Sunday, October 07, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Roses, Apache plume, silver lace vine, buddleia, canna, datura, Heavenly Blue morning glory, rose of Sharon, narrow leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, yellow evening primrose, pigweed, chamisa, broom snakeweed, winterfat, Tahokia daisy, Maximilian and native sunflowers, áñil del muerto, ragweed, broom senecio; golden, heath, strapleaf and purple asters; black grama grass; red peppers visible from road; baled hay left to dry in field.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Golden spur columbine, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemum.

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, ladybells, purple ice plant.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium

Animal sightings: Quail, ants, bees, grasshopper, flies.

Weather: Rain Monday and Thursday night; windy all day Saturday; ice on my windshield Wednesday morning.
Weekly update: Temperatures fell some mornings this past week, and plants responded. Catalpa, locust, and cottonwood leaves began to yellow. More Virginia creeper turned red. My nasturtium, which had only begun blooming with the rain on the 27th, went dormant again.

Last year the dwarf Jewel bloomed from August 22 to October 20. The large, furrowed seeds were planted the same time both years, the second week in May, but this year’s plants emerged May 25, two weeks before last year’s June 13.

When dates vary so widely, I suspect plants are sensitive to environmental conditions. Garden manuals advise the annuals like cool weather, but assume moisture is available. Since the plants were on the same irrigation regimen both years, the failure of the monsoons in August and the lack of atmospheric moisture must have been critical.

Their ancestral homeland is Perú, but by the time the Spanish arrived, tajsa had spread to south central México where it was eaten. In Perú they used the leaves for recuperative baths and to treat scabs. Nicolas Monardes was the first European to describe flor de la sangre in 1569 when he reported the leaves worked on fresh wounds. We now know the genus contains tropaeolum, a mustard oil that has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Monardes was a physician trained at a time when medical training at Alcalá de Henares still included botany. He worked for Phillip II and had interests in the drug and slave trade in Seville, the primary port for the Americas. He used his contacts to obtain seeds and information from returning sailors.

His seeds probably came from some place on the Caribbean coast, simply because Perú was still serviced by ships that went north to Panama once a year when the prevailing south wind was favorable. Cargo was transshipped across the isthmus. However, his medicinal information more likely came from someone returning from Perú.

Some believe Monardes was discussing Tropaeolum minus, the parent of my Jewel, and others that he was describing Tropaeolum major, the more common vining plant. Many believe the current varieties have resulted from so many crosses, species is no longer relevant, and use major for any nasturtium.

In Perú today, major grows wild on the hills above Ariquipa on the coastal side of the Andes at about 700' where goods from the interior were gathered for shipment to Lima before Cape Horn was discovered in 1616. It has naturalized along the south coast and in inland desert counties of California and currently is expanding its range in the Iberian peninsula, probably as minimum temperatures increase.

Whatever its pleasures where it is colonizing, here, in the rio arriba, nasturtiums survive on the frontier of the possible and respond accordingly.

Calfora. "Tropaeolum majus L.," available on-line.

Cobo, Bernabe. History of the Inca Empire, 1653, quoted by Hipernatural.

Monardes, Nicolas. Dos libros, el uno que trata de todas las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales, que sirven al uso de la medicina, y el otro que trata de la piedra bezaar, y de la yerva escuerçonera, 1569, cited by many and quoted by Hipernatural.

Picó, Belén and Fernando Nuez. "Minor Crops of Mesoamerica in Early Sources (II). Herbs Used as Condiments," Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 47:541-552:2000.

Sobrino Vesperinas, Eduardo, Alberto González Moreno, Mario Sanz Elorza, Elias Dana Sánchez, Daniel Sánchez Mata and Rosario Gavilán. "The Expansion of Thermophilic Plants in the Iberian Peninsula as a Sign of Climate Change" in Gian-Reto Walther, Conradin A. Burga and Peter J. Edwards, "Fingerprints" of Climate Change, 2001.

Van Wyk, Ben-erik and Michael Wink, Medicinal Plants of the World, 2004.

Weigend, M. and H. Forther. "Two New Species of Sisymbrium (Brassicaceae) from Coastal Peru," Brittonia, 51:119-123:1999.

Photograph: Jewel nasturtium with lance-leaf coreopsis seed heads and unwanted grass, 29 September 2007.

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