Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lance-Leaf Coreopsis

What’s blooming in the area: Tea roses, Apache plume, trumpet creeper, honeysuckle, silver lace vine, cholla, tall yucca, fern and leather leaved globemallows, tumble mustard, bird of paradise, alfalfa, scurf pea, white sweet and purple clover, Russian sage, milkweed, velvetweed, scarlet beeblossom, white and yellow evening primroses, nits and lice, datura, creeping and climbing bindweed, buffalo gourd, bachelor button, purple coneflower, Hopi tea, goatsbeard, hawkweed, horseweed, hairy golden and strap-leaf spine asters, blue grama grass; corn 2' high.
What’s blooming in my yard, looking north: Red hot poker peaked, golden-spur columbine, hartweg, butterfly weed peaked, zucchini, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, black-eyed Susan, Moonshine and Parker’s Gold yarrow; buds on mums; sand cherries turning dark red; catalpa pods forming.
Looking east: Floribunda roses, California and Shirley poppies, hollyhock, winecup, sidalcea, coral bells, cheddar pinks, bouncing Bess, snow-in-summer peaked, snapdragons, coral beardtongue, Maltese cross, rock rose, pink evening primrose, large-leaved soapwort; buds on cut-leaf coneflower.
Looking south: Tamarix, Blaze and rugosa roses, daylily, bundle flower, sweet pea, Saint John’s wort, zinnia; buds on tomatillo.
Looking west: Lilies, flax, catmint, Rumanian sage, lady bells, sea lavender, white beardtongue, white spurge, perennial four o’clock; buds on Shasta daisy.
Bedding plants: Moss rose, sweet alyssum; first green tomato formed.
Inside: South African aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, gecko, different kind of bee on white beardtongue, sulfur butterfly, hummingbird moth, grasshoppers, large black harvester and small dark ants.

Weather: Hot all week, with howling winds Thursday night and high humidity yesterday; last useful rain 6/20/09; 15:50 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: Sometimes a phrase sticks in my mind and I lose my ability to see the world except through its prism. In James Thurber’s short story, Walter Mitty imagines himself called into an emergency room to complete a dangerous operation. When the attending physician updates him on the patient’s condition, he warns "coreopsis is setting in."
Now I can never see that yellow composite without hearing Thurber. The solid, round buds protected by shiny, yellowish-green bracts emerge the end of May - coreopsis is setting in. The erect disk flowers open in June surrounded by ungradated yellow rays - coreopsis is setting in. The bracts reclose on the reproductive parts in a turban with darkened flags of dying petals - coreopsis is setting in.
Lance-leaved coreopsis is a native wildflower that can be found anywhere between the Appalachians and the Rockies, but which has fairly specific requirements within that range. In the Great Lakes area, Coreopsis lanceolata inhabits glacial remains that get at least 30" of rain a year and are slightly acidic.
In Michigan, the short rhizomes grow in sandy lands along lakes Michigan and Huron, and on the sandy glacial outwashes supporting relic oak barrens of inland Jackson, Livingston and Oakland counties. I grew up on a spit of better land between those areas less affected by the last glacier where Coreopsis lanceolata only grew as a garden plant that could easily escape.
In Illinois, the rough black seeds grow on south-facing hill prairies composed of loess and sand that had once been forested. Students at the Chicago Botanic Garden found the shortest exposure to smoke that could come from nearby a fire increases their ability to germinate.
When Thurber was living in Columbus the notched petals were commonly mentioned by garden writers, but also grew in the counties along route 62 that followed the south side of the watershed between the Great Lakes and Mississippi from the state capital to Canton. In New Mexico in those years, the wild form was found in open fields east of the Santa Fe and Las Vegas mountains. Even today, it’s restricted to San Miguel and Torrance counties.
In my garden coreopsis is transient. I never worry about dividing it every three years. I’m lucky individual plants live so long. Instead, I let the golden-yellow flowers go to seed, and cut off dead stalks in the spring. By then those stems have become inflexible shrub-like appendages connected to woody crowns that can yank out the roots if accidentally levered.
I also buy fresh seed each year to throw out in the spring and late summer, and let the spoon-shaped seedlings wander about the north-facing bed. With the variously aged plants, I don’t have to worry about keeping a single plant blooming all summer. Something is usually open somewhere. From the accumulated variations of repeated sowing, occasional semi-doubles appear or flowers with red spots at the bases of their rays.
The perennial’s accommodating nature makes it a favorite ingredient in commercial wildflower mixes. Someone down the road had several, simultaneous visions of his land. One was the modern suburban house with an immaculate green lawn maintained by flood irrigation. Another was a cottage in a forest opening surrounded by evergreen trees.
Some ten years ago, either the man or his wife thought a wildflower meadow would be nice, until the flax, blanket flowers, and coreopsis started blooming in the middle of their green sward while they had the house for sale. Each year the thoroughly naturalized flowers come back, and each year he or the new owner mows them down.
When I drive by and see the emerging humps of dark green in spring break the level plane of winter-grayed grass, my car turns into a rider mower, my sweat pants into chaps, and my garden hat into a Stetson. I look out over the range and mutter "coreopsis is setting in."
Notes:Forsberg, Britt, Lara V. Jefferson, Kayri Havens, and Marcello Pennacchio. "Prairie Seed Response to Smoke Cues," Chicago Botanic Garden Posters, 2004.Michigan Natural Features Inventory. "Natural Community Abstract for Oak Barrens," 2001, by J. G. Cohen.Robertson, Kenneth R., Mark W. Schwartz, Jeffrey W. Olson, Brian K. Dunphy, and H. David Clarke. "50 Years of Change in Illinois Hill Prairies," Illinois Natural History Survey websiteThurber, James. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," 1939.United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Coreopsis lanceolata L.," in Plants Profile database, maintained by John T. Kartesz; includes county distribution maps for Ohio and New Mexico.Voss, Edward G. Michigan Flora, volume 3, 1996Wooton, Elmer O. and Paul C. Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915, reprinted by J. Cramer, 1972.

Photograph: Lance-leaf coreopsis with buds and spent turban, 4 July 2009.

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