Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Borages

Weather: Last useful precipitation 4/9/12; 13:34 hours of daylight today.

The early warm period has turned into an ideal time for planting, because the afternoons are still clouding over and moisture is in the air, unlike how it will be in June. The only problem is the occasional spate of high winds like those Thursday afternoon.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples, Austrian Copper, Persian yellow and hybrid roses, forsythia, wisteria, bearded iris, yucca, moss phlox, donkey tail spurge, blue perennial salvia.

Grapes are leafing; this year they waited until after the last cold day, and so weren’t set back like they were last year.

Beyond the walls and fences: Cottonwood, tamarix, fernleaf globemallow, western stickseed, bractless cryptantha, alfilerillo, hoary cress, purple and tansy mustards, purple mat flower, gypsum phacelia, antelope horns, blue gilia, running sand verbena, bindweed, oxalis, goat’s beard, common and native dandelion, June and cheat grasses; buds on Apache plume, cream tips, rice and needle grasses.

Elm seeds are accumulating everywhere.

Large flowered white evening primroses are blooming for the first time since the primrose beetle invasion of 2003.

In my yard: Spirea, lilacs, Siberian pea, tulip, baby blue iris, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, vinca, yellow alyssum, blue flax; buds on beauty bush, snowball, Jupiter’s beard, coral bells.

New buds are appearing on my catalpa; only one branch seems to have nothing.

Reseeded cosmos seeds are putting out second leaves.

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum, petunia.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geranium, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, gecko, harvester and small black ants.

Feeding the local homeless cat has done nothing to discourage the chickadees from breaking into my soffit to nest. I’d rather hoped they’d do a better job of reconnoitering the neighborhood. I started putting out food last summer to stop the cat from lurking under their nest, and hoped, in return, the birds would finally abandon my house.

Weekly update: Spring sees a somewhat orderly succession of plant families, under the general dominance of the roses. Now it’s the borages turn to flower.

The first to arrive was western stickseed, which began germinating in my driveway in early March, and was blooming by mid April.

Because of the warm weather, cool nights, and not quite dehydrating air, the stems are now six to eight inches tall and haven’t started producing seeds.

The next to appear was bractless cyrptantha, which began blooming a few days later than stickseed. Normally, it remains close to the ground

but again, because of the unusual spring, its stems have begun to elongate.

Now there’s a plant blooming I don’t know, but recognize. I’ve been watching it for several years growing in sandy areas of the far arroyo and its banks, but haven’t found it in any of my wildflower field guides. It started producing five petaled white flowers a week ago, on small furry plants like the already blooming members of the borage family.

This week, the stems for the heads have extended, both in the supporting member and within the cluster, so it begins to resemble a mounded phlox.

Soon the florets will brown

And look like the plant has died, much like the annual stickseed and cryptantha which will disappear.

However, come late summer, new leaves will appear

which will persist into winter. Then, some of those winter kill, and new ones emerge, until the cycle repeats itself.

I haven’t yet noticed when seeds germinate, but I’m guessing it was in the weeks just before the flowers appeared. There are more plants out there than I remember this winter.

As for its identity, tiny plants with limited blooming periods are easily overlooked by wildflower enthusiasts, and so are omitted from popular guide books. The number of petals, their color, the hairiness of the leaves is not enough for a botanist to classify a plant, but they are enough for me to give it a label.

If anyone knows what this little flower is, please let me know.

Notes: For more on western stickseed, see entry for 9 December 2007; for bractless cryptantha, see entry for 9 May 2010.

Vicki suggested my borage is the bow-nut cryptantha (Cryptantha jamesii) shown on Gene Jercinovic’s Flowers of the Manzanos web site. When I went to look for it, I found it more closely resembled the tawny cryptantha (Cryptantha fulvocanescens) on Al Schneider’s South West Colorado Wildflowers web site. I never would have found this without Vicki’s assistance. Thanks for the help. As for which species it is, Schneider said it’s nearly impossible to tell one cryptantha from another without a microscope to examine the seeds.

1. Unknown plant, 27 April, 2012, along the bank of the ranch road.

2. Western stickseed, 4 March 2012, growing in my drive in one of its favorite places, the top of a harvester ant hill.

3. Western stickseed, 14 April 2012, on the shoulder of the orchard road.

4. Bractless cryptantha, 18 April 2012, on the prairie.

5. Bractless cryptantha, 19 April 2012, along the bank of the ranch road.

6. Unknown plant, 19 April 2012, far arroyo bottom.

7. Unknown plant colony, 27 April 2012, along the base of the far arroyo left bank.

8. Unknown plant, 23 May 2010, on the prairie.

9. Unknown plant, 27 June 2010, on the prairie.

10. Unknown plant, 28 November 2011, on the prairie.

11. Unknown plant, 18 April 2012, on the prairie.

12. Unknown plant, 27 April 2012.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tender Buds

Weather: Last useful precipitation 4/9/12; 13:21 hours of daylight today.

Thursday was the watershed, a cloudy day ideal for work. Before there was the fear mornings might be too cool to plant; now afternoons are too hot.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples peaked, flowering quince peaked, forsythia peaked, wisteria, bearded iris, moss phlox, donkey tail spurge.

Beyond the walls and fences: Choke cherry peaked, cottonwood, fernleaf globemallow, western stickseed, cryptantha, alfilerillo, hoary cress, purple and tansy mustards, purple mat flower, gypsum phacelia, bindweed, dandelion, cheat grass; buds on yucca, cream tips; Russian olive, tamarix, sandbar willow, chamisa leafing.

In my yard: Sand cherry peaked, purple leaf sand cherry peaked, fragrant lilacs, Siberian pea, daffodil, tulip, vinca, yellow alyssum; buds on spirea.

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum, petunia.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geranium, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, other small brown birds, bees on Siberian pea, caterpillars around a dandelion, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: I have this feeling - it’s too amorphous to be called a superstition and much too silly to be a quack theory - but, I act like if I don’t look for something unwanted, it won’t be there.

All spring, as the weather was unusually warm, I avoided the tender trees, the ones that, year after year, leaf out, only to have their early growth killed by frost.

Last Saturday I couldn’t avoid them any longer. The Virginia creeper and trees of heaven near the village were leafing.

I had to look at mine, and every one of the frost sensitive trees was showing signs of life.

Tuesday, temperatures fell below freezing.

No one worries what that meant for the creeper and trees of heaven - it would take a lot more than a little cold to kill them.

Luckily, the roses of Sharon, those shrubs that get delayed most years by unwelcome chills, weren’t affected. They’ve been slow to go beyond the green showing through the buds at the tips of branches. Even now, only a few leaves have opened into small pennants.

The black locust, however, did notice the temperature drop. Monday, the buds were breaking and leaves were unfurling.

Wednesday, all those early leaves were abandoned, but new buds have since been opening on their graves, oblivious to what went before.

The catalpa is another matter. Since last year’s rough summer, I’ve been torn between giving it the water I suspected it needed and fear any notice would encourage it to emerge too soon. Last year, it lost all its terminal buds to frost, and only leaf buds set back from the tips emerged later.

Monday, this year’s green rounded buds had begun, ever so slightly, to open.

Wednesday, those early essays were gone and not much has happened since to indicate there is any reserve life force.

I did begin watering - morning temperatures since Wednesday have been in the 40's and afternoons near 80. Recent history sends me out each day to look, only now I really wish looking could make something happen.

1. Tree of heaven near village, 14 April 2012.

2. Virginia creeper near village, 14 April 2012.

3. Rose of Sharon, 20 April 2012.

4. Black locust, 16 April 2012.

5. Black locust, 19 April 2012.

6. Catalpa, 16 April 2012.

7. Catalpa, 19 April 2012; last year’s dead buds remain as well.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lilac Buds

Weather: Rained Monday. Seeds germinated Tuesday, probably unwanted. Spits since with winds and occasional thunder. Stronger winds yesterday. 13:08 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Apple, crab apple, flowering quince, forsythia, wisteria, tulips, first bearded iris, moss phlox, donkey tail spurge; lilacs almost open; silver lace vine leafing.

Beyond the walls and fences: Choke cherry, cottonwood, western stickseed, alfilerillo, hoary cress, purple and tansy mustards, dandelion; tree of heaven budding.

In my yard: Sand cherry, purple leaf sand cherry, Siberian pea, daffodil, baby blue iris, vinca; buds on spirea, yellow alyssum; snow ball leafing.

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum, petunia.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geranium, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Small birds, gecko, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: There’s something to be said for Nits and Lice, a tiny plant you don’t know exists until you see the flowers. Growing lilacs is more like raising elephants - there’s a long gestation period when anything can go wrong. If you thought much about it, you’d go insane.

Last year promised to be one of the best. It had been cold, if dry. The flowers opened April 20 and immediately attracted bees. The next morning I could smell them. Then, before they’d had a chance to completely open, on the first of May, it snowed.

The snow turned to ice. The open flowers turned brown.

The unopened buds died, but didn’t fall away. The shrubs’ hormone systems abandoned them. The carcasses hung around until a week or so ago when the repeated high winds finally broke them lose.

New leaf buds appear as soon as the leaves all drop, usually late November.

Then you wait. In December, after our heaviest snow I went out to see if there was still snow protecting the roots when the sun threatened to evaporate the snow covering just as temperatures fell.

The buds stayed hard shells. Then the weather warmed prematurely. The middle of March, a bit a green showed through the tips. A week later, the expanding buds outgrow their wraps.

Then, the first week of April, the incipient flowers showed themselves, tight little cobs of tiny dark buds, rather than miniature ears of corn.

Within days, the stems between the buds grew and the clusters were revealed, still skeletal versions of themselves.

This past week, the shrubs nearer the river were close to blooming. On mine, the individual florets inflated into round balloons, and turned rosier.

Then, the floret throats extended

before, then, the four petals opened to reveal the true lavender color.

In the village, the shrubs are farther advanced, some in full bloom,

while the weather forecast for the weekend is rain or snow, depending, with temperatures falling below freezing, or not.

It’s one thing to watch something unfold in the time lapse photography of Walt Disney’s Living Desert, when there’s no suspense to suspend. You just know they wouldn’t show something they couldn’t complete. With lilacs, you have the time lapse with no assurance there'll be a happy ending.

1. Persian lilac, with buds and leaves, 6 April 2012.

2. Common lilac the day after last year’s late snow storm, 2 May 2011.

3. Paul Thirion lilac a few days after last year’s late snow storm, 5 May 2011.

4. Persian lilac, with last year’s dead buds and this year’s new leaves opening, 29 march 2012.

5. Persian lilac with new buds, unchanged from late November, 4 March 2012.

6. Paul Thirion lilac in snow, 23 December 2011.

7. Paul Thirion lilac with expanding buds, 21 March 2012.

8. Persian lilac with just emerging racemes and last year’s dead buds, 27 March 2012.

9. Persian lilac with extending racemes, 6 April 2012.

10. Common lilac with inflated buds, 12 April 2012.

11. Common lilac with extended throats, 14 April 2012.

12. Paul Thirion lilac with first florets open, 14 April 2012.

13. I have three lilacs, but there’s little difference in timing between them. The differences come from distance from the river, with the one in the village closest to the river the first to bloom (picture taken April 2014)

14. and the one a quarter mile up the road, still rosy and bursting open the same day, 14 April 2014.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Lame Tree Buds

Weather: 12:53 hours of daylight today.

Snow began Monday twilight, but temperatures stayed above freezing most of the night when I could hear water dripping off the back roof. It provided badly needed water to plants that like cold water.

What’s blooming in the area: Choke cherry, crab apple, flowering quince, forsythia, daffodils, alfilerillo, purple and tansy mustards, dandelion.

What’s blooming in my yard: Bradford pear, cherries, peach, sand cherry, hyacinth, vinca; buds on Siberian peas, lilacs, yellow alyssum.

What’s leafing in the area: Apples.

What’s leafing in my yard: Floribunda roses, hybrid tea roses and their Doctor Huey rootstock, purple leaf sand cherry.

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geranium, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Small birds, gecko, ladybug, bees around peach, first hornets, young crickets, harvester and small black ants, earth worms.

Weekly update: Spring is more than apricots and daffodils.

All winter you look at trees that have been reduced to the bare sticks of their infancy.

And then there are signs of life.

The ones that are special, that you check more often, are the ones that had troubled childhoods. The ones that turned out to have damaged roots when you got them home, or were wind battered.

My purple leafed plum looked fine when I bought it in 2009, but before I could plant it a storm came through. Even though it was protected on my front porch, the branches were buried under heavy snow that turned to ice. When I touched them, the branches shattered.

The next spring it only had one good branch. The winter of 2011 was severe, but it started to recover with new branches near the ground.

Other people’s trees may be close to blooming right now, but I was overjoyed this week to see mine had simply put out leaf buds on all its branches.

The globe willow I bought in 2005 went into immediate shock. When it came back the next year, it was from the base. Now, I’m not even sure I have a globe willow. It could be some kind of root stock.

Still, even as I my neighbor continued to clear damage from his dead trees with a back hoe, I was happy to see the smallest leaves separate from the protective scale and start to individualize themselves.

This year I put in a new cherry which arrived with buds already breaking dormancy. The question, would they die from shock or would I be able to protect them because I was home during the day?

The answer won’t be known for a season, but when I saw it separate from the tree I had hopes of success.

When I’m out looking for signs of change, I always come upon the volunteers so eager to please me, hoping when I see their leaves emerging, I’ll be excited and won’t try to kill them again. I may ponder the vagaries of nature, when kindness kills and malignancy does not, but I’ll still cut down the Siberian elms whenever I see them.

1. Apricot still trying to bloom with expanding leaf buds, 5 April 2012. The apricots were caught in the same snow storm as the plum, and haven't yet fully recovered.

2. Recently emerged daffodils in shadow of the garage, 25 March 2012.

3. Tamarix leaf buds, 4 April 2012.

4. Tamarix leaf buds elongating, 4 April 2012.

5. Purple leafed plum leaf buds, 4 April 2012.

6. Emerging leaves on globe willow, or its root stock, 28 March 2012.

7. Newly planted Stella cherry leaf bud, 4 April 2012.

8. New leaves on Siberian elm, hiding from discovery, 4 April 2012.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Fruit Tree Buds

Weather: High winds Monday battered apricot flowers; last major precipitation 2/15/12; 12:34 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia, daffodils, alfilerillo, purple and tansy mustards, dandelion; buds on crab apples and flowering quince.

My neighbor has had someone with a backhoe working for several days to remove two globe willows that were destroyed a few years ago by sun scald in the winter.

What’s blooming in my yard: Bradford pear, peach, hyacinth; buds on Lapins sweet cherry and lilac.

What’s leafing in the area: Siberian elms, globe and weeping willows, Apache plume, apples,

What’s leafing in my yard: Floribunda roses, hybrid tea roses and their Doctor Huey rootstock, spirea, privet.

What’s active in the area: Salt bush, gypsum phacelia, western stickseed, leather leaf globemallow, loco, winterfat, horseweed, strap leaf asters; needle and cheat grasses.

What’s active in my yard: Raspberry, grape hyacinth, daylily, tulip, bearded iris, garlic, garlic chives, Autumn Joy sedum, blue flax, vinca, bouncing Bess, large-leaf soapworts, Jupiter’s beard, yellow alyssum, anthemis, chrysanthemum.

What has active leaf buds: Purple leaf plum, sand cherry, cottonwood, sandbar willow, Russian olive.

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

Animal sightings: Peach tree buzzing; house flies and caterpillars hatching; small birds flitting.

Weekly update: All winter I walked by my fruit trees, looking at buds that had formed in late fall. They didn’t appear to change much, though I’m sure things biochemical were happening under their hard shells.

Then, the weather warmed in early March. The peaches and Bradford pears got fatter; the cherries got longer and glossier; the apricots got redder.

Soon, the outer scales began to differentiate themselves as their internal organs expanded.

Then, like a jacket that’s grown too tight, bits of green peeped through. Soon it was slipping out the tips. Then the leaf tips themselves began to separate ever so slightly.

Next, some color pushed through the shells.

I began to curse the warm weather. The last several years snow has destroyed the peach flowers tempted too soon into the open.

This year it was the wind that blasted the apricots just as they were reaching their apex.

This week it’s been the peach’s turn to bloom.

Maybe, next week the cherries and apples will begin.

And, sometime before May it will snow again.

1. Apricot blooming in the village, with pink flowered tree in back on right, 27 March 2012.

2. Lapins cherry buds, 29 January 2012.

3. Elberta peach buds, 22 March 2012.

4. Bradford pear buds, 20 March 2012.

5. Lapins cherry buds, 25 March 2012.

6. Bradford pear buds, 25 March 2012.

7. Single apricot flower after winds two weeks ago and last Monday battered the buds, 31 March 2012; the hard buds along the stems are the winter form that haven’t yet begun to show themselves.

8. Elberta peach flower, 28 March 2012; as the flowers begin opening, the buds are in all phases of opening; almost as soon as the first flowers opened, leaves began unfurling at the tips.

9. Rome apple bud, 30 March 2012.

10. White flowered tree blooming in village, with an out-of-bloom apricot between it and the bright green Siberian elm, 29 March 2012.