Sunday, September 12, 2010


What’s blooming in the area behind the walls and fences: Hybrid tea roses, rose of Sharon, bird of paradise, buddleia, silver lace vine, honeysuckle, trumpet creeper, Heavenly Blue morning glories, purple phlox, Sensation cosmos, French marigolds, pampas grass.

Outside the fences: Apache plume, leather-leaf globemallow, velvetweed, white and yellow evening primroses, datura, bindweed, scarlet creeper, ivy-leaf morning glory, stickleaf, white sweet clover, prostrate knotweed, toothed spurge, amaranth, pigweed, ragweed, Russian thistle, chamisa, snakeweed, goat’s beard, spiny lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, goldenrod, gumweed, broom senecio, Tahokia daisy, purple and heath asters.

In my yard looking north: Nasturtium, chocolate flower, blanket flower, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, yellow cosmos, chrysanthemum.

Looking east: Floribunda roses, hosta, hollyhock, winecup, sidalcea, Jupiter’s beard, large-leaf soapwort, pink evening primrose, Shirley poppy, scarlet flax, reseeded and Crimson Glory morning glories, garlic chives peaked, Autumn Joy sedum, zinnias, Maximilian sunflower; buds on tansy.

Looking south: Blaze, rugosa and miniature roses, sweet pea.

Looking west: Russian sage, caryopteris, catmint, lady bells, David phlox, perennial four o’clock, calamintha, lead wort, purple ice flower, purple coneflower fading, Mönch aster.

Bedding plants: Moss rose, snapdragon, nicotiana, sweet alyssum; edible Sweet 100 tomatoes.

Inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, gecko, wasps, black harvester and small red ants.

Weather: Warm, dry afternoons killing seedlings that emerged in August monsoons; last rain 08/30/09; 12:29 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: When I get home, I walk along the western border to my back door. Some would see passing the calamintha as an opportunity to pick a rough leaf and inhale its slight minty smell.

Instead, I see a reminder of the teasing questions asked by freshmen philosophy instructors designed to make students realize there is an objective reality that cameras catch and an abstraction we humans recognize. Only one sees insects crawling on petals.

I planted six Calamintha nepetoides two years ago. I don’t remember why - perhaps because they were the only available white fading to blue flowers I hadn’t tried in an area where little succeeded. I knew nothing about them then, and today only know they survived my dry, alkaline environment.

Nepetoides is one of the species defined by Alexis Jordan in 1846 when he was first criticizing Linnaeus’ perception of nature as too focused on traits that survived in dead specimens and not enough on living populations. He abandoned collecting expeditions that enlarged the knowledge of European flora to determine which species maintained themselves as distinct units through multiple generations in altered environments in his test garden.

Jordan’s work was soon overshadowed by Darwin. His theory of species became increasingly captive to his Catholic distaste for the other’s emphasis on natural selection and evolution. As Jordan became more doctrinaire, he was criticized by supporters of Darwin for fixating on the durability of species and by Darwin’s critics who still believed in the value of dried herbariums as a source of knowledge.

While later botanists have praised his observations as less constrained by philosophical biases than those of Darwin, Linnean conservatives are still trying to obliterate his influence by attacking the observations that gave rise to his abstraction of the universe. They tell us nemetoides is not a separate species, but a synonym for something else. Only, they can’t agree on what. One authority says it’s the same as the nepeta subspecies of the nepeta species of the Calamintha genus. Another says the genus is Clinopodium. These redefiners have different motives than earlier collectors who thought the perennial was a Melissa or a Satureja.

I don’t in fact know as a certainty that the plants I’m growing are the same as the nepetoides described by Jordan. As that needling philosophy instructor would argue, I only know what the supplier advertised in its catalog and what I think my eyes tell me. Bluestone Perennials would only know what its supplier told it, and no one is currently associated on the web with offering the seeds.

My plants are not the hazy mound shown in the catalog, but a series of erect stems with scattered two-lipped tubular flowers on short horizontal stems with toothy calyx cups that remain when the petals fall. I only assume what I’m growing is what the Ohio nursery advertised, and not some variant that crept into the seed supply.

In their first three years my herbs began blooming the second or third week of August, and continued until the weather turned cold in mid-October. Monique and Roger Jacques, who tested nepetoides grown from seed taken from the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris, found flowering was initiated when the plants were exposed to several long days of red light, and that far-red light in the daily cycle nullified the effects of stimulating light. My plants begin to bloom about the time my almanac changes it’s formula for calculating day length in Santa Fe, a pattern I only assume reflects a change in the quality of light as days shorten.

In France, Alexandre Acloque says nepetoides grow on dry, stony places in the mountainous Lozère department. Elsewhere in Europe, it prefers the dry, calcerous areas of lower and middle mountains in the Alps, Pyrennes, and central Italy. In this country, John Kartesz reports the nepata subspecies on the Alabama plateau and east of the mountains in Virginia, both places with large limestone deposits.

Gardeners participating in on-line forums that group a number of plant names into single category say nepeta becomes invasive at an altitude above 5000' in Albuquerque and nepetoides self-seeds in gravel in Maryland. Everywhere else, in normal garden soils, whatever people think is nepetoides remains a clump forming perennial that may expand with stolons.

My bloom time and ecological niche are circumstantial evidence my plants may in fact be related to the nepetoides described by Jordan. But as one man said, after he talked with the botanist, it’s all quite logical, but is it true?

Acloque, Alexandre. Flores Régionales de la France, 1904.

Clausen, Jens, David D. Keck and William M. Hiesey. "The Concept of Species Based on Experiment," American Journal of Botany 26:103-106:1939, discusses philosophies of Linnaeus, Jordan and Darwin.

Jacques, Monique and Roger Jacques. "Calamintha nepetoides," in Abraham H. Halevy, CRC Handbook of Flowering, volume 6, 1989.

Jordan, Alexis. Observations sur Plusieurs Plantes Nouvelles Rares ou Critiques de la France, volume 4, 1846.

Muller, B. Comments in Calamintha nepeta forum, 28 February 2007, in Dave’s Garden website; includes nepetoides as a synonym.

Parlatore, Filippo. Elogio di Filippo Barker Webb, 1856, quotes letter by Webb who met Alexis Jordan to discuss Calamintha.

Talt, Marge. Comments in Calamintha nepatoides forum, 22 October 1997, on

Thomas, Robert B. The Old Farmer’s Alamanc, 2010.

Thompson, H. Stuart. Sub-alpine Plants or Flowers of the Swiss Woods and Meadows, 1912.

United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Germplasm Resources Information Network. Defines nepetoides as subspecies of Clinopodium nepeta.

_____. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Plants Profile website maintained by John T. Kartesz, Biota of North America Project, who defines nepetoides as subspecies of
Calamintha nepeta.

Photograph: Bluestone’s Calamintha nepetoides with what looks like a black insect, 11 September 2010; Mönch asters in back.

No comments: