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.

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