Sunday, October 26, 2008

Silver King Artemisia

What’s blooming in the area: Tea and miniature roses in town, white sweet clover, purple asters; dead leaves on catalpa and some cottonwoods, others still yellow.
What’s blooming in my garden: California poppy, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, chocolate flower near house; peach, rose of Sharon, Siberian pea and caryopteris dropping leaves; cold killed leaves on apricot, black locust, weigela, cutleaf coneflower, Maximilian sunflowers; leaves beginning to yellow on Apache plume, flax, sea lavender, some iris; leaves turning red on pink evening primrose.
Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum.
Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium
Animal sightings: Rabbit reconnoitering last Sunday.
Weather: Temperature fell to mid-20's on Thursday and low 30's Friday and Saturday. Last rain, 10/14/2008; 10:15 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: It’s not that I didn’t know. Milaeger was quite open when it said Silver King artemisia "will spread very quickly." A few years later they modified that to "rampant grower."
But sometimes that’s what you want - dense foliage that will quickly and cheaply fill an area where other plants won’t grow. I don’t remember now where I put the disc-flowered composite in Oakland County in 1986, but I do know it didn’t do particularly well. Michigan may be the only state in the country where Artemisia ludoviciana is considered a threatened species.
But that was there.
I didn’t deliberately bring the grey-leaved perennial to New Mexico. A piece of rhizomatous root stuck in a pot with something else in 1991, and emerged the next summer in my holding bed. I moved the survivor to the northwest side of the house in 1997 where it formed a colony the next summer. Not only did it begin to spread, but it hitchhiked again when I move a white yarrow, The Pearl, from there to the northwest side of the garage in April of 1998.
Now both beds would be overrun if I let them. It turns out, Silver King is a common name for the albula strain of the mexicana subspecies that’s native to the arid southwest from Colorado-Utah-Nevada south into México. Here it stays in range of the hoses and prefers the shelter of buildings, and so doesn’t follow the water into more exposed, sunnier areas.
The ancestral mexicana grows in the central highlands of México above 5,500' where it has been used medicinally by both the Aztec and the Spanish. In the Chiricahua mountains of southeastern Arizona, it prefers the canyons and limestone soils. George Osterhout found a variant, silvicola, with larger heads in Colorado that stayed along the northern streams, much like my cultivated variety.
So far I’ve let the mexicana albula grow at the outer edges of the beds, hoping the height, usually 18" to 24" by August, would shelter the more desirable plants during the summer heat and winds. The roots are fairly shallow, so they don’t compete directly with the nearby deeper rooted perennials. While the rhizomes haven’t gotten too dense, the multiple shoots with their flower bearing branches will crowd out the phlox and coneflowers. I have to spend at least one day a year, and sometimes more, keeping it to the periphery.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m so generous, but I know the reason’s aesthetic. Silver King has insignificant flowers that recently have been turning to seeds, but the herbaceous foliage is a good contrast with the blue flowers by the house and the phlox and lilies by the Navajo white garage where it grows out to the equally gray winterfat. More than Vita Sackville-West have enjoyed a garden limited to shades of white.
Invasiveness is in the eye of the overrun. In most parts of the country, proscribed plants are introduced aliens like kudzu or Siberian elms that do better than expected and escape into the wild. My most aggressive plants are natives to the region that don’t grow in this particularly hostile area, but are well adapted to flourish once those barriers are accidentally removed.
Notes: Bennett, Peter S., E. Roy Johnson and Michael R. Kunzmann. An Annotated List of Vascular Plants of the Chiricahua Mountains, 1996, available on-line.Heinrich, Michael. "Ethnobotany, Phytochemistry, and Biological/Pharmacological Activities of
Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. mexicana (Estafiate)" in Colin W. Wright, Artemisia, 2002.
Milaeger Gardens, The Perennial Wishbook catalogs, 1987, 1993.Osterhout, George E. Included in John Merle Coulter and Aven Nelson. New Manual of Botany of the Central Rocky Mountains (Vascular Plants), 1909.
Photograph: Silver King artemisia, 19 September 2008.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


What’s blooming in the area: Tea and miniature roses, datura, gladiola, white sweet clover, chamisa, broom senecio, purple asters; cottonwood and milkweed turning yellow, cherries deep red, most Virginia creeper and grape leaves dead.
What’s blooming in my garden: Russian sage, California poppy, hollyhock, winecup, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, Sensation cosmos; leadplant leaves red.
Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, protected French marigold and gazania.
Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.
Animal sightings: Green bellied sparrow-like birds in Maximilian seed heads.
Weather: Temperatures were near freezing Monday morning before rains came through on Tuesday, followed by heavy fog on Wednesday and frost everywhere Friday morning. 10:35 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: Chamisa is an iconic shrub for Santa Fe’s southwestern romantics. In the late 1940's, Leonora Curtin said it "recalls instantly the all-pervading sense of beauty that one attaches to New Mexico in the early autumn" and that "nothing so characterizes the landscape."
Oddly, while I see it along the road as I drive down the thousand feet from the city, the only place it grows in a dense stand here is the waste land where the Santa Cruz, running from Chimayó and Truches, drains into the Rio Grande. I don’t see it disrupting the prairie grasslands or scrub, nor do I glimpse it amongst the distant juniper.
Like many totemic plants the woody composite is more a keepsake of man’s life on the land than a relic of untouched wilderness. Chrysothamnus is native to the west from northern Mexico to the plains of southern Canada. Sparse nauseosus specimens have lived in such isolation from one another, the species has developed at least 26 recognized varieties that themselves vary so much from location to location that men trying to grow it for its vulcanizable latex during the world wars couldn’t find a single population that was reliable enough from season to season to cultivate.
Our graveolens subspecies thrives along arroyos and alkaline flats in open, sunny areas where its deep taproots can burrow until it locates water. Down the road, a few rabbitbrushes grow some twenty feet above a deep arroyo carved by an acequia that spills water much of the summer.
Another colony is settling the arroyo a half mile south where seed from the self-fertile tubular yellow disc flowers was blown or washed. The shrubs stay in the wet, sandy bottomland where they are creating islands in soil the transitory flowing waters can’t wash away. The contours were especially sharp last Sunday before the afternoon winds had a chance to erase the new erosion from night’s rains.
Ranchers found little use for the narrow-leaved shrub because the latex makes it unpalatable. A decrease in chemicals and an increase in protein make the herbage more edible when temperatures drop in fall and winter and other food becomes unavailable, but not enough for them to encourage it on their lands the other side of the river. The fact rabbits nibble it is no recommendation.
Spanish-speaking settlers gave the fuzz-covered shrub the same name as saltbush and sagebrush, chamizo, a word for brushwood or charred wood, with pejorative connotations of cheapness and poverty. If it ever grew in the area, it’s long been cleared and kept cleared. Not everyone likes the flowers’ strong aroma and protein-rich pollen. The only plants in the village are widely spaced clumps edging a fallow field far from the chapel.
The pueblos didn’t find many more uses for nauseosus . The Zuni used the bigelovii subspecies for baskets, no doubt exploiting the rubber compounds in hakoha luptsine’s twigs. However, the Hopi called our graveolens hanoshivápi because the Tewa-speaking Hano, who abandoned this area after the reconquest, used it for firewood.
The high resin content makes the woody base and annual growth flammable. It not only burns easily in a wildfire but it’s one of the first plants to revive, either from recently buried seed or root buds. While there’s little competition, chamisa can dominate a disturbed area for thirty to fifty years, before it gives way to bunch grasses or conifers.
This past week, as I drove in and out of rain showers, I saw the aging flowers by the roadside and once again pondered the microclimates that control what can grow here, and the people in the pueblos, settlements and enclaves along the highway who decide what will be allowed to survive. Santa Fe sí, Española nada.
Notes: Chamisa does not appear in many on-line Spanish dictionaries. The one appearing under the Oxford imprint defines chamizo as a colloquial term for brushwood or charred log. SpanishDict associates chamizo with a thatched hovel, while Tomasino suggests the related verb, chamuscar, means both to sear and sell cheap.Curtin, Leonora Scott Muse. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore.Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco. Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.Stevenson, Martha Coxe. The Zuni Indians, 1904, reprinted by The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1985.
Photograph: Chamisa in an arroyo bottom, 12 October 2008, soon after some rain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

F1 Snapdragon

What’s blooming in the area: Tea and miniature roses, gladiola, some kind of yucca, datura, Heavenly Blue morning glory, silver lace vine, mullein, white sweet clover, yellow evening primrose, alfilerillo, lamb’s quarter, chamisa, broom senecio, snakeweed peaked, wild lettuce, hawkweed, áñil del muerto, Hopi tea, gumweed, heath and purple asters, native sunflowers peaked; cottonwoods turning yellow by the river.
What’s blooming in my garden: Russian sage, catmint, golden spur columbine, large-leaf soapwort, California poppy, hollyhock, winecup, Jupiter’s beard, nasturtium, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, Sensation and yellow cosmos, perky Sue, African marigolds, Maximilian sunflowers peaked, zinnia; snowball leaves turning red, rose of Sharon leaves turning yellow.
Bedding plants: Snapdragon almost gone, sweet alyssum, moss rose, French marigold, gazania.
Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium, bougainvillea
Animal sightings: Flock of small green birds in Maximilian sunflowers last Sunday; insects disappearing.
Weather: Yesterday’s rain was more welcome than the winds; frost on the car windows Thursday morning; 10:54 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: Garden writers warn you: if F1 hybrids go to seed, they don’t come true. I have a yellow snapdragon growing amongst my pink and rose hollyhocks to prove it. Not just yellow. The buds are magenta, the aging flowers bronzed peach. Almost anytime I see it, the short, bushy plant has competing colors.
Two years ago I planted six pink Sonnet, six pink Rocket, and six red Rocket plants 15 to 20 feet downwind from where this yellow wonder appeared a year ago near the base of a hollyhock that apparently protected the tender perennial during the winter. I don’t know which plant, or plant combination, sired the fledgling, but the likely parents were all F1's.
We’ve known the habits of hybrids since Gregor Mendel described the dynamics of variation in 1866: that for every trait, nature begins with two alleles, one dominant and one recessive, and they always appear in a ratio of 1 pure dominant, 1 pure recessive, and 2 mixed. Seedsmen use F1 to refer to crosses between lines that have been purified through six generations to ensure all the alleles for a given trait are the same, and the resulting hybrid is predictable. However, as soon as the protected offspring is fertilized it reverts to the 1A:2Aa:1a pattern.
What’s surprising is that it took so long, nearly a hundred years, for seedsmen to exploit that knowledge for Antirrhinum majus. Rocket was the first popular F1 introduced by Harris Seed in 1960 when it won six All-American selection awards. Burpee had the first F1 award winner in 1957 with its rose-colored Vanguard. Sakata’s Sonnet became available through Stokes in 1988.
At first, those like Mendel who tried to replicate Darwin’s findings worked with economically important plants that were easy to manipulate, like corn, or with the anomalies he identified, like snapdragons. At Michigan Agricultural College, William Beal described methods any farmer could use to produce hybrids in 1876. He alternated rows of two common corn varieties, southern dent and northern flint; then removed the tassels from one group, to ensure all the seed would have the same male-female cross. The resulting crop produced 21 to 51 percent more corn. My home county production in 1874 was nearly 39 bushels an acre.
By 1900, a number had observed patterns like Beal’s and were ready when Hugo De Vries publicized the monk’s work in Germany. A few months later, William Bateson translated his article into English for the Royal Horticultural Society. Both men addressed an international breeders conference in New York in 1902.
Botanists pursued the mechanisms for selection, the chromosome and gene. Those who wanted to know why a red and a white snapdragon always produced pink ones and why the dominant to recessive color hierarchy dictates magenta over yellow, crimson over bronze, and bronze over yellowish-bronze learned combinations of genes could control a trait. Erwin Baur was using Antirrhinum in 1907 when he discovered mutations could be unstable. Hans Sommer’s team established snapdragon genes could change places to create these unexpected variations in 1985.
Seedsmen preferred the simple and predictable, and continued to refine pure lines into selections. Sutton offered 67 snapdragon varieties in England in 1926. Thompson and Morgan listed 82 in 1955. Two were advertised as reselected, but none were described as hybrids.
Farmers stayed loyal to Beal’s methods long after Donald Jones produced inexpensive hybrid seed in 1918, because his double-crossed corn required maintaining four potentially patentable pure lines to produce the immediate parents of seed that couldn’t be saved. Economically pressed farmers didn’t want to become dependent on seed salesmen, especially when many of the early releases didn’t adapt to local conditions. It wasn’t until the reorganization of agriculture in the 1930's that hybrids were accepted. This year Michigan is expected to harvest 140 bushels an acre, more than three and a half times the 1874 yield.
By then, the demand for ornamental seeds was depressed and flower seed breeders were more interested in exploring the possibilities of chemically altering the fertilization process to keep all the genes from both parents. Instead of four possible outcomes for any given mating, there were sixteen. In 1938 Bernard Nebel and Mabel Ruttle established colchicine as the best catalyst; in 1942 they published research on sterility in tetrapolid snapdragons. David Burpee introduced his first variety in 1946; Thompson and Morgan offered three in 1955.
The market for ornamental seed in the lean years of the 1930's and 1940's was florists. It was the expansion of suburbs after the war that created new demand for cut flowers on plants that homeowners could grow. Fred Stratt turned to F1 crosses, but his employer, Harris Seed, couldn’t afford the labor-intensive fertilization control required to mass produce Rocket seed. They teamed up with PanAmerican who had begun producing its seed in low-cost Costa Rica in 1946.
And so finally, decades after Mendel and Beal and Jones had worked out the theory, method and incentives for producing a robust F1 hybrid, I can buy good snapdragons. But when I look at what happens if one actually thrives and goes native, I’m still left with the question every farmer has ever asked when faced with a piebald: "Whoever was your daddy?"
Desai, Babasaheb B. Seeds Handbook: Biology, Production, Processing, and Storage, 2004, describes color hierarchy for breeders.
Everts, L. H. County history for 1877 includes data from 1874 census on crop yields; errors in reporting are possible.Fitzgerald, Deborah. The Business of Breeding, 1990, traces the resistance to hybrids.Michigan Corn Growers Association. "Michigan Corn Crop Outlook is Favorable," 3 October 2008 press release.Paul, Diane B. and Barbara A. Kimmelman. "Mendel in America: Theory and Practice, 1900-1919," in Ronald Rainger, Keith R. Benson and Jane Maienschein, The American Development of Biology, 1988.Rice, Graham. "Antirrhinums (Snapdragons)," Garden Answers, April 1999, has information on Sutton’s.Zhang, Dongfen, Qiuying Yang, Weidong Bao, Yu Zhang, Bin Han, Yongbiao Xue, and Zhukuan Cheng. "Molecular Cytogenetic Characterization of the Antirrhinum majus Genome," Genetics 169: 325–335:2005, reviews history of genetic research with snapdragons.
Photograph: Two-year old second generation F1 snapdragon between showers, 11 October 2008.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Ruby Seedless Grape

What’s blooming in the area: Rose of Sharon, tea and miniature roses, some kind of yucca, buddleia, winterfat, datura, Heavenly Blue morning glory, bindweed, blue trumpets, honeysuckle, silver lace vine, ragtag bouncing Bess, mullein, white sweet clover, yellow and white evening primroses, alfilerillo, lamb’s quarter, amaranth, ragweed, goat’s head, chamisa, broom senecio, snakeweed, wild lettuce, horseweed, áñil del muerto peaked, Hopi tea, gumweed, hairy golden, heath and purple asters, native sunflowers peaked, cockle bur, sandbur.
What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Red hot poker, golden spur columbine, nasturtium, chocolate flower, fern-leaf yarrow, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, yellow cosmos, perky Sue.
Looking east: Large-leaf soapwort peaked, scarlet gilia, California poppy, squash, hollyhock, winecup, Jupiter’s beard, sweet alyssum from seed, African marigolds, Maximilian sunflowers, zinnia; ripe raspberries and tomatoes.
Looking south: Blaze roses, Sensation cosmos; rugosa rose hips red, edible grapes.
Looking west: Russian sage, catmint, Mönch aster peaked, Silver King artemisia.
Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, moss rose, French marigold, tomato.
Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium, bougainvillea.
Animal sightings: Bees, ants, few grasshoppers.
Weather: Soaking rain last night; nature continues to prepare for winter, plants are going out of bloom, leaves are beginning to turn color and a few are dropping. 11:22 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: A Roman Catholic community must have wine, and so, in the early years, stoneware jugs were sent to frontier missions every three years or so by ox-cart. Franciscans tried to become self-sufficient, but grapes are sensitive to climate and soil. Whatever seeds or cuttings they brought, only one prospered, a large, dark fruited one possibly related to the Sardinian Mónica.
The vines García de San Francisco planted in 1629 at Senecú, the first settlement north of the Jornada del Muerto, survived the destruction of the Piro pueblo by Apache in 1675. Cuttings were taken to El Paso by García when he moved there in 1659 and may have been sent to the larger northern missions like San Ildefonso before the pueblo revolt of 1680.
Juan de Torquemada reported Tewa speakers were using "mucha uba" in bread in 1723, 29 years after de Vargas reconquered the Black Mesa. Francisco Dominguez saw vines growing in Santa Cruz in 1776. More recently, Barbara Freire-Marreco found grapes cultivated by San Ildefonso in 1911, probably for raisins, while the Interior Department observed uvas to the north along the El Rito, the Chama below Abiquiú and the Rio Grande between Velarde and Dixon in the 1930's.
When I moved here in 1991, two people had vines, one group growing along a sturdy rail fence, the other spreading onto wires strung between posts in a field. A few years later someone living near the river put in a vineyard with sapling posts supporting each root and top wires spreading the tallest growth.
I never see their fruit which tends to be protected by large, hairy, scallop-edged leaves, so I don’t know their varieties. The local stores offer green, red and purple varieties, and more are available by mail. I bought one of each in 1998, with the expectation the purple Concord derived from the hardy Vitis labrusco grown in upstate New York would do well, and the zone 7 green Thompson seedless vinifera popularized by Armenian refugees would fail. Instead, a Ruby seedless survived, and this year produced its first edible fruit.
Harold Olmo began work with the vinifera hybrid in 1939 by crossing the popular, but essentially tasteless winter grape, Emperor, with a seedless hybrid developed by Alberto Pirovano from the Muscat of Alexandria and a seedless sultanina. Olmo selected a cultivar in 1950 for further development, and released Ruby in 1968 when it quickly became the late-season crop in the San Joaquin valley. It has been since eclipsed by imports from Chile.
A zone 7 vine is a poor choice for the Española valley, and has been replaced by Flame in the local hardware. Most springs my Ruby vine leafs out in late April or early May and is killed by frost. The replacement growth keeps the root alive by producing buds for the next season’s fruiting wood, but doesn’t usually flower.
This year the weather stayed cool and leaves didn’t appear until May 14. Ruby thrives in the hot summers of the San Joaquin: it needs at least 100 days with temperatures above 50 degrees and cool nights. Here, when I’ve had fruit develop, there wasn’t enough time for it to mature. In 2006, I found fruit August 20 that didn’t begin to turn until September 16. In 2007, it was September 22 before I saw color. This year, the fruit appeared earlier, around July 12, and I ate some last weekend, but the still forming green clusters haven’t a chance.
A strange season for the valley, this, but one simpático for an alien from California whose fruit not only was sweet and thin-skinned, but contained but the merest remains of seeds that had been aborted by some recessive genetic pattern unique to the sultana.
Domínguez, Francisco Atansio. Republished 1956 as The Missions of New Mexico, 1776, translated and edited by Eleanor B. Adams and Angélico Chávez.

Torquemada, Juan de. De los Veinte í un Líbros Rítuales í Monarchia Indiana, 1723, cited by William Wilfred Robbins, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.
US Dept of Interior, Tewa Basin Study, volume 2, 1935, reprinted by Marta Weigle as Hispanic Villages of Northern New Mexico, 1975.
Photograph: Ruby seedless grapes, 28 September 2008.