zone 9 Citrus sinensis.

Yesterday I counted trees blooming in 8 house lots edging the highway by the pueblo. Flowers were visible in 47 yards near my main road, in 23 places in the village, and in 29 on the adjoining roads.

In the village, apricots grow near houses, within the stone or stucco walls if they exist. Only five were in fields, four at the edge of apple orchards, the other heading a line of trees bordering a vineyard. In yards and compounds, specimens tend to be in front, near the wall or road. When there’s more than one tree, they’re planted on opposite sides of the house, sometimes surround the homestead.

Five-petaled blossoms could also be spotted back along drives in town and along the main road, suggesting the boundaries of old farmsteads abandoned as land use has changed. Apricots take at least four years to bear, then produce for another 20 to 25 years.

The front locations were probably selected because they were near ditches and protected from winds; the sites also kept the spreading roots away from buildings. However, as apricots have become symbols of domestic well-being, more people have placed them where they can be seen.

The fig-sized drupes are one of the few plants recognized by Rubén Cobos as having a local name, and his albercoques are the one food people take to work to share. The fuzzy-skinned fruits are also the only ones that are quickly eaten. Both giving and receiving signify the trust, generosity and friendship that survive even in censorious times.

I suspect many of the trees now blooming have been grown from pits passed within families and given to friends, for the tall spreading trees are too big to be the semi-dwarf Blenheim-Royal available yesterday in the local hardware. Carlos Romero’s team found it could distinguish the DNA of Spanish leaves from that of California cultivars. I suspect if ours were tested, the genes would be like those of their owners: mixed among the newcomers would be germplasm dating back to the conquistadores and, before them, the caliphates.

Cobos, Rubén. A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish, 1983.

Dunmire, William W. Gardens of New Spain, 2004, mentions the work of Benavides, Domínguiz, and Yahya ibn Muhammad Ibn al-Awan.

Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

Romero, Carlos, Andrzej Pedryc, Verónica Muñoz, Gerardo Llácer and Maria Luisa Badenes. "Genetic Diversity of Different Apricot Geographical Groups Determined by SSR Markers," Genome 46:244-52:2003.

US Dept of Interior, Tewa Basin Study, volume 2, 1935, reprinted by Marta Weigle as Hispanic Villages of Northern New Mexico, 1975.

Photograph: Apricot and other trees beside main road, 24 March 2007, between showers.

No comments: