Sunday, May 26, 2013

Perennial Four O’Clocks

Weather: Bluster on Monday, probably the back side trail of the weather that produced Oklahoma’s tornadoes; last rain 4/09/13; 14:56 hours of daylight today.

The transition from iris to roses marks the change from the spring of high winds on cloudy days to the summer of high winds on sunny, hot days with no rain possible now til the monsoons.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper, Persian yellow, Dr. Huey, old pink and hybrid roses, pyracantha, purple locust, snowball, silver lace vine, broad-leaved yuccas, peonies, oriental poppies, Jupiter’s beard, purple salvia, blue flax, yellow yarrow, alfalfa.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, black locust, tamarix, alfilerillo, yellow sweet clover, scurf and bush peas, tumble mustard, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, nits and lice, fern-leaved globemallow, greenleaf five-eyes, tufted white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, blue trumpets, common dandelion, goat’s beard, cream tips, June, needle, rice and cheat grasses. Bush morning glories emerging.

Can smell Russian olives just before sunset.

In my yard, looking east: Small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, Bath pinks, pink evening primrose, winecup mallow. Seedlings emerging for sweet alyssum. Pods forming on Siberian peas.

Looking south: Rugosa roses, beauty bush, oxalis.

Looking west: Chives, Siberian catmint, baptisia, vinca. Buds on Rumanian sage, Shasta daisy.

Looking north: Spirea, golden spur columbine, coreopsis, chocolate flowers.

In the open, along the drive: Dutch clover, white yarrow. Buds on catalpa. Seedlings emerging for Shirley poppies. New leaves developing on number of trees and shrubs.

Bedding plants: French marigolds, nicotiana, wax begonias, periwinkle, sweet alyssum.

Known unknowns: Pink bud peaked, rosemary leaves, native dandelion, fleabane.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunias.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, other small brown birds, geckos, bumblebee, smaller bees in Apache plume, ladybugs on goat’s beards, hornets, cricket, grasshoppers, harvester and smaller ants.

Weekly update: Perennial four o’clocks are native to the southwest, but not ubiquitous. I’ve only seen them in the wild twice. Once was on the road by the Garden of the Gods south of Santa Fé. There were growing near the boundary fence in dense shade.

The other time was beside a road near Tierra Amarilla, again in the shade.

When one thinks of drought tolerant natives, one does not think of shade or woodland soils. I planted mine on the west side of the garage in 1995.

The Mirabilis multiflora did well enough, emerging every year in late May and beginning to bloom in late June. By 2000, it’s stems spread more than a foot in every direction.

By 2003, it seemed larger than before. In 2006, it was more than 5' across. The variable size didn’t matter. I saw it when I was near the garage, but rarely walked by it.

Then the weather started changing. It only bloomed a week in 2007. It did well the following year, and produced viable seed that blew along the garage then east to land in grass near a block walk. When the seedlings emerged the next year, they were in an area shaded by the black locust part of the day, and by the house for hours. There was no water supply, and with only the spring rains and summer monsoons they didn’t grow much.

The main plant recovered until the drought of 2011, when it simply did not emerge. A seedling appeared a little closer to the drive, but nothing from the parent. The end of June, I supplemented its usual water with the sprinkler. A week or so later, around July 7, leaves emerged.

Late in the summer, I discovered another seedling near a winterfat shrub in the shade of the cottonwood when I was cutting down the winterfat that had invaded the apples. It was growing downhill from the drive on the other side of the fence.

Last year we had a wet winter and spring, before the drought set it. The seedlings near the locust were up the end of April. The plant near the cottonwood broke ground the first of May after the first rains. It even bloomed in July.

One of my projects last summer was building a walk to the apples. When I went by the garage in early summer, I placed the blocks arms length from the drip line where the tulips grew. I thought I skirted everything large, and perhaps I did. However, concrete captures water and by the end of the summer, the skunkbush at the south end grew into my path. To the north, the four o’clock got even larger. 

By July, I had to leave the walk to avoid it. By winter I had no such qualms.

This year has been dry again. The scion near the cottonwood emerged around May 5, but no sign of the main colony. Having learned something in 2011, I ran the sprinkler around it May 14. This week it has begun to break dormancy.

Drought tolerance is a nurseryman’s term that simply means a plant won’t die in the heat of summer. It has no real meaning to nature. This member of the Nyctaginaceae has a large taproot. The current catalog from Plants of the Southwest shows a man holding a forked one several feet long. One might conclude, after several bouts of drought, mine has learned to ignore early signs of rain, to wait until it is enticed to emerge.

More likely, the extended drought has dried the soil down where that root penetrates, and my usual watering with a soaker hose only replenishes the surface where the neighboring perennials live. Running the sprinkler adds a concentrated dose that filters down. Yesterday, I toyed with the path of the hose to send more water its way.

If the root isn’t happy, it always has that other way of perpetuating itself, its seeds. Hummingbird moths already are active.

Notes: Perennial four o’clocks also were discussed in the 10 August 2008 entry.

1. Perennial four o’clock spread over my new path, 3 July 2012.

2. Back view of flower, 4 July 2008.

3. Plant near the Garden of the Gods, 15 October 2011.

4. Plant near Tierra Amarilla, 17 September 2011.

5. Perennial four o’clock, 20 June 2000, before it began to expand.

6. Seedling by a block walk near a black locust, 30 July 2011.

7. Seedling blooming near winterfat in the shade of a cottonwood, 14 September 2012.

8. Plant beginning to invade the new walk, 20 June 2012. The top picture shows it a month later.

9. Debris of plant this spring, after it has been walked on, 19 May 2013.  To give an idea of scale, blocks are 8" x 16". The colony covered five blocks, or more than 4'. It was longer along the garage. Its length was close to 3'.

10. Main plant emerging, 22 May 2013.  White is winterfat debris from a shrub that grows to the southwest.

11. One of its near seedlings yesterday, 25 May 2013. It also didn’t emerge until I ran the sprinkler.

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