Sunday, June 17, 2012

Romanian Sage

Weather: High temperatures, low afternoon humidity; last rain 5/13/12; 14:34 hours of daylight today.

You hear people claim sun spots are the real causes of drought on this planet, usually followed by a quick explanation of why they’re wrong. However, when you read that this past Wednesday and Thursday the sun was more active than usual, and that the “coronal mass ejections” it produced then were supposed to hit the Earth yesterday, you can see how easy it is to suspect a connection.

Wednesday was the day I noticed my watering methods could no longer compensate for humidity levels. On Thursday, humidity levels in Santa Fé got down to 4%. Saturday the weather bureau was forecasting a slight chance of rain which took the form of high clouds during the afternoon and high winds in the early evening. These could all just as easily be blamed on the approaching solstice.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid perpetual roses, Japanese honey suckle, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, Spanish broom, red yucca, red hot poker, daylily, hollyhock, datura, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, blue perennial salvia, scabiosa, larkspur, yellow flowered yarrow, brome grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, cholla cactus peaked, showy milkweed, leatherleaf globemallow, mullein, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, purple mat flower, gypsum phacelia, stick leaf, yellow, tufted and prairie white evening primroses, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, pale blue trumpets, blue gilia, white and pink bindweeds, wild licorice, scurf peas, loco, yellow sweet clover, silver leaf nightshade, buffalo gourd, horse tail, plain’s paper flower, goat’s beard, cream tips, áñil del muerto, fleabane, strap leaf and golden hairy asters, native dandelion, needle grass; cotton on cottonwood.

In my yard, looking east: Snow-in-summer, Maltese cross, bouncing Bess, white and creeping baby’s breath, coral beardtongue, sputtering Jupiter’s beard, pink evening primrose, winecup mallow, sidalcea Party Girl, California and Shirley poppies, Saint John’s wort.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses, Dutch clover, tomatillo; red fruit appearing on raspberries.

Looking west: Blue flax, Siberian and Seven Hills Giant catmints, Romanian sage, Johnson’s Blue geranium, Husker and purple beardtongues, white spurge, Shasta daisy; buds on lilies, sea lavender, David phlox, purple coneflowers.
Looking north: Golden spur columbine, hartweig evening primrose, butterfly weed, squash, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, Mexican hat; buds on chrysanthemum; catalpa producing pods.

Bedding plants: Petunia, nicotiana, moss rose, snapdragons.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds, goldfinch and other small brown birds, geckos, cabbage, sulphur, monarch and paisley butterflies, ladybugs on goat’s beard, bumble bees and other small bees, hornets, grasshoppers, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: Objects have a way of outliving your enthusiasm. There are still croquet and badminton sets in the garage from my childhood that I know can never be used in bunch grass New Mexico. There’s probably even a tennis racket somewhere out there.

There are empty planters and clay pots that are still around because the logistics of emptying the dirt from them to throw them out is beyond considering. And, there are the perennials that take hold and continue after you stop noticing them very much.

My interest in blue flowered salvias was sparked by Salvia farinacea, a delicately leafed bedding plant with light, steel blue flowers. When I was still in Michigan, I bought some Blue Victoria from a local greenhouse that was wonderful. That place didn’t carry them the next year, and the ones I bought elsewhere died. I tried them once in New Mexico and they barely survived.

While I was regretting my luck with mealy blue sage, nursery catalogs in the 1980's were in the throes of a perennial blue salvia mania, with new varieties being offered every year. I thought it would be wonderful to have a perennial form of that plant, only the plants they were offering were very different.

Farinacea, which actually is a perennial in warmer parts of the country, can mix with other plants aesthetically. Varieties of Salvia nemorosa like East Friesland and May Night are soloists that look best in demonstration gardens where a bit of brown mulch sets off the dark flowers that are lost when surrounded by greenery.

Before my interest was sated by success, I experimented with other salvias, including one from Romania. How can one not be intrigued by something called Salvia transsylvanica?

Unlike those species being heavily promoted by the nursery industry, the one I bought in 1998 not only survived, but produced a seedling the following summer. The colony died in 2005 after grasshoppers decimated it before a hard winter. When I replaced the mint family member the following spring, I discovered another seedling in the grass which is only smaller than the parent because it gets less water.

Unlike the specimen varieties, this has large triangular grey-green leaves quite capable of elbowing out competitors from the space they need. The flowers look the same only the stalks are longer and the florets more widely spaced.

Like many other plants that have done better than I expected in my garden, this one evolved in a steppe grassland environment, this time the dissected low plateau drained by rivers flowing from the surrounding Carpathian mountains to the Danube where the annual precipitation is around 22". The primary grasses in the area are Stipa species. The needle grass that grows here is Stipa comata.

A team led by Eszter Ruprecht suggests steppe vegetation was replaced by forest lands in that area of Romania during the late glacial period. The durmast oak-hornbeam forests were cut some thousand years ago, and relic grasses from the glacial period returned, as well as plants from Siberia and the Pontic. Romanian sage developed as an endemic plant.

In the past hundred years or so, grazing has been abandoned as unremunerative and many of the grasslands have been converted to pine plantations. Surprisingly, this salvia is one of the grassland plants that’s flourished in the new regime.

Like many plants, including the highly cultured salvias, the coarse Romanian sage has done better than usual this year, able to complete a cycle that was begun during the snows of winter before the dry heat of June took command.

For much the same reason the badminton set gets toted from place to place, plants like Transylvanian salvia are left to themselves - one’s never quite ready to say goodby to the relics of one’s past selves - after all they might have been the better ones. In the case of this sage, it’s possible the best may reappear.

Frazen, Carl. “See the Hyperactive Solar Region That’s Blasting Earth Up Close,” Talking Points Memo, 14 June 2012.

Oroian, Silvia and Mihaela Sãmãrghitan. “Dry Grasslands of the Corhan Hill - SaBed Village (Mures County),” Environmental Science and Engineering 3:181-194:2006.

Ruprecht, Eszter, Anna Szabó, Márton Z. Enyedi and Jürgen Dengler. “Steppe-like Grasslands in Transylvania (Romania): Characterisation and Influence of Management on Species Diversity and Composition,” Tuexenia 29: 353-368:2009.

1. Romanian sage, 11 June 2012.

2. Same plant, 5 June 2012, surrounded by needle and June grasses.

3. Blue Queen Salvia sylvestris outflanked by ladybells, 6 June 2012. It’s possible this is some other salvia; I planted several different ones and all seemed to die out; this one reappeared to bloom last summer, along with what I think is an East Friesland.

4. Romanian sage leaves, 12 May 2012.

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