Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Monsoon Continues

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, rose of Sharon, Russian sage, buddleia, trumpet creeper fewer flowers, silver lace vine, red yucca, datura, sweet pea, Heavenly Blue morning glories, purple phlox, cultivated sunflowers, Sensation cosmos, alfalfa, pampas grass; some corn stalks dried; some sweet pea pods turned brown and emptied; people have cleared their vegetable gardens, leaving only still producing tomato plants.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, leatherleaf globemallows, blue gilia, scarlet bee blossom, white and yellow evening primroses, bindweed, ivy-leaf morning glory, goat’s head, white sweet and purple clovers, stickleaf, buffalo gourd, toothed spurge, prostrate knotweed, lamb’s quarter, Russian thistle, amaranth heads long enough to curve, pigweed, ragweed, native sunflowers, chamisa, snakeweed, spiny lettuce, horseweed, gumweed, Hopi tea, goldenrod peaked, áñil del muerto, Tahoka daisy, golden hairy, strap-leaf, purple and heath asters, sandburs, muhly ring grass, crust, moss, mushrooms; buds on broom senecio; cheat grass coming up; Virginia creeper berries turning purple; pods forming on whorled milkweed.

In my yard, looking east: Hosta, garlic chives, Autumn Joy sedum, hollyhock, winecup mallow, sidalcea, Maltese cross, large-leaf soapwort, Jupiter’s beard, pink evening primrose, Shirley poppies, cutleaf coneflower peaked, Maximilian sunflowers collapsed over path, tansy; buds on pied snapdragon.

Looking south: Floribunda and rugosa roses, reseeded and new Crimson Rambler morning glories; sweet alyssum, moss rose and zinnia from seed.

Looking west: Caryopteris, calamintha, sea lavender, lead plant, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, Mönch asters fading, purple coneflowers nearly gone; buds on Silver King artemisia.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, yellow cosmos from seed, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansy, moss rose, nicotiana, impatiens; first Sweet 100 tomatoes ripe.

Inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern.

Animal sightings: Hummingbirds, small bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants, hear crickets.

Weather: Finally getting the long, slow rains we need, but temperatures dropping so low in the night the furnace is coming on; last rain 9/10/11; 12:32 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: The healing’s begun.

We’ve been getting rains now for at least three weeks, much of it coinciding with hurricanes Irene and Lee. However, because they began in late August, and not early July, temperatures have been lower, days shorter and sun angles changing. The recovery has been more like spring, when seedlings and new growth emerge, rather than summer, when existing plants revive.

Along the roadsides, which responded first, the unknown pairs of oval leaves have transmuted into toothed spurge, purslane has arisen, and some ivy-leafed morning glories are blooming. All are plants of late summer.

The only mid-summer pigweed and áñil del muerto seedlings I’d seen before today were in my driveway, mixed with goat’s heads washing down from colonies in my uphill neighbor’s yard. Now, pigweed is sprouting up there as well.

In some barren fields down the road, prickly pear has revived. The pads are shiny enough to reflect light when I drive by in the evening, where before their dull surfaces rendered them invisible. The area between is filled with Russian thistles about four inches high, already capable of blooming and going to seed. In the past those weeds were probably so tall they hid the large cacti bed from the road and discouraged casual intruders.

On the prairie, in small depressions where water collects, or under shading grass clumps, water has remained between showers long enough for new grasses to emerge. There’s also a number of late-summer-germinating prostrate knotweeds. This morning there was new growth on some of the most desolate winterfats, but still only a few new blades have emerged from the established bunches of needle grass.

In the road cut before the arroyo, the broken remains of two bush morning glories someone dug out last spring have poked through the mud that slid into their deep holes. Protecting mud has also washed over the exposed cream tips root in the arroyo, and two tiny buds I saw Monday on the blue gilia were opening this morning.

In the arroyo itself, things have calmed since it last ran. The bottom is still wet in places, but goat’s head and knotweed were the first beneficiaries of the cool damp. However, this morning gypsum phacelia was beginning to germinate under the Russian olive.

The Apache plumes upstream from the tamarix are still blooming, but another in the arroyo bottom has passed and the ones on the prairie bank never bloomed. Chamisa is golden north of town on low land between the Chama and Rio Grande rivers, but only one small shrub had flowers in this arroyo this morning.

White prairie clover normally blooms in summer. Last year its plantain like heads began opening as soon as hurricane Alex brought water July 1. They continued into the first week of August.

This year, green leaves pushed up from root crowns in April, then stopped growing in May. While some were blooming near the road on Santa Clara land on the other side of the river at the normal time in July, I saw no flower buds in the arroyo until the first of August when a couple spikes appeared.

Dalea candida has a long taproot, but that root needs active bacteria to prosper. While W. P. Martin found a number of species in this legume genus lacked rhizobia in Arizona, Oscar and Ethel Allen believe that was an adaption to the arid time they were collected. One would guess the soil organisms need to revive here before the plants can truly prosper.

So far, new growth has emerged from the base of the plant that was blooming, and new stems have pushed up among last year’s bare yellowed stalks on other plants. I don’t know if there’s time for these to reproduce this year, or if they can do no more then prepare the root for another winter.

The more important microorganisms are in the soil crust, that thin layer of cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses that transform nitrogen and carbon from the air into soil nutrients necessary for the succession of grasses. While they spend most of the year as desiccated dark lumps, the blue-green algae resume photosynthesis within minutes of getting wet. Still, it’s taken some time for them to swell enough to be obviously alive and for moss and mushrooms to appear.

In my yard, a thin black layer skimmed the surface of the uphill land on Monday morning where grasses have never revived from grazing decades ago. Later in the day, the water had dried, leaving a lighter colored icing in slight depressions. The patina of cyanobacteria was no longer visible.

Wednesday morning the ground was wet again, apparently from heavy dew. Again, the dark coating appeared before the sun broke through around 9 am. This time I could see little dots of black that could, with time and moisture, grow into clods like those on the prairie. Even a bit of moss appeared in a clump of dead needle grass surrounded by ring muhly grass that had trapped a winterfat seed.

Yesterday morning, in the tail end of another night of soaking rain, the crust had begun to form swallow grey-green islands that mottled the surface, already able to direct flood threatening water away from themselves.

Down the south facing slope there were chaining black threads that, in places, looked more like decaying seaweed in an area where only stumps of bunch grass remain. I assume they’re some form of lichen able to emerge with the cloudy days that have kept the atmosphere cool and moist.

Here and there, in the marbled remains of water, streaks of black appear in the arroyo and the road that leads to it. The fire is still a presence.

On the other side of the river, in places where creeks have a clear path from the Jemez, the banks are covered with black soot. The run-off into Dixon’s Orchard near Cochiti has received the most publicity, but the same dark mud can be seen where the Rio del Oso crosses the Chama highway near Chili north of Española.

Directly across the river, on San Ildefonso land, the arroyos that cross the road rise in badlands that parallel the mountains. Water from the burned canyons can’t reach them. Even so, the ground is covered with grey sand, both in the bottoms and on the steppe, probably from an infiltration of fallen ash.

The Las Conchas fire is not gone. Around 1:45 pm last Saturday I saw a white cloud rising from a canyon to the southwest. Sunday, I saw two different plumes after the rain had stopped about 7 pm. I doubt the original fire flared up, and have no idea what was left for lightening to ignite.

I suppose the fire has been smoldering since July in those canyons, and the rain is finally putting it out in clouds of steam that are still capable of spreading ashes here that turn black when amassed into rivulets by the saving rain.

Allen, O. N and Ethel K. Allen. The Leguminosae, 1981; as Petalostemon candida.

Martin, W. P. Observations on the Nodulation of Leguminous Plants of the Southwest, 1948, cited by the Allens.

Photograph: Ranch road, about 9:30 am on 5 October 2009, before the sun could destroy evidence of the previous night’s rain. This road is a continuation of the paved road by my house; there are no sources for the charcoal wash other than the rain or surface ash.

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