Sunday, March 02, 2008


What’s green: Conifers, rose stems, yuccas, rockrose, coral bell, sea pink, sea lavender, snapdragon, Saint John’s wort, yellow evening primrose, Mount Atlas daisy, chrysanthemum, anthemis, some grasses
What’s gray or gray-green: Salt bush, winterfat, snow-in-summer, some pinks.
What’s red: Cholla, some pinks, small-leaved soapwort, coral and purple beardtongues, purple aster.
What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium, kalanchoë, Christmas cactus.
Animal sightings: Three horses feeding down the road.
Weather: Rain last Sunday followed by feathery frost on my windshield the next morning; the daily hoar formations suggest the waterlogged ground above the freeze line has been drying into the air. 11:40 hours of daylight forecast today.
Weekly update: We’re tired of winter here in the valley. Yesterday morning when the temperatures were already in the 40's, one man was trimming a fruit tree and another was pruning his rose of Sharon hedge. Down the road, people at two places were out with rakes while brown smoke rose beyond the arroyo.
Last Sunday I went looking for signs of spring and noticed the lilac and peach buds were fatter, while some snapdragons had new leaves. Yesterday, the anthemis looked greener. I went back to old pictures and found chrysanthemum leaves that had appeared the first part of February were now twice as large; I hadn’t notice them last year until mid-March.
I planted those particular mums in 2006 as one more attempt to add height to a bed leveled by high winds. The usual cushion mums had disappeared from local stores and the only available pots contained five skinny cuttings grown to produce flowers as quickly as possible, even if the roots were too weak to survive transplantation.
I was pleased three made it through the first winter and excited when they started to bud last September. Then came the winds and the thick woody stems listed to the north. The flowers never opened. Ever since Wrightman Garner and Harry Allard announced the existence of photoperiodism in 1920, botanists would simply say the cultivar didn’t have enough time to bloom between the time when there were nine hours necessary to stimulate the reproductive phase and a killing frost.
The composites have been cultivated for centuries. Archaeologists found them used to flavor fermented beverages buried with the wealthy in Anyang and Changzikou along the Yellow river during the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties (ca. 1250-1000 B.C.). The flowers became associated with Confucius’ qualities of a gentleman. Buddhists took kiku to Japan from Korea. The Dutch brought them from China.
Each change in world view or scientific theory has altered how they were bred, but each change was added to the existing stock of Chrysanthemum morifolium. Currently, botanists are experimenting with introducing new traits, especially obliviousness to light, from wild species while growers are seeking cheaper ways to mass produce plants that can take 6 to 16 weeks to bloom after they are artificially put into the dark at temperatures between 62 and 70 degrees.
In 1950, W. W. Schwab found mums not only need darkness to prosper, but also at least three weeks of cold weather. Brian Capon suggests that right now, while those new leaves are coming up from the perennial crown, the first stage of flower development is underway, but will soon yield to vegetative growth until darkness returns the first of August. When temperatures are warm enough in the south to support flowers before the days have lengthened, Allan Armitage has seen them skip that suspension and bloom in April.
My florist cultivars may never bloom, their buds may never have enough time to open. However, those flowers are a long way away and demands for cold and darkness are tiresome when the quality of light is changing and early morning temperatures are creeping to the upper 20's. Right now those new leaves, and with them the promise of spring, are worth any future disappointment.
Notes:Armitage, Allan M. Herbaceous Perennial Plants, 1989.Capon, Brian. Botany for Gardeners, revised 2005.Garner, W. W. and H. A. Allard. "Effect of the Relative Length of Day and Night and Other Factors of the Environment on Growth and Reproduction in Plants," Journal of Agricultural Research 4:553-606:1920.Schwabe,W. W. "Factors Controlling Flowering of the Chrysanthemum. I. the Effects of Photoperiod and Temporary Chilling," Journal of Experimental Botany 1:329-343:1950.University Of Pennsylvania. "9,000-year History Of Chinese Fermented Beverages Confirmed," ScienceDaily 7 December 2004.
Photograph: Florist chrysanthemum leaves with remains of last year’s woody stalk, 1 March 2008; pinks in background.

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