Sunday, June 29, 2014

Shrubby Yellow Potentilla

Weather: Yesterday was the first afternoon in months when the afternoon air was still; the night before more Russian thistles blew in; last rain 6/13/14.

What’s blooming in the area: Catalpa, Dr Huey and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, silver lace vine, lilies, daylily, red hot poker, hollyhock, datura, Jupiter’s beard, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, alfalfa, sweet pea, purple-flowered salvia, yellow yarrow.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, purple mat flower, fern leaf globemallow, pink and white bindweed, showy milkweed, amaranth, Hopi tea, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, plains paper flowers.

In my yard, looking east: Maltese cross, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, baby’s breath, pink-flowered salvia, winecup mallow, coral bell.

Looking south: Betty Prior, Fairy and rugosa roses.

Looking west: Johnson’s Blue geranium, Rumanian sage, catmint, blue flax, white mullein, Shasta daisy.

Looking north: Coral beard tongue, butterfly milkweed, golden spur columbine, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis.

In the open, along the drive: Dutch white clover, California poppy, larkspur, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Pansies, snapdragon, sweet alyssum, blue salvia, moss rose, French marigold.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, geckos, gold finch and other small birds, grasshoppers, small black ants, wasps.

Flying insects flit above the catalpa flowers in mid-morning, but never seem to land.

Weekly update: One of the niggling mysteries is what happens to all those plants you see in the garden centers in the spring. The only ones I see blooming in yards are roses and Russian sages.

Shrubby yellow-flowered potentillas appear every year, but don’t sell until end of season clearances. One could attribute the lack of sales to self-fulfilling expectations: people only buy what they see blooming in their neighbors’ yards.

One summer around 1998 one of the local hardware stores built a raised flower bed by the front road and put out some of its remaining shrubs. The potentilla, probably a dwarfed variety, bloomed every summer until the state highway department destroyed the bed when it was widening the road in 2011.

Despite this demonstration of success, I’ve only seen a few shrubs growing in the village, usually planted as specimens.

My luck has been variable. When I moved to Michigan in 1985, I bought nine bare root Potentilla fruticosa ‘Jackmanii’ from a local nursery. Five survived. The members of the rose family grew about three feet tall and bloomed reliably.

When I bought more a few years later to replace the ones that died, they too succumbed.

I tried shrubby cinquefoils a few times in New Mexico, but none made it through the first summer’s heat.

Last year I thought of them again. I had planted a slope with German iris and red hot pokers. For some reason, the pokers died in the winter of 2012-2013. I hadn’t liked them enough to replace them, and was looking for something I could see from a distance.

My impulse formed late in the planting season. I scoured nurseries in mid-June. Four Goldfinger were back in a corner of the local hardware where plants they forgot to water were limping on. I found four Jackmanii in an Albuquerque nursery where they probably had been growing in pots outdoors for several seasons. The other three were in ideal condition in an Albuquerque greenhouse.

The greenhouse plants and one of the Jackmanii lost their leaves in August and didn’t come back this spring. The other seven, which had been hardened through benign neglect, are producing flowers clusters at the ends of their stems. They’re still only about a foot high, but appear to be flourishing.

What finally motivated me to try the russet-barked shrubs again were the forest fires of 2012. By mid-June, temperatures had risen and the air was attacking my sinuses. I took refuge in my air-conditioned car to drive in the only direction there was no smoke, north.

On my way back from Angel Fire, I pulled over just after I had crested the 9,101 foot Palo Flechado Pass. I’d spotted flowers blooming under tall, pine trees on the north, uphill side. When I got out, I saw a low purple plant, some low fleabanes, western yarrow, a blue beardtongue, another plant with purple bells arranged on a tall stem and something white with five petaled single flowers at the ends of narrow stems.

I crossed the road to discover the stream which flowed through the valley in the slope. Scattered in the grass were some low potentilla shrubs. I didn’t cross the barbed wire to get a close look. Although they resembled the cultivated plants, I suspect they were Potentilla pulcherrima. The similar yellow-flowered species grows in mountain meadows in the Ponderosa zone.

Water must be the key to their success. While the dry conditioning probably was critical for my shrubs’ survival, the very wet fall helped form the growth that’s producing this year’s five-petaled flowers.

That same moisture revived the needle grass growing on the road side of the slope. It’s so tall, I can see nothing through the tall, paper colored stems. On the other side of the slope, the golden spur columbine have grown so dense, I can’t see the daylilies at their feet. I finally succeeded again with potentillas, but I have to hunt to see them.

Tierney, Gail D. Roadside Plants of Northern New Mexico, 1983.

Wooton, Elmer Otis and Paul Carpenter Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915.

1. Jackmani potentilla flower, my yard, 29 June 2014.
2. Jackmani flower cluster, my yard, 29 June 2014.
3. Goldfinger terminal flowers, my yard, 29 June 2014.
4. Jackmani in Michigan, 30 July 1988.
5. Jackmani bud stem, 29 June 2014.
6. Jackmani bud cluster, 29 June 2014.
7. Potentilla in meadow, Palo Flechado Pass, 18 June 2012.

8. Goldfinger hidden by needle grass, golden spur columbine and blanket flowers, 29 June 2014.
9. Potentilla, Palo Flechado Pass, 18 June 2012.

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