Sunday, June 29, 2008

Prickly Pear

What’s blooming in the area: Catalpa, tamarix, tea and miniature roses, Apache plume, cholla, four-wing saltbush, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, honeysuckle, silver lace vine, lilies, fern-leaf globemallow, alfalfa, white sweet clover, oxalis, milkwort, velvetweed, wild licorice, yellow and white evening primroses, scarlet beeblossom, larkspur, bindweed, milkweed, buffalo gourd, goat’s beard, hawkweed, plains paper flower, Hopi tea, hairy golden aster; sacaton and rice grass; alfalfa cut and drying; corn up.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Dr. Huey rose, red hot poker, golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartweig, butterfly weed, yellow flax, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, coreopsis, anthemis, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat.

Looking east: Floribunda rose, hollyhock, Maltese cross, bouncing Bess, snow-in-summer, pink, sea pink, coral bells, California poppy, winecup, sidalcea, rock rose, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort; tomatillo buds.

Looking south: Blaze, rugosa and rugosa hybrid roses, sweet pea, daylily; first raspberry.

Looking west: Purple beardtongue, Rumanian sage, catmint, ladybells, flax, speedwell, purple ice plant; sea lavender buds.

Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, petunia, moss rose, Dahlberg daisy, gazania.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Gecko, hummingbird, cabbage butterfly, hummingbird moth on golden columbine, bees on catmint, ants, grasshoppers; birds and crickets heard but not seen.

Weather: Temperature extremes moderated by late afternoon clouds that sometimes dropped water. However, even Monday, not enough fell to dampen the native ground where June grass that came up in unexpected places in the winter wet is now dead or dying. Last useful rain 6/5/08; 15:54 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: One thing that’s always mystified me is why the prickly pear here are so unhealthy. In west Texas, they grow in great mounds along fences with bright yellow flowers that can be seen from the road much of the summer; mine have lumpy, faded-green surfaces with bite marks and black edges, shriveled pads and broken off segments baking in the sun.

The pale yellow flowers with their lemon-green pistils are elusive: they open mid-morning and disappear by mid-afternoon. The cacti run rampant in town near the river, but I’ve never spotted a flower there. Last Saturday, I saw a clump blooming under trees away from the orchards and others were aging into apricot out on the prairie. In my backyard, I espied one flower in the morning; the next day I searched, and nothing despite the buds. Even so, I’m sure there’ll be fruit later this summer.

One difference between Potosi and Española could be the species. Both are probably Opuntia engelmannii, but the ones here most likely are a subspecies, also engelmannii. In parts of west Texas where I drove they could have been lindheimeri. Around Abilene, they could have been either, but if engelmannii, their flowers may have been brighter from the lower altitude, greater water, different soils, and more southern latitude.

So far as I know none of the known predators are attacking my plants. The cactus moth wasn’t even seen in this country until 1989 in Big Pine Key, Florida. Peter Stiling says it had moved into South Carolina by 2002, but was still only a fear in Arizona and México where Opuntia species are grown commercially for food and ornamentation. My plants were unhealthy when I moved here in 1991.

The cactus borer sounds more likely. The adults bark the edges and lay their eggs inside the openings in the pads. When the larvae begin tunneling, a greenish-yellow liquid oozes out and accumulates on the junction with the lower pad where it turns black. However, the nondescript moth usually prefers less daunting specimens with spines singed by fire and also attacks cholla, which show no signs of siege.

That leaves the rabbit. Cottontails of all sorts and black-tailed jacks will eat whatever prickly pear grows in their range. The cacti are high in soluble carbohydrates, but low in protein and other nutrients. Around San Angelo, southwest of Potosi, Darrell Ueckert found the Lindheimer was 60% to 80% water depending on conditions.

Near Jornada del Meurto, a New Mexico State research team noticed the desert cottontail and black-tailed jack rabbit were fairly selective with the local prickly pear, eating more during the dry season when other forbs weren’t available. They preferred clumps that had at least three pads, and avoided large piles. They also left young growth alone for at least six months.

My experience seems closer to that of Ueckert who couldn’t establish a spineless prickly pear in west Texas because they were too heavily grazed by jack rabbits. The cottontails who leave their droppings near my destroyed plants let the plants grow a few pads, then nibble them before they can establish clumps that could protect themselves with longer spines and more oxalic acid. Naturally, the flowers I rarely see would appear next year on this year’s destroyed growth.

It seems I’ve inherited the typical dryland ecosystem that comes with the overgrazed open land rabbits prefer. Still, it’s curious to live in near desert conditions and not have the quintessential desert flower.

Hoffman, M. T., C. D. James, G. I. H. Kerley and W. G. Whitford. "Rabbit Herbivory and Its Effect on Cladode, Flower and Fruit Production of Opuntia violacea var macrocentra (Cactaceae) in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico," The Southwestern Naturalist, 38:309-315:1993.

Stiling, Peter. "Potential Non-target Effects of a Biological Control Agent, Prickly Pear Moth, Cactoblastis cactorum (Berg) (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae), in North America, and Possible Management Actions," Biological Invasions 4:273-281:2002.

Ueckert, Darrell N. "Pricklypear Ecology,"1997, available on-line.

Photograph: Nibbled prickly pear blooming on scrub land near the arroyo, 21 June 2008; picture taken mid-afternoon when the flower was aging to peach.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Rock Rose

What’s blooming in the area: Tea, miniature and shrub roses; Apache plume, tamarix, prickly pear, cholla, four-wing saltbush, trumpet creeper, honeysuckle, silver lace vine, daylily, fern-leaf globemallow, alfalfa, loco weed, oxalis, tumble mustard, velvetweed, white evening primrose, Indian paintbrush, bush morning glory, bindweed, milkweed, goat’s head, goat’s beard, hawkweed, plains paper flower, Hopi tea, hairy golden aster, native dandelion; brome, three-awn, sacaton and rice grass.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Catalpa, Dr. Huey rose, red hot poker, golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartweig, butterfly weed, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, coreopsis, anthemis, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat.

Looking east: Floribunda rose, hollyhock, Maltese cross, bouncing Bess, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, pink, sea pink, coral bells, winecup, rock rose, pink salvia, pink evening primrose, Mount Atlas daisy; buds on sidalcea.

Looking south: Blaze, rugosa and rugosa hybrid roses; spirea, beauty bush, sweet pea.

Looking west: Purple and white beardtongues, Rumanian sage, catmint; buds on sea lavender and ladybells.

Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, petunia, moss rose, Dahlberg daisy, gazania.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Woodpecker on utility pole, quail, hummingbird, hummingbird moth on bouncing Bess, grasshoppers, ants, bees, earthworms.

Weather: Hot and windy; last rain 6/5/08; 15:57 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: Rock roses are what I call a weekend plant. When I leave in the morning, dozens of teardrop buds are nodding along the sides of short stalks rising from foot high plants. When I return, the crinkled petals are gone. I rarely see those petals opened flat to expose yellow stamens to insects in the heat of the day.

Lamb Nurseries convinced me I should try them when they called sunrose "one of the finest evergreen rock plants" that was "excellent on dry banks" and "very hardy." Their last catalog listed 17 varieties in as many shades ranging from orange and apricot through yellow to corals, pinks, and watermelon. When I saw them in a local store, the inch-wide five-petaled flowers recalled moss roses.

The English were much taken with the unpredictable color in the twenty chromosome Helianthemum nummularium. In the 1920's their largest nursery, Norcutt, was introducing stable pinks, primroses, and whites. More hybrids have been produced, partly from crossing the yellow species with other members of the Cistaceae, including the white apenninum and yellow-orange croceum.

It’s taken some years for the cinnamon branches to spread four feet. I bought eight hybrid varieties in 1997, but only a few endured the extremes of both summer and winter. In 1999, I bought more Rose Glory, the one trailing groundcover that had survived. That winter the store’s demonstration planting died while my two lived on.

At the time I assumed I had simply found the sole variety that would grow in this part of the rio arriba. After all, Alan Armitage had found only one variety, Mutabile, would survive the humid climate, clay soils and poor drainage of the Georgia piedmont. Cheryll Greenwood Kinsey continually failed with Henfield Brilliant in Washington before she bought another variety and tried it in a different location.

Since the species thrives on limestone grasslands along the Mediterranean, north to the Baltic and into England, I suspect the problem is less the weather than the species’ adaptation to poor soils. Like many woody plants, rock rose roots attract fungi that provide it with water and minerals in exchange for carbon. These ectomycorrhizal fungi thrive in the upper layers of the soil and are destroyed when the ground is turned over, which of course all good gardeners do. By the time the organisms have recovered the plants are dead.

This is one time my laziness has been rewarded. When I established my beds I already knew the wind was a dangerous foe, so I leveled the land, and added layers of manure, fertilizer, sawdust and mulch. I didn’t spade them in, but added regular soil and heavy sand on top. Now, when I put in new plants I only dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball. It’s not the best technique for container grown herbaceous perennials, but it seems to have worked for one cultivar of a woody subshrub.

It actually took less time for the product of sophisticated breeders to become established than it took its species ancestor to recover on abandoned farm fields some twenty miles from the Languedoc coast. There, ecologists found common rock roses reappeared about sixty years after the field was abandoned, and then only after the bunch grasses.

A spreading plant covered with flowers that tolerates poor overgrazed soils and thrives in the south of France where summer droughts are followed by fall monsoons and frequent winter frosts ought to grow here. Too bad it has my work schedule: the Cistaceae blooms when the photosynthesis factory cells are running and rests when the shade returns. Fortunately, it takes no breaks during the month it blooms, so I can see it on my holidays. Then, while I continue my daily commute the rest of the summer, it preens its narrow, dark-green leaves to persist through winter.

Armitage, Allan M. Herbaceous Perennial Plants, 1989.

Garnier, Eric, Astrid Bellman, Marie-Laure Navas, Catherine Roumet and Gérard Laurent. "The Leaf-Height-Seed Ecology Strategy Scheme as Applied to Species from a Mediterranean Old-Field Succession," International Conference on Mediterranean Ecosystems, Proceedings, 2004.

Kinsey, Cheryll Greenwood. "Sunrose," available on-line.

Lamb Nurseries catalog, 1996.

Photograph: Rock rose, 21 June 2008.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Smooth Brome Grass

What’s blooming in the area: Tea, miniature and shrub roses; Apache plume, locust, catalpa, four-wing saltbush, honeysuckle, silver lace vine, yucca, red hot poker, daylily, hollyhock, fern-leaf globemallow, yellow sweet clover, alfalfa, loco weed, sweet pea, oxalis, tumble mustard, nits-and-lice, velvetweed, white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, milkweed, bindweed, goat’s beard, hawkweed, May daisy, plains paper flower, Hopi tea, spine and hairy golden asters, common and native dandelions; brome, three-awn, sacaton and rice grass; buffalo gourd up; cottonwood fluff in the air.
What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Dr. Huey and Persian yellow roses, iris, golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartweig, perky Sue, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, coreopsis, anthemis, Mexican hat; buds on butterfly weed.
Looking east: Floribunda rose, Jupiter’s beard, Maltese cross, bouncing Bess, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, pink, sea pink, coral bells, winecup, rock rose, pink salvia, pink evening primrose, Mount Atlas daisy.
Looking south: Blaze, pasture, rugosa and rugosa hybrid roses; spirea, raspberry, beauty bush.
Looking west: Purple and white beardtongues, catmint; buds on sea lavender, ladybells and Rumanian sage.
Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, petunia, moss rose, Dahlberg daisy, gazania.
Inside: Aptenia, bougainvillea, zonal geranium.
Animal sightings: Ants, aphids, moths, even smaller grasshoppers
Weather: Unwatered ground bleaching into sand; last rain 6/5/08; 15:56 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: Local farmers have been cutting hay for the past week or so. The fields will soon go dormant, but they’ll get at least one more crop this fall when temperatures cool again.
When I mentioned this to a friend from Santa Fe, he remembered the beauty of alfalfa fields in bloom when he was driving through Colorado. I suddenly realized that while I’d always been told people here grew alfalfa and my friend assumed hay meant alfalfa, that’s not what’s being cut.
Medicago sativa is a legume with triplets of oval leaves that looks like young sweet clover from a distance; this is a grass. Alfalfa has purple flowers; this has tiny, 3/8" long narrow yellow flowers with darker anthers that hang from the spikelets. The one looks blue green from the road; this was bright green when it revived in spring, and still wears a yellowish inflection. The county extension agent, Tony Valdez, says most of it is smooth brome, a native of the steppes that stretch from the Carpathian Basin to Siberia.
It’s easy to understand why I would get it wrong, to say my eyes saw what my ears heard. But why would a local man with roots deep in the valley tell me he was surrounded by alfalfa farmers when most of the fields I see in the area by the village where he lives are abandoned or brome?
It could be a plumber my age has no more ties to farming than I had as a child. It’s also possible alfalfa was growing when he first looked. There still is one field down the road and escaped plants bloom elsewhere along the shoulder. While alfalfa can grow in pure stands, experts recommend mixing Bromus inermis with legumes or other grasses to prevent it from choking when its rhizomatous roots become too dense. The two perennials may have coexisted until grasshopper depredations favored the one.
Like most of us he may continue to see what he remembers until change is too stark to dismiss. Pigweed is now tall enough to be mistaken for alfalfa, and many mow it down in the fall when it turns brown. Fallow fields, pasture, and grass hay look alike from a distance.
The failure to see what’s growing may also reflect a romantic assumption that when an insulated area changed with World War II, the old ways froze. In fact, the farmers down the road are modern enough to adopt a Hungarian selection that has been promoted by the agriculture department since 1942 to restore rangelands destroyed by dust bowl droughts in the 1930's.
Even in the depression, when traditional farmers were growing alfalfa, they were adapting new ideas. The Interior Department observed some 300 acres growing in the area surrounding Santa Cruz and believed it was used to improve chili lands, rather than feed domestic livestock.
At the time, government agents complained many didn’t bother to level the fields they watered from local ditches. As a result, water didn’t flow evenly to crops and often formed destructive sheets. The men down the road from me didn’t buy or inherit flat lands; they worked to make them even below dike walls of dirt before they installed pumps to pull water up from the aquifer.
One man weathered by age still lets the water spill directly into his field from some dozen wells; the younger men have recently invested in large diameter pipe segments with imbedded spouts that spread the water across the high end, but still depend on flooding to cover the fields. Their techniques are modernized versions of traditional acequias.
In the depression fields were seldom more than the few acres that survived the subdivisions of generations and were worked with hand tools. Long ago farmers bought tractors, but the ones I follow down the road are small because the fields are still relatively small. Men who grew up when land was divided by death now sell sections farthest from their wells for ready cash. They are reproducing their traditional patchwork landscape on land that was not farmed when they were children, this time with brome grass scattered between new homes.
It is the persistence of these familiar patterns that obscures the substitution of plants and technology from those of us who look but do not see.
US Dept of Interior, Tewa Basin Study, volume 2, 1935, reprinted by Marta Weigle as Hispanic Villages of Northern New Mexico, 1975.
Valdez, Tony. Rio Arriba County extension agent, email, 9 June 2008.
Photograph: Smooth brome grass blooming near the orchards, 7 June 2008.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Oriental Poppy

What’s blooming in the area: Tea, miniature and shrub roses; Apache plume, locust, catalpa, four-wing saltbush, silver lace vine, yucca, red hot poker, peony, fern-leaf globemallow, yellow sweet clover, alfalfa, sweet pea, oxalis, tumble mustard, white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, bindweed, tahokia daisy, goat’s beard, hawkweed, plains paper flower, spine and hairy golden asters, common and native dandelions; brome, three-awn, sacaton and rice grass; western stickseed and needle grass releasing seeds. First hay cut, first buds on daylilies.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Dr. Huey and Persian yellow roses; black locust, iris, golden spur columbine, hartweig, perky Sue, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, coreopsis; buds on butterfly weed, anthemis and Mexican hat; zucchini and nasturtium seeds up.

Looking east: Jupiter’s beard, Maltese cross, oriental poppy, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, pink, sea pink, coral bells, winecup, rock rose, pink salvia, pink evening primrose, Mount Atlas daisy; buds on coral beardtongue and bouncing Bess.

Looking south: Blaze, rugosa and rugosa hybrid roses; spirea, raspberry, beauty bush; bud clusters on red grapes.

Looking west: Purple beardtongue, catmint; buds on sea lavender and Rumanian sage; daffodil leaves turning yellow; perennial four o’clock up.

Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, petunia, moss rose, Dahlberg daisy; grasshoppers eaten French marigold leaves.

Inside: Aptenia, bougainvillea, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird, yellow bellied bird with black and white under wings, geckos, cabbage and sulphur butterflies, moths, bumble bees, flies, grasshoppers, black ants, aphids.

Weather: Rain with thunder and lightening Thursday, winds all week, daily temperature range rising from 40-80 to 50-90. 15:52 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: No one plants a garden to save money. William Alexander figured when he spread the costs for creating his vegetable bed over twenty years and added the current year’s expenses, his Brandywine tomatoes cost him $64 a piece. He saw no way to invoice the groundhog for its share.

I finally got an oriental poppy to bloom. I figure I spent $350 over the past fourteen years to get that first flower. My price includes seeds from at least four countries bought from seven retail seedsmen, potted plants grown by at least three wholesalers sold through five outlets in three cities, seedlings ordered from three out-of-state nurseries, and bare roots from another three. No payment from the rabbit.

I didn’t average $25 a year. Every fall when nothing succeeded I’d swear I’d never do that again. Then when the catalogs arrived, I’d be tempted to splurge. Most years, I controlled my impulses until I saw seeds in the store and think, it’s only .89. Of course that was 1995; this year the same seeds were 1.59.

I could usually rationalize my previous failures had been caused by weather, and hope the coming spring would be different. Poppy seeds are so tiny, they blow away, and can’t be covered with anything heavy because they need light to germinate.

Each year I’d be tempted again when I saw the actual plants on the shelves. It wasn’t my self-control that saved me, but the fact that most years the stores didn’t carry the tall, brilliant oranges. Instead, they sold pink Victoria Louise and white Royal Wedding, or, once in a while, deep red Beauty of Livermore. A few years ago, they tried the better behaved dwarfs, Pizzicato and Allegro.

The difficulty with getting poppies established is that the deep, branching taproots don’t like to be transplanted. The ones grown in pots are still too small to adapt when they’re sold in late spring, just before they go dormant for the heat of summer. Unfortunately, I usually made matters worse when I exposed them by removing potting soil that won’t absorb water in my ground.

After a few years of abstinence, I’d think maybe this year, this 1997, this 200, maybe I’ll get lucky, maybe we’ll have a normal summer, maybe a cold enough winter. In the fall, more remorse.

Until 2006 when something did survive, even if it has turned out to be pink with black blotches and slightly ruffled petals. The flower lasted little more than a day before a petal fell off exposing the collapsing purple stamens that surrounded a green pistol that had a purple ovary forming on top. Then came the wind, leaving two buds to open.

If this were Papaver somniferum, I would now be excited because I could soon slit the pod to stimulate the formation of the chemicals that are refined into opium and recoup some of my losses. But Papaver orientale has different alkaloids, which may not even be in my plants. It probably only carries the species name by courtesy, since the 28 light-orange chromosomes have been crossed with the 14 from their dark-red bracteatum cousin since the 1880's to get those unwanted colors.

If my neighbors weren’t growing bright scarlet flowers that shimmer from a distance, my quest for flowers that mesmerize when the sun filters through their petals should be dismissed as an addiction. However, since I began at least three people have succeeded with plants that taunt me with my failure.

When I moved here, one yard down the road was a solid mass of burnt orange. In January of 2005 someone cleared out the thistle leaves and replaced them with gravel and bare dirt. Poppies are stronger than that. They can survive mountain grassland droughts in western Asia to live a hundred years. The root of an established plant can regenerate from a fragment left in the ground. Those four-petaled chalices are slowly come back, hiding under daylily leaves.

Some would say $350 is cheap for a plant the lives to be a hundred. Of course, they’re thinking of mature trees and including the backhoe operator. I’d never risk that kind of money on a single plant in this environment. I’m much too rational. I may be impulsive but I’m not foolish.

Notes: Alexander, William. The $64 Tomato, 2006.

Photograph: Oriental poppy, 5 June 2008; pod forming at lower left.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Beauty Bush

What’s blooming in the area: Roses of all kinds including Austrian copper, yellow Persian, pink shrubs, teas and miniatures; Apache plume, Russian olive, locusts, catalpa, four-wing saltbush, silver lace vine, yucca, red hot poker, oriental poppy, peony, fern-leaf globemallow, yellow sweet clover, oxalis, tumble mustard, Jupiter’s beard, white evening primrose, bindweed, western stickseed, goat’s beard, common and native dandelions; three-awn, rice, needle and cheat grass; native sunflowers coming up; milkweed visible. More people are preparing their vegetable gardens.

In my yard: Rugosa rose, spirea, beauty bush, snowball, iris, flax, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, pink, sea pink, coral bells, winecup, rock rose, golden spur columbine, pink evening primrose, hartweig, Mount Atlas daisy, perky Sue, chocolate flower; buds on hollyhock, purple beardtongue, catmint, fern-leaf yarrow, anthemis, blanket flower, coreopsis, and Mexican hat; zinnia seeds coming up.

Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, petunia, moss rose, French marigold.

Inside: Aptenia, kalanchoë, bougainvillea, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Geckos, hummingbirds, ants, grasshoppers, small moths; bees on beauty bush; bumble bee on pinks; rabbit in upper neighbor’s yard; four cows brought into pasture in the village.

Weather: Winds whipped themselves into such a frenzy Wednesday they produced a funnel cloud near White Rock. When I heard the weather bureau warnings, I wondered how the topography would channel its northeast path. I drove home an hour or so later with the sun shining and the roads dry until I crossed the ridge into my valley where the edges of the road were wet to my house and the sand was gone that had been covering my seeds. Last rain 5/28/08. 15:45 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: When Linnaeus used Latin to name plants in 1753 he was affirming a belief in the possibility of a set of values shared across cultures and continents.

Roman Catholic missionaries sent to China in the late nineteenth century still believed they could safely explore unknown manifestations of God and report them back to their peers in France and Italy. By 1901, so many had explored and steamships had become so efficient Ludwig Diels could publish a survey of central Chinese flora that included Paul Graebner’s description of a Shaanxi shrub with leaves and new growth that look like honeysuckle on gray-brown branches with shredding bark that Giuseppe Giraldi had only seen bearing seed in the early 1890's.

Reports of exotic new species had already aroused the commercial instincts of nurseryman Harry Veitch. In 1900, he sent Ernest Wilson to western Hubei to meet a customs official, Augustine Henry, who had been asking people to bring him samples of local plants he feared would be lost to deforestation. Veitch’s Coomb Wood nursery planted seeds Wilson collected in the area and was rewarded when one lined it branches with clusters of pale-pink tubular flowers in 1910.

No one had noticed when Graebner named that particular plant for a fellow Berlin botanist, Richard Kolkwitz, that he was confirming Latin no longer was a spoken language. The anachronistic mix of syllables from people who’d fought in antiquity didn’t bother the British upper classes who used their classical educations to separate themselves from the rising masses. Leonard Messel, the son of Berlin-born banker Ludwig Messel, won the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Merit in 1923 for a Kolkwitzia amabilis grown from a Veitch cutting.

When Kolkwitzia was introduced into the United States after World War I, it was renamed beauty bush because, in our xenophobic climate where nothing could have a German name and anything even slightly Slavic was disdained, the idea of universal culture was rejected. No one complained about a stereotypic pop culture rendition of pidgin Chinese. When I bought my container grown cutting in Albuquerque in 1997, the store label didn’t even include the Latin name.

The Caprifoliaceae were popular in suburban gardens between the wars, but fell into disfavor in the 1950's. Alan Summers believes when nurseries began growing stock in containers, the cuttings didn’t flourish enough to attract buyers. I suspect in the age of Joseph McCarthy anything with wanton form and profligate blooming habits that could not be pruned into conformity was distrusted.

The idea of universal culture has been in retreat ever since. Now environmentalists want to root out any plants in the wild that were not there in some prelapsarian age. When Reinhard Böcker and Monika Dirk studied germination patterns of potential invaders in Baden-Württemberg, they discovered Kolkwitzia seeds do better on limestone debris and pebbles than on standard soil, sand or loess.

Nature, of course, doesn’t know the difference between Anglo and Hispanic culture, doesn’t recognize the difference between Latin and Chinese. She created one Kolkwitzia species, perhaps when she was experimenting with plastid inheritance through both male and female cells. No more were seen in the wild until 1980 when the Sino-American Botanical Expedition went looking. Not enough is known about the protected rare shrub to determine if it failed to spread over a wide area or is now only a remnant of its former self. All the seedlings and cuttings grown in this country come from a cutting brought by Wilson from Veitch’s specimen in 1907 and planted by Jackson Dawson at the Arnold Arboretum.

Here in New Mexico my Kolkwitzia thrives on limey soil where weiglia dies back from grasshoppers, rose roots are devoured by gophers, and many woody shrubs can’t handle the daily temperature extremes. Linnaeus was right that a worldly nature requires a universal language to identify plants that can grow in both the upper Rio Grande below the Gorge bridge and near the headwaters of the Yangtze beyond the Three Gorges.

Reinhard Böcker and Monika Dirk. "Distribution and Spreading of Alien Trees in South Western Germany and Contributions of Germination Biology," in U. Starfinger, K. Edwards, I. Kowarik, and M. Williamson, Plant Invasions: Ecological Mechanisms and Human Responses, 1998.

Diels, Ludwig. "Die Flora von Central-China. Nach der Verhandenon Literatur und Neu Mitegeieilten Orignal Materiale," Botanische Jahrbücher für Systematik, Pflanzengeschichte und Pflanzengeographie 29:169-659:1901.

Hu, Yingchun, Quan Zhang, Guangyuan Rao, and Sodmergen. "Occurrence of Plastids in the Sperm Cells of Caprifoliaceae: Biparental Plastid Inheritance in Angiosperms Is Unilaterally Derived from Maternal Inheritance" Plant Cell Physiology, 2008.

Summers, Alan. "Kolkwitzia Amabilis 'Pink Cloud'," Carroll Gardens web-site.

Photograph: Beauty bush, 31 May 2008, with Jemez Mountains and badlands in back.