Sunday, May 25, 2014

Johnson’s Blue Geranium

Weather: Finally some rain Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Last fall’s rains probably formed the hidden buds that produced this year’s flush of snowballs, privets, forsythia, tufted white evening primroses, purple mat flowers and needle grass.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper and yellow species roses, yellow potentilla, snowball, bearded iris, chives, peony, oriental poppy, Jupiter’s beard, pink evening primrose, blue flax, purple-flowered salvia.

Hay fields have recovered from last year’s drought. Most are green and a uniform height. Last year they were uneven where the alfalfa was growing and the brome grass was not.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless cryptantha, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, purple mat flower, fern leaf globemallow, oxalis, bindweed, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, cheat, needle, rice and June grasses.

In my yard: Privet, skunkbush, Johnson’s Blue geranium, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, golden spur columbine, vinca, pink-flowered salvia; buds on baptisia; buddleia and Russian sage putting new growth up from roots.

Bedding plants: Finally felt safe planting them. Most went out of bloom waiting for the last frost date to pass. About a dozen snapdragons wintered over.

Animal sightings: Cottontail, gecko, pair of hummingbirds, other small birds, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: If ever a plant was plagued by snobbery, it’s a geranium. And wherever snobs gather, you can be sure nothing is what it seems.

There are those who claim the bright red zone-leafed plants that survive in window boxes aren’t true geraniums because their genus is Pelargonium. The fact they are in the geranium family doesn’t matter. True snobs always make distinctions between branches of families, and only admit some, usually the scions of the oldest son.

We won’t use the words they apply to the pink cranes bills blooming in my drive. After all, they’re Erodiums.

The Johnson’s Blue geraniums that survived under my peach would not be admitted as true Johnson’s Blues. They have red mid-ribs, white filaments and charcoal anthers. Genuine Johnson’s have yellow stamens. Mine at least have the white centers characteristic of the "real thing."

One purveyor of English breeding, tells gardeners the plant was "raised in Holland by B Ruys from seed from A T Johnson in 1950. First described by Graham Stuart Thomas in his Perennial Garden Plants - The Modern Florilegium in 1962." Thompson’s imprimatur is the Burk’s Peerage, the DAR of plants.

Of course, that’s a bit dubious. Arthur Tysilio Johnson was 77 years old in 1950, the year Bonne Ruijs died. The latter had left his company’s board in 1942 and had broken all ties in 1948 when he was 83 years old. The company run by his children, Royal Moerheim Nurseries of Dedemsvaart, was the one making introductions.

Johnson’s Blue is a sterile hybrid of Geranium himalayense and Geranium pratense. It spreads by underground rhizomes.

Once the blue flowers became popular, other nurseries needed to provide something suitable. Since there were no seeds, breeders had to replicate the hybrid Johnson had created in north Wales. Snobs let you know those "brand X" imitations have no pratense in their genes. That matters. The dollop from the Meadow crane’s bill is needed to cleanse the Himalayan DNA of its foreign origins.

Nature is no snob. Pratense isn’t just an English species. It’s found from Europe through the alpine highlands of western Asia from 4,600 to 13,000 feet. It’s naturalized itself in Canada. In India, geneticists discovered some plants showed a tendency to polyploid reproduction.

Whenever plants have more than the usual two pairs of chromosomes, the offspring of crosses with other species can vary. Many of those disdained Johnson Blue geraniums may have the right ancestors, but the heritage doesn’t appear in the accepted patterns of coloration.

Color is not absolute, but a construct formed by the brain interacting with reflected light. While snobs fuss about the red ribs, they’re more casual about the shade of blue in the five petals.

New Zealand chemists determined the actual color in Johnson’s Blue comes from the presence of unique forms of malvidin, kaempferol and myricetin. The first is an anthocyanin pigment. The second is a flavonol found in delphinium. The last is a flavonol found in grapes.

However, for the color to appear, the pH in the petals has to be within the acidic range of 6.6 and 6.8. Grow it in alkaline soils or give it local water and colors will vary.

Anyone who’s studied European history knows the dangers of pedigrees in determining suitable mates among the aristocracy. Given enough generations, purified strains tend to weaken. Johnson Blue needs that Himalayan ancestry where both parents can grow above 12,000' to survive in northern New Mexico.

I’ve tried other named varieties of geraniums here. This is the only one that’s survived two winters. I added more plants last summer from other nurseries. The place I bought mine in 2011 no longer offered what I needed. Not all were as hardy. If I look closely, I notice they aren’t identical. Different colored ribs are a feature, not a disqualifier.

Brittain, Julia. The Plant Lover’s Companion, 2006, entry on "Johnson, A. T. (1873-1956).

eflora of China website entries for "Geranium pratense Linnaeus" and "Geranium himalayense Klotzsch."

Jonge, A. W. J. de. "Ruijs, Bonne (1865-1950)," Biographical Dictionary of Netherlands 2 (1985).

Kumar, P. and V. K. Singhal. "Chromosome Number and Secondary Chromosomal Associations in Wild Populations of Geranium pratense L. from the Cold Deserts of Lahaul-Spiti (India)," TSitologiia I genetika 47:56-65:2013.

Markham, K. R., K. A. Mitchell and M. R. Boase. "Malvidin-3-O-glucoside-5-O-(6-acetylglucoside) and Its Colour Manifestation in 'Johnson's Blue' and Other 'Blue' Geraniums," Phytochemistry 45:417-423:1997.

The Plantsman’s Preference, Norfolk, England, on-line catalog entry for "Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'."

United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Germplasm Resources Information Network. Entry for "Geranium pratense L."

1. Johnson’s Blue geranium blooming under peach, 21 May 2014.
2. Zonal geranium on my enclosed porch, 24 May 2014.
3. Alfilerillo, Erodium circutarium, in my drive, 21 May 2014.
4. Johnson’s Blue geranium, 21 Mary 2014.
5. Johnson’s Blue geranium, 21 May 2014.
6. Johnson’s Blue geranium, 19 May 2013.
7. Another Johnson’s Blue geranium plant with whitish ribs, 13 July 2013.
8. Johnson’s Blue geranium leaf, 21 May 2014.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Green Peach Aphids

Weather: Continued high winds, dry air, and erratic temperatures, last rain, 4/19/14.

Subfreezing temperatures killed my grape leaves Wednesday. Looks like they also destroyed leaves on roses of Sharon near the village

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper and yellow species roses, snowball, blue flax; buds on peonies.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless and tawny cryptanthas, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, purple mat flower, fern leaf globemallow, oxalis, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, cheat, needle, rice and June grasses.

In my yard: Bearded iris, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, golden spur columbine, vinca; buds on privet, oriental poppies.

Animal sightings: Cottontail, gecko, small birds, lady bugs, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: The Golden Book of Nature tells children about the wonders of ants and even shows pictures of ant farms. It mentions they milk aphids. On another page, it shows beautiful ladybugs.

The Silver Anniversary Edition for adults expelled from that original Eden admits aphids can be a problem handled by ladybugs.

If that isn’t enough, it suggests you spray the plant with soapy water.

It also would help to remove the ants. It’s filled with folk remedies like putting down grits and spreading Borax or baby powder with talc around the hill.

Everything said in both story books is true, and absolutely useless when you’re faced with a real aphid infestation.

Ladybugs do eat aphids, but the arithmetic is wrong. They don’t usually show up until there are lots of aphids. Then there aren’t enough of them. Aphids can reproduce every 20 days, go through many generations in the spring.

A friend tried buying ladybug eggs, which hatched nicely. Then they flew away, leaving her with her aphids.

The moral, ladybugs are good at flagging a problem. They are more interested in being ladybugs than in solving it for you.

As for ants, I’ve been trying to get rid of them for years. So far all I’ve done is harasses them. I kill the workers, but in a week a new generation is back.

The problem is I never get the queen. I’ve been told to dig up the hole, then pour kerosene or gasoline in it. My worst ants bite. I’m not sure how you protect yourself while digging, and how you get the ground wet enough to dig in New Mexico without alerting them. They’re wily enough to move the queen when they suspect trouble.

I do remove plants that attract ants, especially goat’s beards. They also attract ladybugs.

But there are limits to this strategy. There simply are plants I’m not willing to sacrifice on the ant altar.

Soapy water, or many insecticides, only work if the spray actually hits the insect. They are useless once they dry. They work against aphids that have soft skins, but don’t affect lady bugs with the beetle shells. However, the ladybugs left when I sprayed. I think they didn’t like getting wet.

Aphids have many protections. The stay on the undersides of leaves, which are hard to spray. They force a tree to create galls, then stay within the protection of the resin domes.

While most can’t fly, come summer some can. They abandon woody plants for vegetables and other succulent leaves.

I’m told green peach aphids probably won’t kill my tree. Instead, they will weaken it by forcing it to produce smaller or deformed leaves that fall off. They leave their sticky residue on leaves. Then, viruses move in, and they kill the tree.

The only useful advice is to spray it with water every couple days. The water, with or without soap, knocks the aphids to the ground. Since they don’t fly, they have a hard time crawling back. It also may remove the goo, but not the resin domes. They have to be pried loose, and they always take some bark with them. The galls tend to be near existing cracks in the bark, which may trap water and invite more of those viruses.

Even spraying’s easier to say than do. You can’t spray on cold mornings, because the hoses don’t work well. You can’t spray in the afternoon when the wind comes up, without getting soaked.

I’m not actually sure I have aphids. I’ve only seen one. Other strange insects have shown up in what has been a long, warm spring following a wet fall and dry winter. However, the signs are there: the white stuff under leaves, the deformed leaves, and, for a while, the ladybugs.

Photographs: All taken in my yard, 12 May 2014.
1. Ladybug near scar in bark of my peach tree.
2. Unknown "caterpillar" on plant near the peach.
3. Ladybugs being ladybugs.
4. Debris accumulated in stickum on goat’s beard.
5. Ants on peony bud.
6. Resin dome near crack in bark on peach.
7. Stuff accumulated inside a curling peach leaf.
8. Unknown insect on goat’s beard.

9. Peach leaf cluster that hasn’t unfurled, creating a hideout of aphids; leaves already turning yellow.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Russian Olives Marooned

Weather: Winds, random cold mornings, last rain, 4/19/14.

Black locust leaves emerged 5/6 and were killed by the cold.

What’s blooming in the area: Spirea, Austrian copper and yellow species roses, some iris; buds on snowballs, peonies.

Two of the round rail fences that were falling a part have been replaced, one with pipe, one with wood rails. Several others have also put up board rail fences. I marvel that people can drive by pealing fences every day, and think they’ve been granted a special compensation from the depredations of weather.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless and tawny cryptanthas, hoary cress, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, purple mat flower, fern leaf globemallow, oxalis, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, cheat, needle, rice and June grasses; cottonwoods leafing

In my yard: Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, moss phlox, vinca; buds on privet, golden spur columbine, oriental poppies.

Animal sightings: Cottontail, gecko, small birds, big yellow butterfly, lady bugs, harvester and small black ants.

Weekly update: Russian olives are one of those trees you think nothing can kill.

Take a chain saw to one.

Elaeagnus angustifolia comes back.

Light a torch.

It comes back. Slowly, but it comes back.

Take away its water, it stumbles.

It starts in the dry days of summer. The leaves don’t turn yellow or fall or anything obvious. They simply reflex a bit, look grayer, sparser from a distance.

They get along. The rains always come in late summer, and they revive. Then comes a dry winter. They leaf a bit slower than their neighbors in spring.

Instead of recolonizing their existing branches, they retreat, recoup from the base.

Mine isn’t the only one. Trees that were doing fine suddenly aren’t. I may have started my troubles a couple years ago when I changed how I watered. I see neighbor’s trees having problems, and remember houses were for sale. New owners may not care the same way. Just the accidental changes that accompany civilization.

Then I look at some that took root near the bosque where they got water from the runoff from the road. Nothing changed, except there’s less runoff when there’s less rain.

I look at the one in the arroyo that’s been retrenching every summer, inhabiting fewer and fewer of its limbs. The only thing that’s changes is what flows through during the monsoons.

Droughts suck water from the depths where roots rummage. For a few years, they adapt, follow the water upward. Then, not enough seeps down, the roots that could get by are stranded. Dead branches record the peaks from the past. Silver records the present.

1. Russian olives (the small gray trees) growing near the river, 2 May 2014

2. Russian olive in an irrigated field, 11 July 2011.

3. Tree cut down after it was hit by a truck, 9 August 2009.

4. Same tree a few months later, 24 October 2009.

5. Russian olive soon after the plants under it were burned, 30 March 2013.

6. Same tree after the first frosts, 1 November 2013.

7. Russian olives growing several hundred feet away from the ones in picture #1, same day, 2 May 2014.

8. My tree last summer, 13 July 2013.

9. My tree last week, 2 May 2014.

10. My tree last week, 2 May 2014.

11. Tree in the arroyo, 11 July 2013.

12. Same tree as picture #2, this spring, 2 May 2014. I’m didn’t see the field flooded recently.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

All That's Green

Weather: Strong winds shredded leaves, parked Russian thistles, and uncovered buried broken glass in the yard; last rain, 4/19/14.

What’s blooming in the area: Tulips, purple iris; grape vines leafing. Lilacs taking a pass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless and tawny cryptanthas, hoary cress, purple mat flower, woolly plantain, fern leaf globemallow, oxalis, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, cheat grass.

Trees of heaven sprouting, Virginia creeper leafing, rice, needle and June grasses ready to bloom. Tansy mustard flowers nearly gone, tumble mustard starting.

In my yard: Choke cherry, grape hyacinths, moss phlox,vinca; buds on spirea, privet, and Bath pinks; reseeded California poppies and larkspur up.

Animal sightings: Cottontail rabbit in my yard, jack on the prairie, robin in the village, hummingbird, other small birds, harvester and small black ants, my first bumblebee.

Weekly update: My northern yard is green, the first time since I’ve lived here.

Western stickseeds are everywhere, though there are more on the eastern side of the slope than the west. Water spreads through osmosis from hoses that water the trees and shrubs along the driveway.

Scattered through the stickseeds are some tufted white evening primroses, purple mat flowers and bractless cryptanthas. There are more primroses than I’ve ever seen in this area.

We had a dry winter, followed by a warm spring with a little rain. These are annuals that germinate sometime between late summer and early winter to bloom in early spring.

They won’t last. Stickseeds are members of the borage family that begin as small rosettes, then send up blooming stems. Tiny five-petaled flowers appear at the ends of stems which continually elongate. Lower on the stems, hard shelled nutlets form. When Lappula redowskii plants die, they leave short dead stalks and barbed seeds that attach themselves to socks and pant legs. They usually can be rolled off without the skin getting pierced.

Yesterday, I walked north where housing is mixed with empty fields. The land rises in the east, so water flows downhill to a level plain that slopes gradually to the road. Gypsum phacelias were growing in the catch basin with primroses and stickseeds. Cryptanthas, mat flowers, and woolly plantains were growing in the drier area toward the road.

Between that area and my yard, the land to the east turns into a barren crest with a cone of sand and clay. In that area, the stickseeds were sparser. The other plants only grew in the area near the road where water must get captured by the short slope.

I also walked south into the prairie. The area directly behind my vertical board fence was barren, with just a little winterfat, but a number of primroses. They probably get water from my watering and the septic field.

Uphill, bunch grasses began at my neighbor’s yard. He and another neighbor built a berm above their lands a few year ago that channels water to the area where the grass was growing. Across a rutted road made by some utility trucks a decade ago, the land is undisturbed. Grasses were growing. The only primroses were down toward the ranch road.

Across the ranch road, little water creeps: it’s stopped by the road. My neighbor to the west doesn’t water. The only thing that grows is winterfat. Cryptantha’s more common there, but widely spaced.

After the stickseeds pass, nothing will take their place until the monsoons. Last year, the prairie hill sprouted annual seven-week grama. All the fields to the north were bright green with Russian thistles.

In years when water is scarce, the most minute differences of moisture migration through differing soils are registered by the landscape.

1. Western stickseed, 2 May 2014, my northern yard.

2. Winterfat, western stickseeds, turfed white evening primroses (the white spots), 30 April 2014, my northern yard.

3. Tufted white evening primrose with western stickseeds, 25 April 2014, my northern yard.

4. Western stickseed, 25 December 2007, my western yard.

5. Gypsum phacelia (tall), tufted white evening primroses, bractless cryptantha (short gray), 3 May 2014, to the north.

6. Clumps of dead grass (tall), tufted white evening primrose, bractless cryptantha, 3 May 2014, midway between my yard and #5.

7. Lower half is down hill behind my fence, winterfat, western stickseeds, and tufted white evening primroses. Upper half is bunch grass with few winter annuals. 3 May 2014.

8. Across the ranch road, winterfat, tufted white evening primroses, and bractless cryptantha, 3 May 2014.

9. Bright green Russian thistle growing between clumps of dead grass in the area of #6, last 2 August 2013.

10. Grasses congregating near runoff from water for the peach tree. A bit away are tufted white evening primroses. In the dryer area, western stickseeds. My western yard, 3 May 2014.

11. Woolly plantain growing near the road in the area of #4, 3 May 2014.