Sunday, August 19, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Apache plume, roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, canna, datura, silver-leaf nightshade, bindweed, Heavenly Blue morning glories, purple phlox, bigleaf globemallow, bouncing Bess, white sweet clover, goat’s head, yellow and white evening primrose, toothed spurge, English plantain, pigweed, mullein, heliopsis, broom snakeweed, Tahokia daisy, cultivated and native sunflowers, golden hairy aster, goldenrod, horseweed, goat’s beard, wild lettuce.
What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartwegii, squash, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemums.
Looking east: Floribunda rose, hosta, garlic chives, large-leaf soapwort, Crimson Rambler morning glories, sweet alyssum, winecup, hollyhock, sidalcea, scarlet flax, California and Shirley poppies, pink bachelor buttons, African marigolds.
Looking south: Rose of Sharon, perennial sweet pea, Sensation cosmos, zinnia.
Looking west: Caryopteris, buddleia, Russian sage, catmint, leadplant, flax, David phlox, white spurge, purple ice plant, ladybells, sea lavender, Silver King artemisia, Monch aster, purple coneflower.
Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, tomatoes, Dahlberg daisy.
Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.
Animal sightings: Hummingbirds, white butterfly, grasshoppers, squash bug, ants, bees.
Weather: Another week when storms passed through to cool the air but kept most of their water; last real rain, 6 August.
Weekly update: Last weekend the local hardware was selling off plants that still hadn’t sold. They probably couldn’t give away the half shelf of impatien seed mats, once dormant bare root Stella de Oro daylilies, or pots of boxwood.
It would be nice to consider impatiens again. Their tropical pastel, flat-faced flowers remain open from the day they’re put in until frost, all day, every day. But that constancy requires a moister environment than we have, so they’re now a memory from time lived in a more temperate clime.
Instead, I accept volunteers that have adapted to my dry air, and mix blue flax that drops by noon with purple ice plants that only open in the heat of the day. Down the road nocturnal white datura flowers are wilting when I drive by in the morning.
Our deep-rooted perennial Datura wrightii is related to Jimpson Weed, but Datura stramonium is an annual with smooth-edged arrowhead leaves. Our nightshade has more triangular leaves with scalloped edges. Ethnobotanists report uses for the first from California, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, while reports for the second are from southeastern tribes.
The Aztec knew the medicinal benefits of their sacred Datura inoxia, but also knew its dangers, that any part would kill. The mixture of tropane alkaloids can freeze the eyes into blindness at the same time they produces visions. The chemicals can alleviate bronchial spasms but also cause respiratory failure, can stimulate or stop the heart.
It’s perilous even to those who know it. The only tribes who distributed it to all adolescent initiates were in California. Farther south, Juan Matus hesitated to reveal it to Carlos Castaneda.
The Hopi limited it to shamans and the Zuni to rain priests who communicated with ancestors who had turned into clouds. Smithsonian researchers found it growing on Santa Clara stream terraces and talus slopes around 1910, but found no one who admitted using it. It’s not clear if that ignorance was universal, or if the select few who might have known the plant wouldn’t say. A Zuni creation tale warns the flowers are all that remain of two teenagers who learned forbidden things, then talked too freely.
Anything that mediates between two worlds, the living and the dead, the pubescent and the adult, is dangerous to the diurnal order. The pentagonal flowers come out with crickets that displace grasshoppers. Their narrow trumpets coexist with coyotes and gophers, long after ants and bees, quail and hummingbirds have gone into hiding. For descendants of medieval Europe, they cohabit with werewolves and witches.
My neighbors exile the rank smell to the boundaries between their land and the potentially threatening public road. But those plants did not just sprout near fences. The 5' bush crammed between a stored trailer and a broken pallet may be the relic of some Castaneda influenced hippie experiment with the unknown, but the 3' mound near the cholla cactus represents someone’s deliberate attempt to domesticate or perpetuate the wild.
As with most courtesans of the night, it’s beautiful in its prime. Just as light fades, the buds burst to release perfume that attracts white-lined sphinx moths. Next to them, impatiens would look tepid. Cultivated ladies and well bred, self-cleaning plants cannot compete with the excitement of the night.
Notes:Castaneda, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge, 1968.Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany database includes Matilda Coxe Stevenson, Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians, 1915, and Alfred F. Whiting, Ethnobotany of the Hopi, 1939.Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.
Photograph: Datura, 11 August 2007, about 10:00 a.m.

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