Sunday, September 02, 2012

Nebraska Sedge

Weather: Afternoon sun back to drying the ground; last rain 8/23/12; 12:56 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid perpetual roses, buddleia, bird of Paradise, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, red yucca, rose of Sharon, datura, Heavenly Blue morning glory, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, purple garden phlox, single sunflowers, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Leatherleaf globemallow, ivy leaved morning glory, white and pink bindweeds, white sweet clover, silver leaf nightshade, knotted spurge, prostrate knotweed, goat’s head keep germinating, yellow and white evening primroses, bee blossom, pale blue trumpets, pigweed, ragweed, Russian thistles, snakeweed, gum weed, horseweed, wild lettuce, Tahoka daisies, heath and golden hairy asters; buds on purple asters.

The grasses are active. Ring muhly and redtop are blooming, as are some gramas. Barnyard grass, which never comes up where it’s wanted, is also blooming, as is the ever awkward quack grass. Next season’s cheat grass is emerging.

In my yard, looking east: Bouncing Bess, Jupiter’s beard, hollyhock, winecup mallow, large flowered soapwort, Autumn Joy sedum.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses, Dutch clover, crimson rambler morning glory.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Siberian and Seven Hills Giant catmints, calamintha, leadplant, David phlox, perennial four o’clock, sea lavender, ladybells, Mönch asters, purple coneflowers.

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

Bedding plants: Petunia, nicotiana, snapdragons, sweet alyssum.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

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

Weekly update: I’ve had many visions of my garden, but never as a riparian meadow featuring plants that attract buffalo. However, I’ve somehow managed to get Nebraska sedge to grow.

Something looking like an iris or garlic came up in the drainage way at the base of the sloping front garden in mid-August of 2007. I left it on chance it might be a blackberry lily. Then the sheath divided and a grass head emerged.

I consigned it to my mental category called Johnson grass, meaning something unknown that has the potential to get very large and uncontrollably invasive.

The cycle has repeated itself every year. I note it comes up with a flat set of fan leaves that look like a desirable bulb

then pull it when it blooms. I usually notice the removed fibrous roots look like the radiating short white ones of onions.

This year, things changed. I had someone work on my driveway that went along that ditch. After he left, plants came up in at least three places along the gravel border where he worked. I thought new seeds could have come with the dirt - some of it came from the Velarde area - or in the tires of his backhoe - he works the area between Tierra Amarilla and Farmington. Or, he may have spread existing seed from the ditch plant.

It was time to know more. It was possible the plant could grow quite safely along the edge of the drive, or it could become a royal nuisance.

If it is Carex nebrascensis, and I’m never absolutely sure about identifications done from books, it’s unusual for it to grow from seed. The seeds are produced in protective sacs that need to be destroyed before the seed can germinate. Chris Hoag and his colleagues also found they had to treat the seeds with cold water for 32 days, and that it helped if there was something like peat moss dissolved in the water.

Once the seed has been stratified, Hoag suggests it needs to be kept wet, hot (90 to 100 degrees F) and uncovered for at least a week. Once the plants have emerged, they still need standing water, although fluctuating levels help.

This suggests the emergence of so many plants this year may have been the result of unique circumstances. Before he returned to finish the drive, I was watering the edges to counteract last year’s drought by putting enough water in the soil to plant some fruit trees. Then, when he came and shoved gravel around, he probably loosened the outer shells on already wet seeds. The post-solstice heat did the rest.

The fact no more may germinate doesn’t answer the critical question - what to do with the ones that have. Even though I pull at the ones in the ditch every year, they return in the same place, suggesting some part of the perennial roots survives and sends up new shoots.

Nebraska sedge is primarily a plant of Rocky Mountain wetlands, especially in the Ponderosa belt. In 1915, Elmer Wooton and Paul Standley listed the Cyperaceae as a Taos area plant. Today, the USDA map shows it growing from Rio Arriba to Colfax counties on both side of Taos, and down through the contiguous counties of Santa Fé, Mora and San Miguel straddling the Sangre de Cristo.

In those areas, it can form dense stands that are grazed by cattle, who, in turn, destroy the stands and make room for other vegetation. However, its spread is limited by its requirements for lots of water in the soil.

Next year, I’ll probably irrigate like I did this because I intend to put in more fruit trees. After that, I hope the trees will have adapted and I can return to my normal watering regimen. This means, it’s probably safe to let some of the plants go for a year or so, to see how they look, confident that the eventual withdrawal of water will limit their spread.

If not, it won’t be the first time I’ve spent time pulling out something I let grow from curiosity.

Hoag, J. Chris. “Nebraska Sedge,” USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Fact Sheet, 23 May 2006.

_____, R. Kasten Dumroese and Michael E. Sellers. “Perigynium Removal and Cold, Moist Stratification Improve Germination of Carex nebrascensis (Nebraska Sedge),” Native Plants Journal 2: 63-66:2001.

Wooton, Elmer Otis and Paul Carpenter Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915.

1. Female flowers on Nebraska sedge the second year it appeared, 23 August 2008.

2. Young plant in the drainage runoff ditch, 6 April 2008.

3. Base of one of this year’s new plants growing along the drive, 1 September 2012.

4. Roots and base of plant that was removed from the drainage ditch, 5 September 2010.

5. Male flowers on one of this year’s new plants with quack grass, 22 August 2012.

6. Same plant as #4, 5 September 2010, showing the alternating leaves and flower head just emerging from the sheath.

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