What’s blooming: Snapdragon, large-leaf globemallow, chrysanthemums, blanket flower, áñil del muerto, tahoka daisy, gum weed, purple, heath and golden hairy asters; Virginia creeper and pyracantha still have berries; new seed head on dandelion; hollyhock capsules opening to release seeds; broom senecio and chamisa releasing seeds; black grama grass seed heads curving.
What’s still green: Arborvitae, juniper and other evergreens, Siberian elm, globe willow, apples, roses, Willamette raspberry, forsythia, privet, Japanese honeysuckle, pyracantha, cholla, prickly pear, yuccas, red hot poker, hostas, grape hyacinth, west-facing iris, hollyhock, winecup, oriental poppy, St. John’s wort, vinca, bindweed, oxalis, baptisia, purple and white sweet clovers, alfalfa, sweet pea, catmint, pink salvia, coral and red beardtongues, soapworts, Jupiter’s beard, sea pink, golden spur columbine, scarlet flax, Hartweg, yellow and pink evening primroses, tomatillo, snakeweed, perky Sue, Shasta daisy, blanket flower, coreopsis, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, Mönch asters, yarrow, dandelion, pampas, brome, and cheat grasses, base of needle grass; new growth on stick leaf, alfilerillo and tumble mustard; dead leaves still on trees.
What’s grey, blue-grey or grey-green: Piñon, four-winged salt bush, buddleia, pinks, snow-in-summer, yellow alyssum, California poppies, donkey tail spurge, winterfat, chamisa, Silver King artemisia, chocolate flower; new growth on loco weed; Russian olive dropping leaves.
What’s turned/turning red: Red leaved plum, sand cherries, Bradford pear, spirea, snowball, barberry, coral bells, purple beardtongue, prostrate knotweed, lambs quarter, goldenrod leaves; Russian thistle stems.
What’s turned/turning yellow: Cottonwood, tamarix, weeping willow, apricot, rugosa and pasture roses, Apache plume, lilacs, beauty bush, garlic chives, Autumn Joy sedum, lady bells, bouncing Bess, David phlox, Rumanian sage, blue flax, purple ice plant, tansy, Maximilian sunflower, purple coneflowers, June grass; peach and caryopteris dropping leaves.
What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern, pomegranate, zonal geranium..
Animal sightings: Rabbit, cabbage and sulfur butterflies, wasps, grasshoppers, carpenter and small red ants have new hills in asphalt someone dumped around the corner.
Weather: Temperatures below freezing most mornings; snow visible in Sangre de Cristo; last rain 10/21/10; 10:34 hours of daylight today.
Weekly update: Tahoka daisies are plains wild flowers that range from Alberta down into central Mexico, with their greatest concentration in west Texas, eastern New Mexico and nearby Oklahoma.
The showy composite blooms all summer, and thus was easily noticed by men documenting the flora of North America in the nineteenth century. Their collections were often analyzed by others who recorded little about growing conditions. Aimé Bonpland collected Machaeranthera tanaecetifolia in central Mexico when he was there with Alexander von Humboldt in 1803 and 1804. He took 60,000 specimens back to Europe which Carl Kunth cataloged.
Thomas Nuttall noticed them when he was exploring the west in the 1830's, but didn’t publish his findings until 1841. John Torrey collected them on an expedition looking for the best rail route through the west in the 1850's, but they weren’t included in the list of plants by location made by Thomas Antisell. Charles Parry led two easterners on a collecting expedition in the Rockies in 1862 where they found 600 species that were described by Asa Gray the next year.
Early in the twentieth century, Elmer Wooten and Paul Standley claimed they could be found on sandy soil throughout New Mexico “at lower altitudes.” Today the USDA map shows them growing in most counties in the state except those immediately east of the northern Sangre de Cristo and those east and west of Albuquerque.
For being so widespread, they don’t seem to like this area very much. It may be too dry or too hot. Gray says the taproots like “moist ground.” Ann Reilly warns gardeners they prefer “cool climates.” The ones I saw blooming last Sunday were either growing in the bottom of the big arroyo or along the side of a road shaded by cottonwoods that leads to the narrow arroyo.
They got their common name when Mrs. Myrick persuaded an Iowa seed company to offer seeds in the 1920's. She lived in Lubbock, Texas, and associated them with nearby Tahoka, an atypical staked plains town built on the shores of a permanent lake fed by three springs.
Many say they like disturbed ground. When Effie Alley first saw them at the new Tahoka Lake Ranch in 1889, the area had already been grazed by buffalo and sheep. The ones in my yard stick to shaded areas along the edge of a gravel drive, and don’t migrate into the nearby irrigated garden soil.
According to Reilly the flat seeds, shaped like ecru-colored sunflower kernels, need two weeks of wet cold, before they can be moved into a medium that’s kept at 70 degrees for 25 to 30 days. When they meet those conditions here varies by year: in 2007 I noticed some early leaves in mid March; last year it was the middle of May.
When they first break ground, the seedlings look like tansy mustard, a bit grey with narrow leaves that appear dissected. When you look closely, you see a central corridor with narrow, smooth edged segments curving away. At the tip is a tiny spine that can only be seen, but not felt. If you try to pick the leaves to look, the stem resists and your fingers smell.
In a few weeks they turn bright green. The central stem produces multiple branches which soon form a short, rounded, bush. My largest this year grew 29" high and spread 3' at the top. The base of the primary stalk was half an inch across, while the four larger branches, which diverged about 4.5" from the soil, grew to a quarter inch across. Each branch first sprouted thin twigs that held only leaves, then branched and rebranched until buds appeared at the tips of every leafy branch, often at the end of Y’s.
Blooming is as variable as germination. I’ve seen them the middle May, and haven’t noticed them until July. However, the tight buds don’t really unfold until after the monsoons. Even then, the terminal flowers they don’t all open flat at once. More often, the plant is covered with shuttlecocks of exterior petals lost in ferny foliage.
The 15 to 25 ray flowers apparently exist only to make pollen and attract insects. Bees produce a “dark honey resembling something very much like molasses in both taste and smell” when they visit the corollas.
The tubular yellow disk flowers, with their five points, are more important. They’re the ones that survive as sandy-white feathery plumes, the pappi, above the seeds. Around September 22 this year, the bushes were covered with white balls that captured light like crystal ornaments.
Now the seeds are being released to the wind, leaving white cushions where receptacles had held the petals. Fringes of dead bracts hang down. The reddish stems have turned to wood. Last week they began breaking at the ground, further scattering the seed’s parachutes.
While the annual has signaled the completion of its life cycle with those pockmarked cushions, not all were killed by last week’s frost. Some continue to produce a few, tentative flowers to remind passers-by of what was and will be again when the weather’s as favorable as this year.
Gray, Asa. “Enumeration of the Species of Plants Collected by Dr. C. C. Parry, and Messrs. Elihu Hall and J. P. Harbour, during the Summer and Autumn of 1862, on and near the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado Territory, lat. 39°-41°,” Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Proceedings 15:55-80:1863.
_____ and Sereno Watson. Synoptical Flora of North America: Gamopetalae, 1884; on moist ground.
Hill, Frank P. and Pat Hill Jacobs. Grassroots Upside Down: A History of Lynn County, quoted on Tahoka, Texas, website, on Tahoka daisy.
Kunth, Carl Sigismund. Nova Genera et Species Plantarum quas in Peregrinatione ad Plagam Aequinoctialem Orbis Novi Collegerunt Bonpland et Humboldt 4:95:1820.
Nuttall, Thomas. “Descriptions of New Species and Genera of Plants in the Natural Order of the Compositae, Collected in a Tour Across the Continent to the Pacific, a Residence in Oregon and a Visit to the Sandwich Islands and Upper California, During the Years 1834 and 1835,” American Philosophical Society Transactions 7:283-454:1841.
Reilly, Ann. Park’s Success with Seeds, 1978.
Scribner, David D. “Honey Bee FAQs,” Niche Development website, 2007; same words appear on other web sites.
Torrey, John. Botanical Report from the Explorations and Surveys for a Railroad Route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean project, 1856; includes table by Thomas Antisell.
United States Department of Agriculture. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Plant profile for Machaeranthera tanaecetifolia, available on-line.
Wooten, Elmer Otis and Paul Carpenter Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915.
Photograph: Tahoka daisy with seed head growing along my drive on the north side of a wooden fence, 31 October 2010; a bare receptacle and bracts can be seen behind them.