What’s blooming in the area: Roses, silver lace vine, buddleia, datura, Heavenly Blue morning glory, rose of Sharon, narrow leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, chamisa, broom snakeweed, winterfat, Tahokia daisy, Maximilian and native sunflowers, áñil del muerto, ragweed, broom senecio; golden, heath, strapleaf and purple asters; milkweed leaves turning yellow.
What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Golden spur columbine, chocolate flower, blanket flower, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemum; rose hips.
Looking east: Pinks, sweet alyssum, sidalcea, winecup, hollyhock, California poppies, Crackerjack marigolds.
Looking south: Rugosa rose, Crimson Rambler morning glory, Sensation cosmos, zinnia
Looking west: Russian sage, catmint, purple ice plant; leadplant leaves turned red, lily leaves turning yellow
Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy
Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium
Animal sightings: Quail, grasshoppers, ants; gopher active; goats in empty field down the road.
Weather: Cold temperatures destroyed grape and zinnia leaves, but zinnias are still blooming; winds continued to scatter seed. Last rain, 9/29/07.
Weekly update: Plants that went into remission in the summer heat and drought are blooming again. The rugosa rose, pinks, and snapdragons do this every year, but it’s not routine for my cutleaf coneflower.
I’m not sure what is normal for it, since it shouldn’t grow here at all. Rudbeckia laciniata prefers stream banks and forest edges, and can’t tolerate drought. My rhizomatous plant must depend on water in the soil rather than atmosphere, since the one is fairly constant here, and the other changes every year.
This particular composite, with its distinctive young green cone, does occur naturally in Rio Arriba county. Standley saw it along the Brazos river north of Tierra Amarilla in 1911. It’s since been spotted along the Rio Vallecitas in Carson National Forest. Both are at much higher elevations than Española.
Even with its seeming obscurity, Curtin found Spanish speakers in northern New Mexico who knew dormilón well enough to tell her they used its leaves to treat gonorrhea and "female trouble" in the late 1940's. More recently, Moore heard it used for late periods as well as uterine and vaginal problems.
The basal rosette of deeply lobed leaves arrived in my yard by chance. I ordered Maximilian sunflowers from an Iowa nursery in 1999, and this was shipped instead. Since it’s not something Henry Field offers, I don’t know if it was a local volunteer, stowed there in some seed, or crowded out a potted plant it bought elsewhere for resale.
My plant normally starts producing clusters of yellow flowers on 5' stalks the end of July and stops five weeks later. Why it’s reblooming now on lower branches when the leaves are already turning yellow is as big a mystery as how it survives this arid environment.
Botanists believe the leaves that produce a plant’s food through photosynthesis control its blooming schedule by sending messages to the cell production center in the central stem when they detect the species specific necessary hours of darkness. That would help explain why the late spring and early summer plants are reblooming, but not this late summer plant.
Perhaps the failure of the monsoons disrupted the cycle of this water loving perennial and stopped the growth of some stems in August. When it finally rained, those inactive stalks may have resumed growth and now are mature enough to send urgent signals to their meristems to convert to reproduction as quickly as possible.
Its taken botanists some seventy years to establish the little they now about flowering cycles. Why should a stray cutleaf coneflower let the most recent theories stop it from blooming when it needs to?
Notes:Curtin, L. S. M. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore.Moore, Michael. Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest, 1990.New Mexico State University. "Vallecitas Mountain Refuge, Tusas Mountains, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico," 2004, available o.Standley, Paul C. "The Ferns of Brazos Canyon, New Mexico," Amen-linerican Fern Journal 4:109-114:1914.Zeevaart Jan A. D. "Florigen Coming of Age after 70 Years," The Plant Cell 18:1783-1789:2006.
Photograph: Cutleaf coneflower with bud, young flower with green cone and older bloom with disc flowers, 13 October 2007.