Sunday, November 27, 2011


Weather: Except for Thanksgiving, morning temperatures warmer than last week until this morning, which is the coldest so far; rain Friday; 10:06 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming: Pansy next to a fence, under snapdragons and low to the ground.

Seed catalogs, that used to come between Christmas and New Years, started arriving before Thanksgiving.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae and other evergreens, roses, prickly pear, yuccas, grape hyacinth, red hot pokers, oriental poppy, golden-spur columbine, coral beard tongue, Jupiter’s beard, snapdragons, large leaved soapwort, ladybells, winecup, cheese, sweet pea, alfalfa, clovers, bindweed, yellow evening primrose, vinca, gypsum phacelia, anthemis, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, strapleaf and purple asters, June, cheat and other grasses, gray mushrooms.

With cold, leaf stems on hollyhocks have broken, but the leaves are still green. Friday’s rain took down most of the leaves still on my trees.

What’s red/turning red: Cholla, leaves on raspberry, privet, Japanese honeysuckle, pinks, small leaved soapwort, Husker’s and purple beard tongue, coral bells, pink evening primrose, alfilerillo.

What’s blue or grey: Piñon, leaves on four-winged saltbush, California poppy, loco, catmints, snow-in-summer, yellow alyssum, winterfat, creamtips, hairy golden and heath asters.

What’s yellow-green/turning yellow: Leaves on weeping willow, Apache plume, rugosa rose, sea pink, snakeweed.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Something that looked like a chipmunk dove for its hole by the near arroyo, then look back out. Was small, with brown fur and not much of a tail.

Weekly update: One-seeded juniper may be the indicative plant for this region, but you won’t find it just anywhere. Few grow in the nearby prairie. Instead, you see the dark green forms climbing distant hills.

I’ve often wondered why.

Hart Merriam, who first identified the piñon-juniper zone, thought temperature was the determining factor in the southwest, that it decreased with elevation while precipitation increased. His brother-in-law, Vernon Bailey, suggested the major factor separating areas within the piñon-juniper province in New Mexico was humidity. A LANL team headed by Kevin Reid theorized it was soil moisture on the Pajarito Plateau.

I finally got a clue a couple weeks ago when I climbed to the top of a small hill that was grassy at the bottom and brown on top. I discovered the reason is the base was simple alluvial soil and the top was covered with layers of thin conglomerate. At the very top, in the middle of the biggest rocks, where water was most likely to run away quickly, juniper was growing.


I’ve spent the past two weeks rather rudely looking under the skirts of dowager junipers to see how many were associated in some way with rocks. I even drove up to Ojo Caliente and back through the Wild Rivers National Recreation Area. Some, most dramatically, were growing with boulders.

Many others appeared to be growing in sandy loam, but when I got close I saw gravel scattered on the ground. Sometimes, the road bank was covered by gravel that had tumbled from soil that looked smooth on the surface.

When I drove down to Albuquerque two weeks ago, I paid more attention to the juniper beside the road that I ought. Around Santa Fé the trees were denser than here or in the north. Again I could see gravel on the surface or in the road cuts.

The roadside trees disappeared after the Bernalillo exit, just as the Sandias replaced juniper covered hills in the distance. Although elevation could be a factor, I thought it more likely the wooded hills were the seed source and when they disappeared so did their offspring. Reid’s group found that when it rained hard on the Pajarito Plateau, water and sediments moved down from the areas with trees into the more barren areas, dropping their booty as they moved.

I suspect the juniper distribution in my immediate neighborhood is related to the underlying geology. Daniel Koenig has mapped the provenance of surface rocks in this area and shown a line separating recent alluvial soils from older, rockier Tertiary sediments. The foothills where I see the most trees lie in the Tertiary area.

Rocks and stones, either on the surface or in the ground, trap water. It probably doesn’t matter what kind. Teralene Foxx and Gail Tierney found junipers have taproots that could reach down 20' through cracks in tuff around Los Alamos. In addition, junipers put out lateral roots, usually within the top 3', that reach two to three times the height of the tree.

Some in the prairie keep their secrets under a thick mulch of their own needles that keeps dry air from evaporating water quickly. No gravel appears in the immediate area. It could be some thin layer exists below the surface, or it’s non-existence may explain their small size. Many of these, as well as many elsewhere, grow on slopes that allow them to exploit runoff.

Notes: For more on conditions for piñon and juniper in the Albuquerque area, including the underlying geology, see Vicki’s comment at the bottom of the next posting. She lives on the other side of the Sandias in an area the New Mexico Geological Society’s highway map indicates is sedimentary from the Pennsylvanian age.

Bailey, Vernon. Life Zones and Crop Zones of New Mexico, 1913.

Foxx, Teralene S. and Gail D. Tierney. “Rooting Patterns in the Pinyon-Juniper Woodland,” Pinyon-Juniper Conference, 1987.

Johnson, Kathleen A. “Juniperus monosperma”, 2002, United States Forest Service, Fire Effects Information System.

Koning, Daniel K. “Preliminary Geologic Map of the Española 7.5-minute Quadrangle,” 2002.

Merriam, C. H. and L. Steineger. Results of a Biological Survey of the San Francisco Mountain Region and the Desert of the Little Colorado, Arizona, 1890.

New Mexico Geological Society. “New Mexico Geologic Highway Map,” 2005, compiled by Maureen E. Wilks.

Reid, Kevin D., Bradford J. Wilcox, David D. Breshears, and Lee MacDonald. “Runoff and Erosion in a Piñon-Juniper Woodland: Influence of Vegetation Patches,” Soil Science Society of America Journal 63:1869-1879:1999.

1. Upstream of the far arroyo where junipers begin to appear in grass, then get denser towards foothills before disappearing again, 20 November 2011.

2. Hill northeast of my house with grass at the base and Tertiary rocks on top where some junipers grow, 8 November 2011.

3. Juniper in Tertiary rocks atop hill in #2, 8 November 2011.

4. Juniper growing atop debris collected at the base of the volcanic northern black mesa near Chamita, 15 November 2011.

5. Juniper growing along side route 554 in Wild Rivers where exposed bank shows gravel in soil, 15 November 2011.

6. Juniper growing at bottom of a wash northeast of my house, 19 November 2011.

7. Exposed lateral roots of a juniper growing between sedimentary and volcanic rocks at the base of the northern black mesa near Chamita, 15 November 2011.

8. Mulched base of a juniper growing along route 554, 15 November 2011.

9. Juniper growing on slope along route 284 south of Ojo Caliente with volcanic and sedimentary rocks, 15 November 2011.

10. Juniper growing in gravel covered soil on a slope southeast of my house, 10 November 2011.

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