Sunday, March 18, 2012

Yellow Mustard

Weather: 45 degree temperature changes every day with some afternoon winds; last major precipitation 2/15/12; 12:05 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Alfilerillo, purple, black and tansy mustards along shoulders; hyacinth in a wall garden near some low solar lights.

Apricots and forsythia coming into bloom.

Village ditch meeting was yesterday.

What’s leafing out: First Siberian elms and globe willows.

What’s active in the area: Japanese honeysuckle, gypsum phacelia, velvetweed, western stickseed, cheese mallow, alfalfa, broom senecio, gumweed, dandelion, strap leaf and golden hairy asters; June, pampas, and needle grasses; biological crust, moss.

First pigweed seedlings up.

What’s active in my yard: Hyacinth, grape hyacinth, daylily, tulip, daffodil, crocus, bearded iris, garlic, garlic chives, blue flax, vinca, hollyhock, winecup, bouncing Bess, pinks, snow-in-summer, small-leaf soapwort, Dutch clover, black-eyed Susan, anthemis, chrysanthemum.

What has active leaf buds: Bradford pear, apple, cherry, peach, hybrid roses, sandbar willow, privet, lilac, Russian olive.

Male cottonwood leaf buds beginning to differentiate at the ends of branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geranium, aptenia, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Along about my senior year in high school some of the more religious girls began wearing clear plastic pendants containing single mustard seeds. I can’t testify to their usefulness in moving mountains - I rather prefer the ones here stay put - but they do seem to be a reliable harbinger of spring.

Right now, purple and tansy mustards are coming into bloom, often between patches of alfilerillo along the shoulders. They’re still short, and only are few in favored locations are open, but they promise much more.

More interesting is a yellow colored mustard that’s been blooming since late January in only the most select areas. After all, officially, there’s no such thing as a yellow mustard that blooms here in winter. Nothing is supposed to be a clear yellow until the tumble mustard comes out this summer.

It's most likely black mustard, an annual which has only been found in San Juan and Socorro counties, but it might be field mustard, a biennial found in Catron and Doña Ana counties. The one Elmer Wooten and Paul Standley said was common, Indian mustard, is a perennial grown as an annual that’s thought to be a Chinese hybrid of the two. They mentioned Española as one location it had been found early in the twentieth century.

The first, Brassica nigra, can get to be four feet high and is the source of the mustard seed used in cooking. The second, Brassica rapa, gets to be two feet high and comes in many varieties. Some are better known as turnips, some are a source for canola, and others produce brown mustard seeds that now are more commonly used for mustard flavor. The third, Brassica juneca, can get six feet high and is the primary source of canola oil in Canada.

The one growing on the shoulder by the orchards is only a foot high after three months. The only reason I suspect it’s black mustard, is the flower color is a clearer yellow than the ones I’ve seen in photographs of Indian mustard. Otherwise I’d accept Wooton and Standley.

When I first saw the plants in January, small heads of four petaled flowers just rose above wide rosettes of deeply lobed gray-green leaves. I saw other seedlings which have since turned out to be purple mustard and a second group of yellow mustard blooming about a mile away along the village road, nearer the river.

When I went back in February, the only plants blooming along the orchard road were against a south facing lava stone wall. Then they were about six inches high with the flower heads still buried in leaves that had grown upright.

When I went back this week, I found the plants had created a bit of a colony, but a very limited one. The plants were growing along the black stone wall, and stopped at both the east and west ends when the wall was replaced by wide mesh or barbed wire fences for orchards.

I saw only one blooming plant directly across the road in the open. The other plants were to the west toward the river, in front of a lighter colored wall. Part of it appears to be sandstone

and part a tuff.

West of the lighter colored stone wall, only purple mustard was blooming, with tansy mustard poking through.

Whichever species it is, the mustard apparently germinated during the January thaw when the ground was mucky and the air warm in front of walls that retained heat. This is not the first year I’ve seen something yellow standing above clumps of green in late February in front of that wall, only the first year I’ve gotten out of my car to look. In the past I thought I might be a dandelion.

Peterson Field Guide. A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northestern and North-central North America, by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny with illustrations by Peterson, 1968.

United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. New Mexico county distribution maps for Brassica nigra and Brassica rapa.

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

1. Yellow flowered mustard in front of lava stone wall, 15 March 2012.

2. Yellow flowered mustard in front of lava stone wall, 23 February 2012.

3. Yellow flowered mustard along shoulder of village road, 19 January 2012.

4. Yellow flowered mustard in front of lava stone wall, 23 February 2012.

5. Yellow flowered mustard in front of tuff stone wall, 15 March 2012.

6. Detail of sandstone wall, 15 March 2012.

7. Detail of tuff stone wall, 23 February 2012.

8. Purple mustard with small tansy mustard plant in front of another orchard to the west, 15 March 2012.

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