Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Plants

Weather: Warm afternoons, with some mornings below freezing; last rain 3/09/13; 12:32 hours of daylight today. Some snow still visible in far Jémez and Sangre de Cristo.

What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia, daffodils. Bradford pear, globe willow leafing.

Beyond the walls and fences: Siberian elm, alfilerillo, purple mustard. Male juniper has brown cones. New leaves on Apache plume, broom snakeweed, gumweed. Rice grass greening at base. Prickly pear pads greening. Pigweed coming up. Dead Russian thistles accumulated against fences and Siberian elm trunks.

In my yard: Apricot, hyacinth. Bradford pear buds expanding. Some roses leafing. First new leaves on snow-in-summer.

Known unknowns: Pink Bud emerging under chamisa in arroyo bottom.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Bee on apricot, fly in house. Harvester ants along road. Robins in Russian olive down the way.

Weekly update: The apricots instinctively have been fighting to reproduce. The first flush of flowers was killed last Sunday morning by the cold, but buds survived. A few open each day. If the night is cool, they too are killed. If morning temperatures stay above freezing, smaller, sometimes mutilated flowers open to attract bees.

Few trees in the area are brilliant white. More often, dying petals cast fading pink shadows on the outnumbered younger, whiter flowers.

They are an eternal Easter lesson in the persistence of life in the face of adversity in the arid southwest. The rituals began, so anthropologists say, as agrarian celebrations of the return of life in spring. To convert pagans, the early church gave their festivals a Christian meaning. Over two thousand years, interpretations have changed, but conflicts between the hierarchy and members’ instinctive responses to weather continue.

The United States’ absorption of this region into its territories in the middle nineteenth century sent French Jesuit priests to congregations that once had been Franciscan or Dominican. They had become independent when the new state of México expelled the Spanish priests.

The austere Jesuits found churches decorated with santos and Easter dominated by Penitentes. They purged the interiors and rebuilt the exteriors with twin bell towers. The Penitentes were channeled into the annual pilgrimage to Chimayó, once the church in Santa Fé gained ownership of the property in the 1920s.

Jesuits replaced Christ’s resurrection as the symbol of returning life, with the idea He promised eternal life. The one is represented by bulbs and deciduous flowering shrubs. The other by evergreens. Arborvitae fill the courtyard of the rebuilt church in Santa Cruz, leaving no alternative to the wanderer but to follow the straight path to the main door.

Even the church in Chimayó now has an allée of short arborvitae pointing to the entrance.

Thuja occidentalis is native to eastern Canada where the French Jesuits first landed. The Ojibwa/Chippewa in northern Michigan considered it the most useful tree in the forest. Smoke was used to purify sacred objects, leaves were used in sweat baths, and twigs were burned for incense to please Winabojo, the spirit boy who taught them to live on Earth. In 1918, Edwin Orin Wood described a circle of arborvitae that marked the boundaries of a ceremonial meeting center on Mackinac Island, the center of the French fur trade with the Ottawa.

I don’t know how the common name was applied to the tree, or how it became associated with Jesuit theology by French priests. The only evidence is the landscape. The one in Michigan where they tried to convert the Ottawa at the Straits of Mackinac, and the one in Española.

Since the early twentieth century, the church has changed. Irish fathers replaced the French, then more recent immigrants replaced the Irish. The newer Española Catholic church has a large, open plaza that alludes to popular images of Spain. Piñon grow near the church. Catalpas mark the edge of the paved from the realm of the wild.

When you approach from the street, the front wall is dominated by a tall, native evergreen. That’s still a symbol of life that survives the darkness of winter, but one that doesn’t require as much water as arborvitae.

It’s only when you get close you see someone has snuck in a forsythia, a shrub that blooms at Easter tide as a possible reminder of earlier celebrations of spring.

Since I’ve lived here the church has refurbished what were once whitewashed community churches with brown coatings to bring them into conformity with the current proper style as defined by Santa Fé decorators. If there ever were any plants growing within the walls, they’re gone. That may simply have been done to simplify maintenance when the priesthood was shrinking and the lives of congregants were dictated by jobs and not the cycles of farming.

In the village church, the grounds are dirt, with a path of modern pavers from the front gate to the entrance. Along the sides, people have planted a few rose bushes, probably some left over from the cheap ones sold in late spring by one of the hardware stores. They can be added anytime. Mass is only celebrated once a month in the evening, so the priest could be relied upon not to notice.

When I drove by this week, I found someone had added daffodils around the roses, bulbs that represent the older desire for color.

In one corner, near the irrigation ditch, were a few tree of heaven saplings. I don’t know if they were simply weeds that volunteered, or if someone made some connection between the tree’s Anglo name and religion. But, they were inside the walls, deliberately left by someone.

When I went by another neighborhood church, one much poorer than the one in the village, the grounds were barren. No paved path to the entrance. No wall marked the perimeter. A chain link fence separated it from neighbors’ houses.

In the back corner of the lot, where an irrigation ditch might once have flowed, there stood a few trees of heaven that hadn’t been cleared when the grounds were stripped. They may not represent eternal life, but they do signify life that cannot be destroyed.

The church nearer my house has fewer members, but each year some gather to clean the grounds. They’ve put in a path of pavers to the entrance, and graveled the grounds. Nothing is allowed to grow inside the low lava-stone walls.

More than a year ago, in late 2010, someone lined the path with plastic flowers, perhaps for a wedding.

When I went by this week, I discovered the recent cleaning party had finally removed them. Contrary to the fears of ecologists, in this climate plastic does not equal eternal life.

Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany, 1998, summarizes data from a number of ethnographies, including Melvin R. Gilmore, Some Chippewa Uses of Plants (1933) and Huron H. Smith, Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians (1932).

Wood, Edwin Orin. Historic Mackinac, 1918.

1. Dying apricot flowers the day after temperatures went below freezing, 24 March 2013.

2. Apricot buds and flowers yesterday, 30 March 2013.

3. Santa Cruz Roman Catholic church entrance, 27 March 2013.

4. Chimayó Roman Catholic shrine entrance, 14 February 2012.

5. Española Roman Catholic church plaza, 27 March 2013.

6. Española Roman Catholic street face, 27 March 2013.

7. Española Roman Catholic church with forsythia blooming under the tall evergreen, 27 March 2013.

8. Local Roman Catholic chapel plaza; rose bushes can be seen against far wall, 27 March 2013.

9. Close up of rose bushes with daffodils blooming at local Roman Catholic chapel, 27 March 2013.

10. Trees of heaven on corner of local Roman Catholic chapel grounds, 27 March 2013.

11. Trees of heaven in the corner of the grounds of another Roman Catholic chapel, 27 March 2013.

12. Plaza of still another Roman Catholic chapel, 27 March 2013.

13. The same plaza a year ago, after someone planted plastic flowers, 11 January 2012.

14. Siberian elm blooming yesterday, 30 March 2013.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Killing Winds

Weather: Last rain 3/09/13; 12:21 hours of daylight today.

The weather records from Los Alamos and Santa Fé this week showed humidity levels as low as 6%. Yesterday’s winds gusted to 45 in Santa Fé.

What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia, daffodils coming into bloom. Weeping willow leaf buds forming, turning stems bright green.

In my yard: Apricot. Tulips coming up.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit.

Weekly update: In the midwest, when the weather turned too warm too soon, we got tornadoes, then cooler weather. Here, we just get high wind gusts and freezing temperatures. The winds came this last week, at the same time humidity levels were getting as low as the worst of summer. The only plant that benefits is the Russian thistle, which has leapt the fences to dump its seeds in protected beds.

The new trees and roses have made it so far. But winds have killed roses before by tearing off their leaves and desiccating their stems. Nothing is safe for another month. I can only hope the new peach will survive what’s coming. Because it’s too young to bloom, its ready to leaf. The established tree is slowed by the flower buds that are fattening, but not opening like their apricot cousins which will probably be dead this afternoon. Even so, most years the peach flowers are killed by early May snows.

With plants that are established, I’ve learned, even if the winds or coming cold temperatures kill the first growth, the roots will send up more.

It isn’t just the weather that kills. The rabbit is back. Last week, the first tulips were coming up.

 The bulbs had been uncovered by the dripping snow, and need to be recovered. When I went out to check on them yesterday, I found the rabbit had eaten them to the ground. They may put up leaves again, but they won’t bloom this year.

With the dry winter, there aren’t many other choices for the cottontail. But I don’t grow things to help the hungry wild animal population. I invest the money and labor for those occasional bits of beauty, like the apricot from a distance, that somehow defy the dangers of nature.

1. Apricot coming into bloom, 23 March 2013.

2. Jémez in the wind, 23 March 2013.

3. Russian thistle plant blown into garden bed, 23 March 2013.

4. Elberta peach leaf buds, 23 March 2013. Tree planted last summer.

5. Daylily leaves poking through dead leaves of established colony, 23 March 2013.

6. Tulip leaves and exposed bulbs, 16 March 2013.

7. Same tulip cluster after the rabbit, 23 March 2013.

8. Apricot from a distance, with yellow-green forsythia and brown Siberian peas in back, 23 March 2013.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Grumpy Spring

Weather: Warm afternoons; last rain 3/09/13; 12:01 hours of daylight today.

What’s green: Pine, and other evergreens; yucca, grape hyacinth, garlic, Japanese honeysuckle, vinca, gypsum phacelia, alfilerillo leaves.

Juniper returning to normal color. Rose leaf buds ready to open. Garlic chives, German iris, bouncing Bess, Dutch clover, alfalfa, oriental poppy, dandelions, broom senecio, tansy, chrysanthemum coming up. Brome, cheat, June, and needle grasses greening.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot, sandbar willow branches; Madonna lily leaves.

Small-leaved soapwort, coral beardtongue leaves beginning to green.

What’s grey or blue: Purple aster leaves back to normal color. Fernbush, caryopteris, winterfat has tiny leaves. Western stickseed, tansy mustard coming up.

What’s yellow: Globe and weeping willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds

Weekly update: Grumpy. Cranky. Churlish. I feel like someone who works the night shift and who has just managed to fall asleep when the neighbor’s kids knock on the door to sell raffle tickets for the school band trip.

And all because there was so little snow this winter. It’s gone from the afternoons being too cold and too windy to venture out, to temperatures in the sixties. I should be delighted, but I’m still waiting for the rain, still expecting that final snow and freeze. Afternoon humidity levels in Los Alamos and Santa Fé have been down to 7% with wind gusts to 25 miles an hour. I feel like I need more sleep.

The cold weather plants are trying to catch up. It’s their season, but not quite their climate. The pinks have grown lusher.

The beardstongues, purple asters, and small soapworts are beginning to green.

The alfilerillo has come back, as have the oriental poppies

and the hollyhocks.

For some reason, the plants with gray leaves are also active. The fernbush has leafed

as has the caryopteris.

Some grasses are greening in the hay fields, which makes the farmers want the ditches to run. Even the alfalfa is coming up.

Men have been burning their fields to destroy last year’s weeds. Others have been burning their ditch banks, no doubt nudged by the mayordomo who is doing what he can to bring the water down from the Santa Cruz lake. Everyone wants those grasses to grow ahead of the competitors. The tansy mustard’s coming up. The dandelions are already here.


1. Red delicious apple, 16 March 2013.

2. Garlic chive colony under black locust, 16 March 2013.

3. Bath pinks, 16 March 2013.

4. Small-leaved soapworts, 16 March 2013.

5. Oriental poppy leaves and last year’s pink evening primrose stems, 16 March 2013.

6. New hollyhock leaves on established plants, 16 March 2013.

7. Fernbush, 16 March 2013.

8. Longwood Blue caryopteris, 16 March 2013.

9. Alfalfa peeking through apple leaves, 16 March 2013.

10. Dandelion racing a bouncing Bess, 16 March 2013.

11. Western stickseed (left) and tansy mustard seedlings, 16 March 2013.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

South Carolina 11: Drainage and Irrigation

When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham (rice) and John Champneys (roses). Previous entries can be found under "South Carolina" in the index at the right.

Managing water is critical to the Española valley and to rice growing. It’s surprising how difficult it was to learn anything about the history of irrigation, beyond general comments about the Moors. The photographs are of another mystery plant. I call this one the native dandelion.

Weather: Afternoon temperatures in the sixties mid-weed with lower humidity levels. Lower temperatures when the clouds moved in that left little rain Friday night; last rain 23/09/13; 11:41 hours of daylight today.

What’s green: Rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens; yucca, grape hyacinth, garlic, gypsum phacelia, alfilerillo leaves.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot, sandbar willow branches; Madonna lily leaves.

What’s grey or blue: Western stickseed, winterfat, leaves.

What’s yellow: Globe and weeping willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Tuesday a robin and some chickadees were in the peach tree. Later in the day, a goldfinch was in the sour cherry.

Weekly update: Agricultural economies are forever driven to increase production when trade and improved birth rates lead to larger populations. Farmers continually are confronted with managing water, and men (and women) discover and rediscover techniques for adding or removing it.

The methods developed by the Romans were lost, but, by 1000, when textile centers and the great trade fairs began developing in Bruges and Ghent, demand for wool brought the sheep raising parts of England and Scotland into their economic sphere. Severe storms beginning in 1216 destroyed coastal communities, forcing counts in Flanders and Holland to begin protecting their existing land, then reclaiming more.

Wind driven mills appeared in the early 1200's, which D. G. Kirby and Merja-Liisa Hinkkanen-Lievonen think may have been introduced by men returning from the Crusades against the Arabs in the near east. However, they say they didn’t become important drainage pumps until larger populations and increased storm problems led to technological innovations in 1570.

Skilled Dutchmen were lured by their neighbors to Prussia, Sweden, and Denmark, then Rochefort and LaRochelle in France. Charles I encouraged Francis, the Duke of Bedford, to drain the fens of southeast England in 1630's, a project continued by Cromwell and Francis’ son William under the direction of Cornelius Vermuyden with Dutch laborers. More projects were undertaken after William of Orange was crowned in 1680.

When Flanders was the center of the textile industry, Dinis of Portugal, who ruled between 1279 and 1325, encouraged trade with the area to create an alternative to the markets of Castile and the Moors. To secure his borders, he introduced new patterns of land ownership and encouraged men to drain the marshes and swamps, where rice eventually was grown. He also cemented a naval alliance with Genoa, who was revolutionizing trade in Bruges.

In northern Italy, landowners of the Po valley began building canals in 1127 that fostered drainage and irrigation schemes. In 1475, the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, sent the first recorded rice from the area to Ercole d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara.

According to Fernand Braudel, the crop was encouraged in Lombardy in the 1500's. They were exporting their surplus to Genoa by 1570.

In 1517, the Ottomans of Turkey had conquered Egypt and demanded rice be sent to Constantinople as part of its annual tribute. The food was adopted by the elite, and used by the military on campaigns. In 1600, Venice was eating rice, which they probably bought from the Turks, along with the more traditional wheat, millet and rye.

It takes little for farmers to extrapolate solutions from fragments of information. Portugal introduced reclamation after contact with Flanders. Italy introduced rice after contacts with the Levant. In Africa and Madagascar, new varieties of rice were tried, new processing technologies adopted, and new methods for dealing with water created.

When allusions and imagination weren’t enough, men took steps to import knowledge. The Abbasids went from absorbing what the Persians knew to actively saving everything they could from the ancient world. Portugal exploited its contact with Genoa to explore Africa and the world. Everyone hired Dutch engineers and laborers.

Population growth, both natural and from new market towns, created necessity. Trade simplified finding solutions because it revitalized cultures grown comfortable in isolation. Rice and the techniques to grow it expanded when dynamic responses to life replaced static ones.

Adshead, Samuel Adrian Miles. Material Culture in Europe and China, 1400-1800: The Rise of Consumerism, 1997.

Braudel, Fernand. La Méditerrane et le Monde Méditerranéan à l’Euopque de Philippe II, 1966 edition, translated as The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II by Sian Reynolds, 1972.

Dutra, Francis A. "Dinis, King of Portugal" in E. Michael Gerli and Samuel G. Armistead, Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia, 2003.

Kirby, D. G. and Merja-Liisa Hinkkanen-Lievonen. The Baltic and the North Seas, 2000. The major innovation was the movable cap that allowed the mill’s sails to follow changes in the direction of the wind.

Pregill, Philip and Nancy Volkma. Landscapes in History: Design and Planning in the Eastern and Western Traditions, 1999.

Photographs: The plant I call a native dandelion may be Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus.

1. Flower and bud, 13 May 2007. The composite is described as "highly variable." All the photographs show some red, but the ones in my yard are pure yellow.

2. Real dandelion, 14 April 2007, in case you forgot what one looks like. The flower color of the native dandelion is lighter than that of Taraxacum officinale and the rays don’t form the same type of crown. The buds are more rounded in the middle, more pointed at the tip, and often covered with dirt. The most obvious difference between the two plants is the leaves.

3. Young plant, 24 April 2011. The leaves are an urn of long, narrow blades that disappear into their surroundings.

4. Leaves on plant growing in wetter conditions, 15 April 2007. The books all described the Pyrrhopappus leaves as lobed, but these are the only ones I’ve ever seen develop that far.

5. Flowering plant, 24 April 2011. The plant puts out a number of stems that curve up from the crown, which looks more like a tuft of grass than a dandelion. It continues to produce new buds for weeks in the spring.

6. Seed head, 7 June 2008. There’s no question it’s a composite, even if its identify is debatable.

7. Spent heads and side-view of flower, 22 June 2008, growing with Maximilian sunflowers.

8. Another view of a flowering plant, 3 May 2008.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

South Carolina 10: Trade

When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham (rice) and John Champneys (roses). Previous entries can be found under "South Carolina" in the index at the right.

This entry looks at the spread of rice through trade to Madagascar where legend places Maham’s rice. Some of the history is preparing for more future discussions of Africa and Spain. The photographs are of another mystery plant.

Weather: Warmer afternoons; last snow 2/22/13; 11:30 hours of daylight today.

What’s green: Few rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens; yucca, grape hyacinth, garlic, gypsum phacelia leaves; alfilerillo leaves greening.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot, sandbar willow branches; Madonna lily leaves.

What’s grey or blue: Winterfat leaves; western stickseed leaves reviving.

What’s yellow: Globe and weeping willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunia.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds.

Weekly update: Trade, historically, has fostered economic growth and then expanded to feed the needs it generated.

Africa apparently was a world of small communities who traded among themselves before Arab conquerors fanned out after the Sunni Umayyads deposed the established Moslem powers in 661. The Damascus caliphate spread to Egypt in 670 and across northern Africa to Spain in 711, then down to Mauritania in 734.

The Umayyads were deposed by the Shia Abbasids in 750, who moved the Moslem capital to Baghdad, and eventually established a trade network that spread from the Umayyad retreat in Spain across northern Africa and the middle east through northern India to the Tarim basin of western China.

Bernard Lewis has found the earliest reference to rice comes from the conquest of the Basra area on the Persian frontier by Moslem tribesmen in the 600's. They tested the unknown grain as food after a horse that had eaten some didn’t die.

It probably became more common as a luxury among the elite after the Abbasids developed Basra as an intellectual center. At some time it was introduced to Egypt, then Spain. The Ishmali Fatimids, who deposed the Abbasids in Egypt in 909, spread north to Sicily, taking rice with them.

Arab traders began moving down the east African coast to Manda island off Kenya in the 800's. Soon after items carved from chlorite schist quarried on the northwest coast of Madagascar appeared in east Africa. The success of a Yemeni clan at Mogadishu in the middle 1100's, brought traders from Shiraz to Kilwa, an island off Tanzania in the late 1100's.

In the early 1300's, the Mahdali, an Ishmali clan from southern Aden, took over Kilwa and then the east African gold trade. Arab traders weren’t as interested in developing new markets as they were in redirecting the existing trade in gold. Urban centers emerged as a consequence, abetted by the availability of surplus food to support urban populations and supply travelers.

Madagascar was drawn into the web of trade. Iharana, where Chinese export China was found in graves from the late 1300's, developed in the northeast as another source for three-legged bowls made from metamorphic rock. The growing port of Aden, with its community of Indian merchants from Gujarat, imported rice from Kilwa, which Richard Gray believes could only have come from Madagascar.

Mande speakers near the headwaters of the western branch of the Niger in west Africa grew glaberrima rice, which Judith Carney believes made possible the earliest sub-Saharan kingdom of Ghana.

Desert caravans, guided by the Sanhaja, linked the peoples of the Mediterranean with the savannah of the Mande, each of whom seems to have remained isolated from one another. The revitalizing Sunni Almoravids from Mauritania attacked Ghana’s main city, Awdaghost, in 1055, before they took Córdova in 1102, setting off the reconquest.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the southern Mande, the Malinke, moved along the Niger to establish the towns of Mali along the bend of the river. Timbukto became a center of learning for the Songhai empire to the northeast in the 1300's.

The exposure to Islam and the requisite trips to Mecca through Egypt, at least among the elite, provided the opportunity for people from the Sahel and savannah to travel to areas with different irrigation systems and different varieties of rice.

Carney, Judith. Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, 2001.

Garlake, Peter. The Kingdoms of Africa, 1978.

Gray, Richard. "Southern Africa and Madagascar" in The Cambridge History of Africa: From c.1600 to c.1790, volume 4, 1975, edited by Richard Gray.

Lewis, Bernard. The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, 1995.

Photographs: I’ve been trying to identify this flower for years, with no luck. It has been difficult to take photographs that reveal detail, because the stems holding the flowers move in the slightest breeze. It grows along the roadside, often as a single plant.

1. Unidentified flower opens early, and closed by mid-morning. This picture taken on a cloudy day at 10:40am, 18 August 2013.

2. I call it madcap, because all I usually see are the flower’s remains. This picture taken at 9:15am, 23 August 2009.

3. It may be a biennial or a perennial that exploits winter moisture. Young leaves, 4 September 2011.

4. Young plant, 1 December 2011.

5. The stems have swollen joints, 11 September 2011.

6. The stems often turn reddish in summer. Blooming plant in the process of dropping its petals, taken at 6:30am, 5 July 2008.

7. Stems get to be three to four feet high in the summer. Characteristic growth, perhaps the same plant as #6, 5 July 2008.

8. Plant in full bloom, same time and day as #1, 14 August 2011.