Sunday, July 01, 2012

Local Mexican Hat

Weather: Miserable with last rain 5/13/12; 14:32 hours of daylight today.

Strong winds Thursday broke a branch on the cottonwood. For a while the winds were at whatever angle is needed to lift loose sand from ungraveled roads and bare yards.

What’s blooming in the area: Tree of heaven, hybrid perpetual roses, buddleia, Japanese honey suckle, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, Spanish broom, red yucca, daylily, hollyhock, datura, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, scabiosa, yellow flowered yarrow, zinnias, Shasta daisies, brome grass.

Catalpas are beginning to show signs of stress.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, showy milkweed, leatherleaf globemallow, mullein, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, stick leaf, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, white and pink bindweeds, scurf peas, bush morning glory, silver leaf nightshade, buffalo gourd, Indian paintbrush, horse tail, prostrate knotweed, goat’s head, Hopi tea, plain’s paper flower, goat’s beard, fleabane, horseweed, local Mexican hat, golden hairy asters, native dandelion.

In my yard, looking east: Snow-in-summer, Maltese cross, bouncing Bess, white and creeping baby’s breath, coral beardtongue, 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, Illinois bundle flower, tomatillo.

Looking west: Trumpet and oriental lilies, blue flax, Siberian and Seven Hills Giant catmints, Romanian sage, Johnson’s Blue geranium, Goodness Grows speedwell, David phlox, white spurge, white mullein, perennial four o’clock, sea lavender, ladybells, Mönch asters; buds on purple coneflowers.

Tulip leaves turning brown and seed pods opening.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, hartweig evening primrose, butterfly weed, squash, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum.

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

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Hummingbirds, small brown birds, geckos, hummingbird moth, cabbage butterflies, ladybugs, bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: Growing wildflowers has always seemed a dubious proposition, if not an outright oxymoron.

When you consider you only trade with reputable suppliers that means you support people who do not gather their seeds or plants from the wild, but use seed or cuttings from plants they’ve perpetuated from ones they or others collected in a sustainable manner.

What little I know of genetics means the nucleus of their stock is probably atypical because it survived being transferred from its natural habitat. Even if the growers had done no selecting for the best flowers or most vigorous plants, nature would have.

When I see black-eyed Susans try to take over my front garden, the idea that émigrés from the eastern United States can do so well leaves me a bit queasy. I can see when they germinate along side improved versions of themselves, that they still look like their wild ancestors, but I can’t say my Rudbeckia hirta are still true wildflowers.

I’ve always been a bit more comfortable with the status of my Mexican hats. Ratibida columnifera, after all, is native to the plains, prairies and mountains below 8300' from Saskatchewan to Chihuahua. Local people have tested it and learned it’s not edible. Keres speakers rubbed the crushed leaves on a woman’s breast to wean an infant. Zuñi curing fraternities used what they tactfully call bile vomit (ya’konakia) as an emetic.

However, I’ve never actually seen Mexican hats growing in the wild. When I’ve seen them blooming along a shoulder I’ve suspected they either had escaped from someone’s garden or been planted by someone taking to heart Ladybird Johnson’s admonishment to beautify. Still, Elmer Wooton and Paul Standley say they’re found in the Santa Fe mountains.

Then, last summer, I saw something that looked like a more feral version growing near the wild asparagus on the farm road. The cones were shorter and fatter, the disc cruder, the red petals smaller, the plants bushier - just the sort of differences one would expect between a true wildflower and its cultivated cousin.

These, however, turn out to be another species, Ratibida tagetes, sometimes called green Mexican hats because they send up a number of stems from their taproots with leaves closer to those of marigolds. It has a smaller range, limited to the southwest, and is part of the diet of a rare form of Chihuahuan grasshopper.

It’s also more useful. Keres speakers considered it strong medicine and used it to treat epileptic fits. They also took it when they went hunting to handle other forms of “craziness.”

The Ramah Navajo, who used common Mexican hat for colds and to treat sheep who were “out of their minds,” used the more localized species as a Life Chant lotion for stomach aches, fevers, birth injuries and sexual infections.

Even Spanish speakers used the ground dry roots in water for lung congestion and to treat female trouble. Leonora Curtin, who found it growing at 8000' at Truches, says people used the same term, dormilón, for this and for cut leaf coneflower. They used the second for gonorrhea and menstrual problems.

The implied relationship between Rudbeckia laciniata and Ratibida was explored in 1935 by Ward McClintic Sharp. He believed Rudbeckia’s center of diffusion was on the Ozark-Appalachian plateau where many plants had sought refuge during the glaciers, and that Ratibida was an offspring that moved into the new geological formations when conditions permitted, abetted by its unique seed dispersal methods.

More recently, Lowell Urbatsch and others have discovered DNA doesn’t support a mother-daughter relationship, but a sisterhood instead. The genetics do suggest the local Mexican hat, which has 32 chromosomes, is older than the common one with 28.

The local Mexican hat is still growing wild by the asparagus this year while the common ones were evicted from my garden years ago after they became too aggressive and proved they could survive quite nicely in the native grasses.

The black-eyed Susans are going to be expelled as soon as they establish themselves where I don’t have to handle their spiny wooden stems when I clean the front bed in spring. So far, they’ve objected, choosing other, choicer spots around the house instead. They’ve proven themselves independent if not wild.

Curtin, Leonora Scott Muse. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore.

Edelman, William C., David C. Lightfoot and Kelly B. Miller. “The Phylogenetic Placement of the Rare North American Band-winged Grasshopper Shotwellia isleta Gurney, 1940 (Orthoptera: Acrididae: Oedipodinae),” Insect Systematics & Evolution 41:303-316:2010.

Jackson, S. Wesley. “Hybridization Among Three Species of Ratibida,” University of Kansas Science Bulletin 44:3-27:1963.

Swank, George R. The Ethnobotany of the Acoma and Laguna Indians, 1932, described by Dan Moerman in Native American Ethnobotany, 1998.

Sharp, W. C. “A Critical Study of Certain Epappose Genera of the Heliantheae-Verbesinae of the Natural Family Compositae,” Missouri Botanical Garden Annals 22:60-77:1935, described by both Jackson and Urbatsch.

Stevenson, Matilda Coxe. The Zuni Indians, 1904, reprinted by The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1985.

Urbatsch, Lowell E., Bruce G. Baldwin and Michael J. Donoghue. “Phylogeny of the Coneflowers and Relatives (Heliantheae: Asteraceae) Based on Nuclear rDNA Internal Transcribed Spacer (ITS) Sequences and Chlorplast DNA Restriction Site Data,” Systematic Botany 25:539-565:2000.

Vestal, Paul A. The Ethnobotany of the Ramah Navaho, 1952.

Wooton, Elmer O. and Paul C. Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915, reprinted by J. Cramer, 1972.

1. Local Mexican hat with red petals growing along the farm road this year, 18 June 2012.

2. Black-eyed Susans with cultivated gloriosa daisies to the right, 29 June 2012; both are Rudbeckia hirta.

3. Mexican hats where they planted themselves by the drive, some red, some yellow, and some mixed, 28 June 2012. A daylily and plains coreopsis are to the right.

4. Local Mexican hat with mixed petals growing along the farm road last year, 25 June 2011.

5. Local Mexican hat growing along the farm road, 25 June 2011.

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