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, sweet pea, yellow and white evening primroses, alfilerillo, stickleaf, lamb’s quarter, pigweed, ragweed, broom senecio, snakeweed, wild lettuce, goat’s beard, hawkweed, horseweed, African marigold, zinnia 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; roadside mowed.
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, crimson climber morning glory, large-leaf soapwort, coral bells, ipomopsis, California poppy, garlic chives, squash, hollyhock, winecup, sidalcea, pink salvia, pink veronica, Jupiter’s beard, sweet alyssum from seed, sedum, Maximilian and garden sunflowers; late raspberries.
Looking south: Rose of Sharon, Blaze and rugosa roses, Sensation cosmos.
Looking west: Buddleia, Russian and Rumanian sage, catmint, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, leadplant, purple ice plant, Mönch aster, Silver King artemisia; white spurge leaves turned yellow.
Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, moss rose, petunia, tomato, French marigold.
Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium, bougainvillea.
Animal sightings: Hummingbird, bees, ants, grasshoppers.
Weather: Usual cool mornings and warm afternoons; a little rain last night, first since 8/31/08; 12:12 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: Each year, just when I’m cursing the man who once again has taken a blade to mow the roadside back into a haven for pigweed, ragweed and Russian thistle, nature surprises me.
Two years ago I noticed some pale yellow patches back from the shoulder when I returned home in mid-July. I could never find them in the morning, because the white buds only open mid-afternoon. All that remained when I drove to work were punctured ovaries; the petals I’d glimpsed were invisible litter waiting to blow with the first wind.
Finally I pulled over and discovered one of the most gorgeous flowers I’d ever seen: ten pale lemon petals cupped a tuft of darker stamens like a water-lily floating with its large round pads around the edges of the lake where I went to summer camp. These New Mexico lotuses stood above grey-green fertility cones on terminal stems spread across the surface of whitish-grey stemmed shrubs.
The exotic Mentzelia is the only Laosaceae genus found in this part of the world. Maximilian Weigend thinks the family evolved in the Huancambamba depression of the Peruvian Andes. John Schenk and Larry Hufford believe that divergence began in the late Cretaceous, some 58 to 92 million years ago, when South America was drifting away from Africa, and that most of the Mentzelia developed during the late Tertiary, 3 to 26 million years ago, just before the isthmus of Panama formed to link South America to this continent.
Mentzelia multiflora thrives in the arid west from Chihuahua and Sonora north to Colorado and Wyoming, often in gravel or sand washes and along roadsides below 7500'. The perennials can wrest nitrogen from the cyanobacteria encrusted soils of Arches National Park in southern Utah, and survive on volcanic pumice in the Jemez. Scattered colonies illuminated the monotonous snakeweed and golden hairy asters spread between the fences and road through San Ildefonso and Santa Clara land the other side of the river this past week.
I didn’t notice the late-summer benefaction until a cluster emerged behind the Russian thistles below a new volcanic rock wall a half mile from my house. Some since have migrated across the road, then washed down the shoulder towards an arroyo where, this year, a few have dug their taproots into the sandy bank. More have found their way upwind to the far shoulder leading into the arroyo on the other side of the road where they coexist with sparse grasses.
A much larger stand exists south of my house on Santa Clara lands that slope down to the brink of another, larger arroyo where few other plants can live in soil depleted of all but the heaviest sands. It’s possible the seeds from this arroyo hinterland blew north, but I suspect the masons brought some seeds with their materials.
Most of the time all anyone sees are narrow gray-green leaves, lobed and upturned like children’s hair clips. Since the leaves are rough and the undersides covered with hairs that attach themselves to pant legs, people learn to stay away. New rosettes of similarly rough and grey leaves even now are interspersed with the taller, blooming plants keeping any approach treacherous.
The Spanish called it pegapega, or sticky sticky, and some used the resin as a glue to repair old santos. Tewa and Keres speakers rubbed the leaves of pukae on the skins of young children learning to ride hold them in place. Only the Navajo thought well enough of ili ihi to use it for rituals.
Even though stickleaf exists for only a few hours a day, a few months of the year, the armed beauty is there for those foolish enough to wander about in the late afternoon sun. Even Willa Cather saved one from her visit to New Mexico in 1916.
Belnap Jayne and Kimball T. Harper. "Influence of Cryptobiotic Soil Crusts on Elemental Content of Tissue of Two Desert Seed Plants," Arid Soil Research and Rehabilitation 9:107-115:1995.
Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany, 1998, includes George R. Swank, The Ethnobotany of the Acoma and Laguna Indians, 1932; Francis H. Elmore, Ethnobotany of the Navajo, 1944; George M. Hocking, "Some Plant Materials Used Medicinally and Otherwise by the Navaho Indians in the Chaco Canyon, New Mexico," El Palacio 56:146-165:1956; Paul A. Vestal, The Ethnobotany of the Ramah Navaho, 1952; and Leland C. Wyman and Stuart K. Harris, The Ethnobotany of the Kayenta Navaho, 1951.
Ortiz y Pino III, Jose. Don Jose: The Last Patron, 1981.
Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.Rosowski, Susan J., Charles W. Mignon, Frederick M. Link, and Kari A. Ronning. "The Issue of Authority in a Scholarly Edition: Editing Cather," in Alexander Pettit, Textual Studies and the Common Reader: Essays on Editing Novels and Novelists, 2000. Margaret R. Bolick, the University of Nebraska museum botany curator, is the one who showed the authors Cather’s contribution to the herbarium.Schenk, John J. and Larry Hufford. "Age Estimates of Clade Diversification in Loasaceae," Botany Conference, 2003.Sivinski, Robert "Mentzelia springeri", 1999, with comments on Mentzelia multiflora in the Jemez.Weigend, Maximilian. "Additional Observations on the Biogeography of the Amotape-Huancabamba Zone in Northern Peru: Defining the South-Eastern Limits," Revista Peruana de Biología 11:127-134:2004.
Photograph: Stickleaf, 14 September 2008.