Sunday, June 19, 2011

Purple Mat Flower

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey, hybrid tea and miniature roses, buddleia, Japanese honeysuckle, silver lace vine, red yucca, lilies, daylily, hollyhock, datura, sweet pea, Jupiter’s beard, alfalfa, brome grass; some cut hay.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, Apache plume, showy milkweed, fernleaf and leatherleaf globemallows, cheese mallow, tumble mustard, alfilerillo, scarlet bee blossom, white evening primrose, velvetweed, bindweed, woolly plantain, stickleaf, purple mat flower, goat’s head, wild licorice mainly seeds, loco, white sweet clover, western goat’s beard, Hopi tea, golden hairy and strap-leaf asters, native and common dandelions; buds on prickly pear and Virginia creeper; bush morning glory up; native yucca leaf points turning brown.

In my yard, looking east: Persian yellow rose, raspberry, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral bells, baby’s breath, Bath pinks peaked, snow-in-summer, sea pink, Maltese cross, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, pink salvia.

Looking south: Pasture, floribunda and rugosa roses, oxalis, tomatilla.

Looking west: Husker red beardtongue, blue flax, catmints, Rumanian sage, flowering spurge, sea lavender; buds on white mullein; tulip leaves turning brown.

Looking north: Catalpa, golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, Hartweig evening primrose, butterfly weed, Mexican hat, Moonshine and Parker’s Gold yarrows, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, black-eyed Susan; garlic leaves turned brown.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansy, snapdragon, moss rose, impatiens, nicotiana.

Inside: Zonal geranium, aptenia, asparagus fern.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird on coral beardtongue, goldfinch on chocolate flowers, other small birds, gecko, hummingbird moth on columbine at sunset, bees, black butterfly with yellow stripe on catmint, small flying insects, grasshoppers, harvester and small black ants; hear crickets.

Weather: Smoke from a fire near Tesuque has been added to that from Arizona as temperatures stay high; last rain 5/19/11; 15:57 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: I first saw purple mat flowers blooming in a sidewalk crack in Los Alamos.

Tiny, five-petaled flowers covered a plant that sprawled on concrete with dense narrow leaves. It rather resembled a moss phlox, only the leaves were plumper and furry. When the flowers aged, the petals curved down and the leaves collected sand.

Nama hispidum is generally considered to be a desert annual that grows from northern Arizona and south Texas down into San Luis Potosí. Early in the last century Elmer Wooten and Paul Standley said it grew on dry hills and plains west of Santa Fe, as well as in the Four Corners, the headwaters of the Pecos and other mountainous parts of New Mexico.

As an annual, it moves about, appearing in whatever congenial place its yellow seeds have landed. It appeared in my north-facing garden from 1995 to 1997, then spread east and south until 1999 when I didn’t see any plants. In 2000 they were in the drive and close to a block walk along the side of the house where they ranged until 2008. I haven’t seen any since, but they’ve been wandering along the upriver side of the road leading to the narrow arroyo since.

This year I saw the characteristic hump of greyish-green leaves in an area of the prairie left bare by ATV’s on Easter Sunday. That same day I saw a small one, more flower than plant, blooming by the road near the other arroyo.

Another three weeks passed before I saw purple mat plants again, this time in the middle of the sandy ranch road leading to the large arroyo. It was blooming two weeks later, and had flowers for another week when I also saw a few more, larger plants blooming in the other direction, along side the road.

Last week there were a half dozen plants blooming along the main road, but nothing on the prairie. The last was 13" across and piled 4" high; smaller ones were only 2" tall.

The small petals open from long yellow funnels, much like nicotiana. The Mayo of southern Sonora noticed the resemblance: they call the one goy tobaco or tobaco de coyote and call Nicotiana obtusifolia goy biba and tobaco de coyote. Leaves of the small lavender flowered plant, which smell when they’re rubbed, are scorched and, alone or in an alcohol solution, put on stiff joints. Leaves of the yellow flowered, 3' plant are boiled into a tea that’s “applied to stiff joints and drunk for rheumatism.”

Despite the floral similarity, purple mat isn’t a member of the nightshade family but of the Hydrophyllaceae. Recently, botanists have determined the waterleaf family is probably a subgroup within the borages.

Within the Nama genus, species can be distinguished by both their external and their chemical characteristics. However, hispidum is sufficiently variable that, over time, it’s acquired multiple Latin names. Wooten and Stanley gave two other names, Marilaunidium hispidum and Conanthus hispidus.

Around Tucson, Beth Kinsey says it blooms “in the springtime, and then again in the fall after the summer monsoon rains.” Closer to the border with Sonora, Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Arizona, says the “seedlings sprout in mid-winter” while José Jesús Sánchez Escalante says that, in Sonora, moradita “appears every year for the ‘waters’ (summer rainfall).”

Here it blooms in May and June. Blossoms may continue into July when the monsoons appear, but are usually gone by the end of the month. Only in 2006 did I see flowers in October.

Apparently, temperature is as important as water for germination. Norman Deno found the tiny seeds emerge in two to six days when temperatures are 70 or when they’re exposed to the growth hormone, gibberellic acid-3.

This year we had some rain on April 6, 18 days before I saw the first plant. Temperatures in the intervening days were in the 70's when I got home, though mornings were still below freezing. Presumably the daily bouts of heat stimulated the production of GA-3, which in turn led to sprouting.

To survive, annuals have to do more than bloom, they have to produce viable seed. The pollen is eaten by bees, who happen to fertilize the flowers while they’re foraging. Jerome Rozen has found some varieties that feed primarily on sand bells in Arizona, but researchers have observed at least twenty bee species visiting the plants in Sonora.

The mystery to me is why a native plant, left undisturbed and obviously able to reproduce, keeps dying out. Perhaps the seeds spread away from the parent, and my sources have been destroyed by neighbors who continually scrap their yards bare of any but the worse vegetation. Or maybe, the growth of grasses in my yard became too much for a species I usually see in open spots.

For now, if I want to see a purple mat, I have to walk along the shoulder with my eyes downcast, much as I did when I walked the streets of Los Alamos.

Notes:Deno, Norman C. Seed Germination Theory and Practice, supplement 1, 1996.

Escalante, José Jesús Sánchez. “Moradita (Nama hispidum),” Nuestras Plantas Sonorenses website, 15 July 2006, translated by Google from “durante ‘las aguas’ (lluvias de verano).”

Kinsey, T. Beth. “Nama hispidum – Bristly Nama,” The Firefly Forest website.

Newberry, Michael, Teresa Newberry and Ronald Geronimo. “Nama hispidum,” Tohono O’odham Community College Plant Atlas website.

Rozen, J. G. “Nesting Biology and Immature Stages of a New Species in the Bee Genus Hesperapis ( Hymenoptera : Apoidea : Melittidae : Dasypodinae),” American Museum Novitates 2887:1987.

_____. “Nesting Biologies and Immature Stages of the Rophitine Bees (Halictidae) with Notes on the Cleptoparasite Biastes (Anthophoridae) (Hymenoptera: Apoidea),” American Museum Novitates 3066, 1-28:1993.

University of Rochester. “Bees and Floral Hosts of Rancho San Bernardino,” school website.

Wooten, Elmer Otis and Paul Carpenter Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915.

Yetman, David and Thomas R. Van Devender. Mayo Ethnobotany, 2002.

Photograph: Purple mat flower blooming along side the road, 12 June 2011.

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