Sunday, May 12, 2013

Survival Strategies

Weather: Last rain 4/09/13; 14:31 hours of daylight today.

The weather forecast for the past few days for Los Alamos and Santa Fé included a chance for thundershowers. What that meant was dry monsoons. Clouds appeared in the afternoon, along with winds. Temperatures dropped instead of increased. A few sprinkles fell, if anything that lasted less than a minute could be called that.

I took advantage of those predicted cooler afternoons to put out bedding plants and new perennials. Seeds can come later, but I put some in, if they happened to go in the area where I was planting. They have to deal with the winds, but if I wait until the winds die down, I suspect summer temperatures will come and nothing can be transplanted safely. A week ago I was still dodging frosts.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper and yellow roses, iris, first oriental poppy.

While some have decent lilacs, most aren’t blooming. Since they like cold weather, I assume either the warm afternoons or the high winds arrested their development.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, alfilerillo, hoary cress, tumble mustard, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, blue gilia, fern-leaved globemallow, greenleaf five-eyes, tufted white evening primrose, scurf pea, common dandelion, June and cheat grasses. Buds on bush pea.

Last year I dug up a something that looked like a wild onion to see if it had a bulb. Brought it home and stuck in the ground. Found it blooming Tuesday.

In my yard: Siberian pea tree, spirea, grape hyacinth, Baby Blue iris, Dutch clover, oxalis, blue flax, vinca, small-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer. Buds on snowball, beauty bush, Bath pinks, golden spur columbine.

Bedding plants: Marigolds, nicotiana.

Known unknowns: Pink bud, native dandelion, fleabane.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunias.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small brown birds, geckos, harvester and smaller ants. Hearing hummingbirds fly by.

Weekly update: When people talk about a loss of biodiversity from the increase of greenhouse gases, they forget nature adapts. For everything lost, something new is created.

Apache plumes are native to the southwest. Colorado State University Master Gardeners tell you the semi-evergreen shrubs aren’t "particular about soil types." While they are thinking of your well-conditioned garden dirt, they add Fallugia paradoxa "will perform best in sandy soil or clay loam."

In this area, they don’t grow on the Miocene-based prairies, but on Pleistocene canyon fill. They can be found on the western flood plains of the far arroyo and along the tops of the first tier of banks, where the land is built from layers of sandy loam and pebbles. Yesterday, the ones in the arroyo had leaves that were still bright, but beginning to darken.

The ones on the shrub on the bank downhill from the road cut hadn’t shed last year’s brown yet.

The ones growing on a cultivated, purchased shrub in my yard were dark green.

The difference is water. The shrub on the bank may have been part of a copse that was divided when the road was cut. There’s a plant on the opposite bank that’s a bit greener, because it’s on the wetter, upland side of the road.

The downhill shrub is retreating from the eroding bank. Each year, it puts out new plants, and more of the existing plant dies. The corpses line the bank. I don’t know if the young are suckers or seedlings, but I know I don’t see them around Apache plumes in the arroyo. You will, however, find a copse developing around a shrub on the opposite bank of the arroyo on the downhill side of the road cut.

A different type of migration is practiced by plants whose seeds can spread farther. Yesterday, as I continued walking along the rim of the lower bank, I noticed the only tawny cryptanthas blooming were some that had settled in the gravels of a gully from the bank down to the arroyo. Their normal hill side is dry and barren.


In the next gully, I found blue gilia blooming with them. The normally bloom on the bank opposite the cryptanthas in another gully leading to the arroyo.

In the third gully I found some fleabane. This peripatetic flower usually appears in people’s irrigated fields. Here only the flowering stems were green. The rest had browned.

They were all that was blooming on the prairie, and all had come up in gravelly land that holds more water than sandy loam. When I moved inland toward their usual home, I found some sweet sand verbenas. They normally grow on a rise, but this year nothing is there but dead grass. These came up in the path downhill where there was a bit more water in winter. But with the dry spring, they’d abandoned blooming and were turning brown.

If you lived on one of the hills where these plants normally bloom, your spring would have been one of drought-induced depravation like those feared by people concerned with climate change. If you happen to reside in one of the gravel wastelands, this bad year has been the floristic boon expected by the deniers.

Notes: Colorado State University. CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener. "Apache Plume," 2010.

Photographs: All taken yesterday, 11 May 2013.

1. Blue gilia growing in gully.

2. Apache plume in my yard.

3. Apache plume leaves on shrub in far arroyo.

4. Apache plume leaves on shrub on arroyo bank.

5. Apache plume leaves on purchased shrub in my yard,

6. Apache plume copse divided by road cut; wet, uphill side in foreground.

7. Young Apache plume on arroyo band.

8. Tawny cryptantha growing in gully; most of the flowers have bloomed and left their remains.

9. Blue gilia growing in gully.

10. Fleabane growing in gully, with brown stems.

11. Sweet sand verbena growing on bank in place where it did not get enough water.

12. Apache plume growing on the bank on the other side of the arroyo on the downhill side of the road cut.

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