Sunday, September 16, 2012


Weather: With the rain and generally overcast days, I haven’t been watering much; last rain 9/13/12; 12:21 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid perpetual roses, silver lace vine, datura, Heavenly Blue morning glory, African marigolds, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Leatherleaf globemallow, white and pink bindweeds, white sweet clover, goat’s head, yellow and white evening primroses, snakeweed, native sunflowers, áñil de muerto, Tahoka daisies, heath, purple and golden hairy asters.

In my yard, looking east: Maximilian sunflowers.

Looking south: Floribunda and miniature roses, crimson rambler morning glory.

Looking west: Calamintha, leadplant, David phlox.

Looking north: California and Shirley poppies, nasturtium, chocolate flower, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Snapdragons.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia; brought the petunias indoors.

Animal sightings: Blue bird, small brown birds, geckos, bumble bees, other bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: Earlier this summer, my neighbor finally gave up on his globe willows that had been damaged by sun scald, and brought in a back hoe. Then, he told me, he bought some ash trees because he missed his shade.

I know the reason he bought them - they were left over from some construction project and at the end of the spring season, the local store who had procured them was selling them cheap to recoup its investment. They even delivered the things with their root balls wrapped in burlap and a good six foot across.

I assume they are green ash, although landscapers sometimes choose more exotic species. None are native to Rio Arriba county. Fraxinus pennsylvanica has escaped in Colorado. Farther north and to the east it likes wet areas.

In the past the ash was grown for fire wood. It’s European cousin, the common ash, will burn quickly and cleanly, even when green. Farmers there and in early Virginia cut the trees so they would regenerate from the stumps.

The combination of combustibility and regeneration gave Fraxinus excelsior mythic status: when hit by lightening ash trees burst into flame and then regrow. In the Icelandic Younger Edda, Snorri Sturluson recorded man was created from a tree wrenched from the earth, and that woman came from an elm. As the symbol of creation, yule logs were burned in the ceremonies that celebrated the return of the sun after the winter solstice.

The other reason the trees were coppiced is all ashes make good tool handles. White ash, which grows east of the Mississippi, may be used today for ball bats and cabinet facings, but in the west the Havasupai, Omaha, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Sioux, Winnebago and Ojibwa used green ash for bows and arrow shafts.

Whether because of its use in hunting or its general utility, wood from green ash trees was used to make sacred poles by the Omaha and Sioux. The Cheyenne used the ash to build the sun dance ceremony lodge, while the Omaha, Pawnee, Ponca, Cheyenne, Lakota and Dakota used the wood for pipe stems.

I don’t know if the ashes are a good choice: the members of the olive family are late to leaf, early to drop, and currently being attacked by pathogens. On the other hand, they can survive bad air and high winds and still grow a hundred feet tall. In Europe, they once believed the common ash acted as a lightening protector, taking hits intended for their homes. If that were an ash genus trait, that alone would be worth the price in late summer when storms aimlessly prowl the area.

Gucker, Corey L. “Fraxinus pennsylvanica,” 2005, in United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Fire Effects Information System, available on-line.

Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany, 1998, summarizes data from a number of ethnographies, including J. W. Blankinship, Native Economic Plants of Montana (1905); Dilwyn J, Rogers, Lakota Names and Traditional Uses of Native Plants by Sicangu (Brule) People in the Rosebud Area, South Dakota (1980); Melvin R. Gilmore, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region (1919); Jeffrey A. Hart, “The Ethnobotany of the Northern Cheyenne Indians of Montana” (1981); Huron H. Smith, Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians (1932); and Steven A. Weber and P. David Seaman, Havasupai Habitat (1985).

Photographs: My neighbor’s trees, soon after they were planted, 23 June 2012; small fruit tree, possibly a peach, in the rear.

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