Sunday, April 27, 2014

Antelope Sage

Weather: Last rain, 4/19/14.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples peaked, redbud, flowering quince, tulips; iris poised to bloom.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless and tawny cryptanthas, hoary cress, purple mustard, dandelions, cheat grass. Tansy mustard getting to be 2' high. Elm seeds blowing around parking lots.

In my yard: Sand cherry, grape hyacinths, moss phlox; buds on choke cherries, spirea, lilacs, and Bath pinks; lilies breaking ground.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds, ants.

Weekly update: Antelope Sage is a water plant. One grows on the flood plain of the prairie arroyo near a Russian olive. I’ve seen another up stream on the top of the arroyo bank, about 30" from the bottom and a foot from the edge. I’ve also seen one a little down stream on top of a ten foot bank. And, in 2011, I saw one growing along the shoulder where the road drops to cross the near arroyo.

Among the Zuñi, Matilda Coxe Stevenson said a piece of ta’loo’ root was kept in the mouth for a day to treat soreness. Then, the "medicine man" took the root and buried it in the river bottom with a piece of turquoise and white shell beads so that it could "go to Ko’kuwala’wa, Abiding Place of the Council of Gods."

A powdered form was given to dancers before a ceremony to bring rain. She said its ceremonial name, chi’ka kianakia, referred to the sweetness it imparted to saliva.

Among the Navajo, Francis Elmore found in the 1940s, pilna’at’ohiih was mixed with white amaranth (Amaranthus albus) and other plants, then smoked during the Coyote Chant. Forty years later, Leland Wyman could find little information about the Coyote Way beyond the fact it had been used to restore someone who had broken a sexual taboo like incest.

Albert Regan could find nothing about the perennial’s use by the White Mountain Apache. They would only admit it was used in ceremonials and that is was chewed to sweeten the saliva.

The Hopi don’t use Eriogonum jamesii because it doesn’t grow in their area.

Since antelope sage is found through the southwest and in most of New Mexico’s counties, the range apparently is defined by altitude. The Hopi live below 6,000'. Zuñi pueblo is at 6293'. The Ramah Navajo live at 6,926'. The White Mountain Apache are even higher.

It can’t be said to be happy here in the arroyo at 5726', about the level of the Hopi.

The plant I saw in 2008 didn’t expand and didn’t produce seedlings. The individuals florets exist in tight clusters that are urban in their density. Stamens reach outside their home bases to pollinate their neighboring florets. James Reveal says, most plants in the genera avoid incest by releasing their pollen before the florets are ready, forcing exogamy within the cluster.

The long white stamens, with their white anther pads, are what give the late summer flowers their frothy quality. The Polygonaceae are in the same buckwheat family as silver lace vine.

The lone plant rarely bloomed, though it faithfully maintained its galvanized gray leaves every summer. Every winter they tuned deep maroon. Then, something happened this year. Some animal dug around the woody carapace, and left a blackened reminder on the soil.

Elmore, Francis H. Ethnobotany of the Navajo (1944)

Reagan, Albert B. "Plants Used by the White Mountain Apache Indians of Arizona," Wisconsin Archeologist 8:143-61:1929

Reveal, James. "A Glossary of Useful Terms and Expressions," The Eriogonum Society website

Stevenson, Matilda Coxe. Ethnobotany of the Zuñi Indians (1915)

Vestal, Paul A. The Ethnobotany of the Ramah Navaho (1925)

Whiting, Alfred F. Ethnobotany of the Hopi (1939)

Wyman, Leland C. "Navajo Ceremonial System" in Handbook of North American Indians, volume 10 (1983) edited by Alfonso Ortiz

Photographs: All taken of the same plant in the prairie arroyo.
1. 21 September 2013, with black ant.
2. 23 August 2009.
3. 25 September 2011.
4. 21 September 2013.
5. 25 September 2011.
6. 21 September 2013.
7. 18 April 2014, surrounded by gypsum phacelia.
8. 26 December 2008.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Leafy Wild Parsley

Weather: Last snow Monday, last rain yesterday.

It’s been so warm pigweed and Russian thistle are germinating.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples, cherries, flowering quince, other pink and white flowered trees, red and yellow tulips.

Last week I saw someone taking a front-end loader to his rail fence. I thought, that’s odd. No one here ever deliberately tears down a fence. A few days later he was out with a friend building a replacement of pipes with stuccoed, cement columns for end posts.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless and tawny cryptanthas, purple and tansy mustards, leafy wild parsley, dandelions, cheat grass; buds on blue gilia.

In my yard: Sand cherry, daffodils, grape hyacinths, moss phlox; buds on choke cherries, spirea, lilacs, and Bath pinks.

Animal sightings: Small birds, ants. Still haven’t heard any bees, but saw some inch-long, tan and brown grasshoppers on the prairie.

A friend told me rabbits are getting desperate in the Santa Fé area. I startled two large jacks when I was walking on the prairie this week, with two separate territories. One ran for the gully made by the irrigation ditch; the other headed across the arroyo for the high banks where saltbushes grow at the base. The cottontail in my drive yesterday looked way too plump.

Weekly update: Leafy wild parsley is blooming on the prairie. It’s not native to the area, so its mustard colored heads are always a surprise. Musineon divaricatum’s season is so short, I have nothing more than a nodding acquaintance. I’m not sure I’ve even ever seen the flowers open.

In 2009, I saw their buds on 26 April and flowers on 3 May. The next year, it was 25 April and 19 May. The end of the month I saw something that might have been a seed capsule. I didn’t note how many there were, but think it may have been one. My location was the generic "Second Bottoms." I was still learning the lay of the wild land.

In 2011, I only saw the distinctive leaves. They are dark green with leaflets composed of a tip and two pairs. Each is trisected so it looks like a club in a card deck. The stems are fleshy, grooved, and reddish, rather like rhubarb.

The following year, the plants were in the road cut at the base of the flat area that overlooks the arroyo. I also saw them growing by the road through Santa Clara lands. I did not see them on the Second Bottoms.

Last year, I noted two in a path by the rise where sand verbenas grow. Now there are a number in the same general area.

These Apiaceae are perennials, but the local ones behave like annuals. They may be so far out of their range, they can’t survive the summer heat. This year’s plants may be the offspring of last year’s pair, but last year’s and the ones before may all have been new introductions.

The native grounds for leafy wild parsley are the Canadian prairies down through the Yellowstone and Big Horn drainages of Montana and Wyoming. In that area the fleshy roots are eaten raw by the Blackfoot and Crow.

Leslie Davis was part of an archaeological team surveying the National Guard’s Limestone Hills training range in Montana in 1979. They were puzzled by an area where groups had camped intermittently between 1400 B.C. to A.D. 1450. They understood the general attraction - high quality quartzite and chert. They didn’t understand why families always camped in the same general locale, when the valued stones could be found elsewhere in the basin.

As part of the routine they sampled the soil and discovered "the geology and soils differed dramatically from one side of the central drainage to the other." Their botany specialist recognized edible plants growing there today that only appear on those types of soils.

The most significant were bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) and wild parsley.  The plant's utility is limited to early spring. The team realized the presence of those plants not only defined where women set up their tepees , but when the band would come to the area. In the centuries before the horse, the roots would have been the first fresh food after a long winter of dried meat.

Little has been written about wild parsley, beyond describing it and placing it in the botanical kingdom. Recently, some chemists discovered they contain a number of coumarins, some unique. The coumarin found in the yellow sweet clovers growing by the road can speed wound healing. No one has studied the effects of Musineon’s chemicals yet.

Native knowledge, no doubt, faded with the acceptance of western foods and medicines. The flowers are still common on the prairies. With roads and increased settlement, they have filtered down the eastern face of the Rockies to the Colorado Springs area.

John Kartesz’s distribution map shows they hopped from there to Las Animas County, on the other side of the Raton Pass. Few things move from there to here without some help. Passing trucks or cars may have dropped seed along the Santa Clara road. Only an ATV could have brought them into the prairie. The yellow flowers may be their only useful ecological contribution.

Davis, Leslie B. "Tipi Rings: Circles of Stone," Montana Outdoors May-June 1985.

Kartesz, J. T. North American Plant Atlas, 2013.

Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany (1998) summarizes data from a number of ethnographies, including J. W. Blankinship, Native Economic Plants of Montana (1905) on Crow and Walter McClintock, "Medizinal- Und Nutzpflanzen Der Schwarzfuss Indianer," Zeitschriff fur Ethnologie 41:273-9:1909 on Blackfoot.

Swager, T. M. and J. H. Cardellina II. "Native American Food and Medicinal Plants. Part 4. Coumarins from Musineon Divaricatum," Phytochemistry 24:805-813:1985.

Van Wyk, Ben-Erik and Michael Wink. Medicinal Plants of the World (2004).

1. Peach blossom catching the snow, 14 April 2014.

2. Leafy wild parsley blooming on the Second Bottoms where sand verbenas grow, 18 April 2014.

3. Leafy wild parsley growing in the road cut through the Second Bottoms, 9 May 2012.

4. Leafy wild parsley emerging somewhere on the Second Bottoms, 25 April 2010.

5. Leafy wild parsley blooming in the road cut through the Second Bottoms, 9 May 2012.

6. Leafy wild parsley buds on the Second Bottoms where sand verbenas grow, 18 April 2014.

7. Leafy wild parsley blooming on the Second Bottoms where sand verbenas grow, 18 April 2014.

8. Leafy wild parsley blooming on the Second Bottoms where sand verbenas grow, 18 April 2014.

9. ATV tire tracks in the road cut, 18 April 2014.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Food and Survival

Weather: Cold mornings followed by hot, windy afternoons; last rain 4/6/14.

What’s blooming in the area: Cherries, plum, flowering quince, other pink and white flowered trees, daffodils; buds on apples.

Beyond the walls and fences: Siberian elms, alfilerillo, fern leaf globemallow, western stickseed, purple and tansy mustards, dandelions.

In my yard: Sand cherry, moss phlox; buds of choke cherries, spirea and lilacs; peonies emerged.

Animal sightings: Small birds, ants; still haven’t heard any bees.

Weekly update: Thirty in the morning. Seventy in the afternoon. Humidity levels so low, rain leaves little trace.

Whenever we have weather that threatens the fruit crops, I think of a letter a college student in my home town wrote in 1853. She had just arrived, and was telling her parents how she was faring in the dormitory where they were responsible for their own meals. In addition to bread and butter, she said:

"I live on ‘taters’ and baked apples, yes, I have cooked just one slice of pork since you left. I have pared my peaches, took the best of them, and put half as much sugar on them, and stirred them down. I have got my three pint basins full left, they are first rate."

Without dried fruit there was famine in the years before refrigeration. However, there was a railroad in that part of Michigan by then. If one had cash, one could buy food. Poorer folks still faced lean times.

Several hundred years before, hunger was more common. Transatlantic voyages were especially difficult. In the 1650's, Robinson Crusoe’s ship floundered a few weeks after leaving Brazil. The first thing he did was rescue the provisions, which he lists as:

"bread, rice, three Dutch cheeses, five pieces of dried goat’s flesh"

They already had eaten the fowl. The rats already had destroyed the stores of barley and wheat.

In the early twentieth century, Gerald Brenan remembered, when he climbed to the fort above the port city of Almeria in southeastern Spain, he "scrambled up past the hovels of the poor and the sprawling prickly-pear plants."

He didn’t find the presence of the New World cactus something extraordinary. I assume they came as ship’s provisions. The fruits or tunas are edible, and so too are the pads. They are sold in my local grocery, along with tomatillos.

My guess is the cactus pieces that weren’t eaten, were tossed overboard as the crew approached Cádiz, or were thrown away once they had landed. It’s possible, the surplus was sold to the poor. One way or another, they arrived farther east and took root.

Being seen as food, doesn’t necessarily mark a plant for extinction. Famine times do, but otherwise, people tend to protect their food supply. There might not be any apples or wheat or barley if man hadn’t nurtured them. The ancestral plants may have passed the way of so many species that haven’t survive climatic changes.

Even pilfering animals, like birds who steal cherries, protect their food supply. They drop seeds near ditches where water carries them downstream. Like the tunas, they germinate.

Brenan, Gerald. South from Granada (1957) p 216.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe (1719), chapter 5.

Fennimore, Keith J. The Albion College Sesquicentennial History: 1835-1985 (1985) p 99, letter from Mary Ann Carlton, sister of the poet Will Carlton.

Photographs: Trees in my yard are young cherries (first picture). I assume the others taken in the area also are cherries, many planted by birds or the wind. The apricot flowers were destroyed by the cold. The trees are only now putting out new leaves.

Apple flowers are just emerging within their protective clusters of leaves.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Cactus Spines

Weather: High winds, dry air, and morning temperatures cold enough to threaten the peach flowers; last rain 3/16/14.

Last Sunday afternoon, I saw Russian thistles blowing by my window. From where I sat, they had to be at least ten feet off the ground. One landed in the black locust some seven feet up.

What’s blooming in the area: Peaches, cherries, crab apples, flowering quince, forsythia, daffodils.

Beyond the walls and fences: Bright green Siberian elms, alfilerillo, western stickseed, purple and tansy mustards, dandelions. Needle grass green about four inches.

In my yard: Bradford pear; sand cherry fragrant; spirea, lilacs, beauty bush leafing.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

I haven’t heard bees around my peach tree like I usually do when it’s in full bloom. I’m told, they don’t like wind.

Weekly update: The spines on the cholla cacti I brought from Abilene, Texas, in the 1990s seem much longer this spring. One is a different species than the local one, but the other looks the same.

I don’t know why.

People’s understanding of cacti is conditioned by perceptions formed by other plants.

Angiosperms have roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds. Of these leaves are the most important, because they perform the photosynthesis that keeps a plant alive.

Cacti are plants. Therefore, they must have roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds. Only they don’t have leaves. The stems handle the food production, and they do it at night like a grass, rather than during the day.

What the cholla and prickly pear in my yard do have that is unique to the plant family are the spines.

For years, conventional wisdom has said the spines were leaves whose purpose had been diverted to survive desert conditions.

Now, some who’ve actually looked closer have found cacti have microscopic leaves and that the spines are dead, woody cell matter that rises above the areoles where the leaves exist. They aren’t actually wood, but woody fibers.

Conventional wisdom posits the spines shade the green stems. That’s probably true of the hedgehog cactus that’s growing in my yard, but the ones on the cholla and prickly pear are too sparse.

An alternative suggestion is spines exist to protect cacti from herbivores. They certainly keep away the humans who make those comments. But, rabbits know how to eat prickly pear.

And so do grasshoppers. And so do birds.

Several years ago, a great mound of dirt appeared near one of my cholla, and the other one started to die.

Last fall, I noticed a mount near a cactus field on the prairie

This year, when I went walking on the prairie, I found every single prickly pear had a mound of dirt around it where some animal had burrowed under to get to the roots.

I noticed many of those cacti had long spines.

Botanists final suggestion is spines exist to direct water to the roots. Dripping is something they can observe.

What they can’t observe is what happened eons ago when the plant group was evolving in South America. Better knowledge of the Miocene, especially the early years when temperatures were still warm, might explain spines better than modern analogies.

Notes: J. D. Mauseth, MausethResearch: Cacti website sponsored by the University of Texas.

1. Spines on cholla brought from Abilene, Texas, 15 March 2014.

2. Spines on local cholla, 2 April 2014.

3. Flower on local cholla, 18 June 2009.

4. Flower on the other cholla brought from Abilene, Texas, 10 June 2013, with some kind of bee.

5. Flower on prickly pear down the road, 7 June 2013.

6. Hedgehog cactus in my yard, 2 April 2014.

7. Prickly pear nibbled by rabbit, 24 June 2008; young pad hasn’t developed many spines yet.

8. Cholla in my yard with seed pod (tuna) eaten, 2 April 2014.

9. Animal mound in my yard near a cholla, 23 December 2010.

10. Animal mound on the prairie, 21 September 2013.

11. Prickly pear on the prairie, attacked by burrowing animal, 20 March 2014.

12. Prickly pear flower eaten by a grasshopper, 7 June 2013.

13. Russian thistle lodged high in a black locust growing with Dr. Huey roses. These are thorns that deter.