Sunday, September 28, 2008

Scarlet Gilia

What’s blooming in the area: Tea and miniature roses, winterfat, datura, Heavenly Blue and ivy-leaf morning glories, cardinal climber, bindweed, trumpet creeper, honeysuckle, silver lace vine, bouncing Bess, bigleaf globemallows, mullein, white sweet clover, velvetweed, yellow and white evening primroses, alfilerillo, stickleaf, lamb’s quarter, pigweed, ragweed, broom senecio, snakeweed, wild lettuce, horseweed, áñil del muerto, Hopi tea, gumweed, spiny, hairy golden, heath and purple asters, tahokia daisy, native sunflowers, sandbur, redtop, black grama, barn and muhly ring grasses; skunk bush leaves turning yellow, corn stalks mostly brown.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Red hot poker, golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartweig, nasturtium, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, coreopsis, anthemis, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, yellow cosmos.

Looking east: Hosta, large-leaf soapwort, coral bells, scarlet gilia, California poppy, hollyhock, winecup, sidalcea, pink veronica, Jupiter’s beard, sweet alyssum from seed, African marigolds, Maximilian and garden sunflowers.

Looking south: Rose of Sharon, Blaze roses, Sensation cosmos; spirea leaves beginning to turn orange, grapes turning red.

Looking west: Buddleia, Russian and Rumanian sage, catmint, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, leadplant, purple ice plant, Mönch aster, Silver King artemisia; caryopteris leaves turning color.

Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, moss rose, tomato.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium, bougainvillea.

Animal sightings: Gecko, bees, ants, grasshoppers.

Weather: Allergies have been worse this year; after a few cool mornings, plants have begun their preparations for winter; heard rain on the roof a few nights, but saw no evidence on the ground in the mornings; last useful rain 8/31/08; 11:42 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: Nursery catalogs give special prices when one orders at least three plants of the same type. This isn’t simply mass marketing, but an affirmation of recommendations from garden writers like Rosalie Doolittle who suggest "a better effect is obtained more quickly by planting in groups of three, five and seven" than by "stringing out single plants here and there."

The only time a functional reason is offered is with fruiting plants like holly or apples. The first bear flowers with male and female parts on separate plants, and so both types are needed if one expects berries. Apples are hermaphrodites, but the male pollen cannot fertilize the female ovary of the same plant or its clone. One has to plant different varieties that bloom at the same time to harvest more than flowers.

Experience suggests another reason. With short-lived perennials like scarlet gilia it’s cheaper to have plants reseed themselves, than replace them every few years. Ipomopsis aggregata is so ephemeral, it dies after blooming, even though it may remain a basal rosette for years. Few garden guides mention which plants are self-fertile, so buying groups is a defense against one’s own ignorance as well as the caprices of nature.

My first four self-sterile gilia from August of 1995 didn’t open until 1997, then some stayed in bloom from June 23 until September 15. The remaining plants died out after flowering in 1998, and nothing appeared in 1999. When I went shopping the following spring, only one plant was available. I found three more in 2001, and discovered a seedling in the wet area outside the brick edging. Nothing bloomed again until 2005.

By then I’d given up on plants and thought about seeds, only to find no reliable sources. Burpee offered "Ipomopsis Humminbird Mix" in 2005 that came with no species information and didn’t germinate. Wildseed offered a different annual, Ipomopsis rubra, which I tried in 2005 and 2006 with no luck, that is, until two plants opened this July and stayed in bloom for a couple weeks.

I have no idea the origin of this year’s plant. I recognized the gray leaves when I uncovered them the end of March because they remind me of starched doilies waiting for Thanksgiving candles. It was growing amongst some bunch grasses near a hose by a fence 25 feet from the last plants I’d grown and 10 feet east of the Burpee seeds.

The first flower opened near the top of a single green stem July 5. Since, flowers have opened down the stalk, then branches that diverged up from the sites of the earlier flowers have lengthened with new clusters of phlox-shaped flowers that flare open from long, thin tubes. The five reflexed petals and throat are mottled, but the buds and tubes are the pure red one sees from a distance.

I do know I won’t have anything next year, unless there is more long-lived seed buried somewhere waiting for the right conditions to germinate. Both bumblebees and hummingbirds may transfer pollen from the five yellow, club-headed stamens to the three coiled purple stigmas that extend beyond the flower face, but as soon as the plant recognizes the autogamous origin of the pollen, it sends signals to the ovary which degenerates when too little starch accumulates in the surrounding walls of the embryo sac.

Even though scarlet gilia is an intermontane native that grows in forest openings above 3500', I’ve never noticed any in the immediate area. Last weekend I saw the pale blue trumpets of the shorter Ipomopsis longiflorum growing in the sand between stickleafs on pueblo land, but they’re no reproductive help.

Self-incompatible individuals that aren’t available in commerce must fend for themselves if they’re ever to naturalize in my garden, be it in groups or random plants like those cousins near the arroyo. I won’t be fussy about the aesthetics if they aren’t.

Doolittle, Rosalie. Southwest Gardening, 1967 revision.

Sage, Tammy L, Mary V Price and Nickolas M Waser. "Self-sterility in Ipomopsis aggregata (Polemoniaceae) Is Due to Prezygotic Ovule Degeneration,"American Journal of Botany 93:254-262:2006.

Photograph: Scarlet gilia with anthers and stigma, 21 September 2008.

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