Sunday, May 13, 2012

Known Unknowns

Weather: Real rain yesterday, with a bit of hail; 14:03 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Wild pink, Persian yellow, Dr. Huey and other hybrid roses, pyracantha, snowball, purple flowered locust, silver lace vine, bearded iris, yuccas, red hot poker, peony, datura, donkey tail spurge, blue perennial salvia; buds on oriental poppy, sweet pea.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, yuccas, fernleaf globemallow, western stickseed, bractless and tawny cryptanthas, alfilerillo, hoary cress, tumble and purple mustards, purple mat flower, gypsum phacelia, tufted white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, blue gilia, bindweed, oxalis, wild licorice, scurf and bush peas, golden smoke, pale trumpets, Indian paintbrush near a chamisa, woolly plantain, flea bane, plain’s paper flower, goat’s beard, cream tips, common and native dandelion; needle, rice, June and cheat grasses; buds on three awn grass; berries formed on juniper.

In my yard: Black locust, rugosa roses, spirea, beauty bush, skunk bush, baby blue iris, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, small leaved soapwort, Jupiter’s beard, coral bells, golden spur columbine, vinca, yellow alyssum, blue flax, pink evening primrose, chocolate flower; buds on floribunda roses, privet, sea pink, blanket flowers, coreopsis, Moonshine yarrow; sour cherries formed; berries on sand cherries; pods forming on Siberian peas; zinnia and reseeded morning glory seeds coming up.

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum, petunia, nicotiana, moss rose, impatiens.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, goldfinches, pair of hummingbirds around beauty bush, skinny pale red snake, geckos, cabbage butterfly, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: Donald Rumsfeld was ridiculed when he divided reality into known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Overlooking his context, it seems a perfectly reasonable way to deal with the fact many plants exist outside popular wildflower guides.

The known unknowns are the ones that appear every year in roughly the same place at roughly the same time with enough consistency that you recognize them, much like the man who sold newspapers at a street booth in Philadelphia in the 1960's. I saw him every day, but he discouraged any conversation, made himself anonymous.

The unknown unknowns are the ones you see once or twice, but not often enough to see any pattern, much like customers at the wooden shack you think you’ve seen before but aren’t quite sure if they even live in the neighborhood.

The one can be given a label, the others remain lists of characteristics.

Pink bud is a known unknown. It bloomed profusely in 2010 and hardly at all last year, though there were many buds. This year it's blooming again near the chamisas where it grows on a platform raised a few inches from the water path in the far arroyo. I don’t know if it was the drought of 2010 that determined the blooming pattern in 2011, or the late snow.

It seems to only boom once in spring, with the behavior of an annual. The heads emerge from the leaves as the stems push their way through the earth.

They begin as tight knobs of round pink balls that break into groups of five, with one in the center. These each break into two. The pink turns ivory before the five petaled flowers open. The resemble the tops of milkweed flowers, but not the undersides. Within each cluster, the center floret opens first, then the others in succesion.

Within a few weeks they produce what can only be called berries that begin green, then turn purple.

The leaves that grew lush during the summer, begin to brown in August.

The stems thicken and become wooden. The empty flower stalks turn black, their fruiting ends harden.

The roots are straight, stiff single white shafts with asparagus like scales.

After the leaves die, everything blows away, leaving no surface evidence of their existence.

Rosemary is a very different known unknown. While pink bud flourishes in late spring, this perennial likes colder, damper days.

It took me a while to distinguish it from blue gilia, which has similar clusters of basal needle shaped leaves and grows in the same area. However, the leaves of this form a ring, rather like ring muhly grass, that produces new growth on the edges of the old in late fall. This turns chartreuse, even rust, in winter, then begins to brighten in March. When you look carefully, they look a bit like shrubby branches.

The flowers are impossible to see, unless you bend to them - the tiny champaign white flowers blend into the sand around them. You’re only alerted to their existence when you see the stems rising above like grass pinks. The fact I rarely see them fully open may mean they aren’t morning flowers.

While it’s blooming at the moment, last year I didn’t see the flowers until October. And, while I’ve seen it in other places, the place it’s growing on the prairie is on the north facing side of a hilly rise that’s often covered with active biological crust that supports moss.

1. Pink bud under grass and a chamisa near the far arroyo floor, 27 April 2012.

2. Pink bud flower, 22 May 2011.

3. Pink bud emerging, 11 April 2010.

4. Pink bud groups of five with central floret opening first; just emerging cluster at the back; 22 May 2011.

5. Pink bud green berries beginning to turn purple; leaves have grown lush; 30 May 2010.

6. Pink bud leaves turning brown under a chamisa, 14 August 2011.

7. Pink bud remains, 25 September 2011.

8. Rosemary flower, 30 May 2011.

9. Mature rosemary plant with this year’s growth coexisting with the ruins of the past, 4 March 2012.

10. Greened up rosemary plant with barely visible flower buds, 27 March 2011.

11. Rosemary in winter, with an activate biological crust and moss on an north facing rise edging the far arroyo, 29 December 2010.

12. Bright green rosemary in bloom in fall, 9 October 2011.

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