Sunday, September 07, 2014

Red Amaranth

Weather: Hurricane Norbert off the southwest of Baja brought rain Friday.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, rose of Sharon, datura, morning glories, bouncing Bess, purple garden phlox, sweet pea, Russian sage, zinnias from new seeds and reseeds, cultivated sunflowers.

Beyond the walls and fences: Yellow evening primrose, purple mat flower, pink and white bindweed, goat’s head, stickleaf, leatherleaf globemallow, pigweed, ragweed, horseweed, Hopi tea, snakeweed broom, broom senecio, native sunflowers, goldenrod, plains paper flowers, áñil del muerto, tahoka daisy, golden hairy asters, black and side oats grama grasses.

In my yard, looking east: Large-flowered soapwort, garlic chives, Jupiter’s beard, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, cut leaf coneflower, Maximilian sunflower heads beginning to bend from weight of seeds.

Looking south: Betty Prior, Fairy, rugosa and miniature roses.

Looking west: Caryopteris, catmint, calamintha, David phlox, ladybells, Mönch aster, purple coneflower.

Looking north: Yellow potentilla, hosta, golden spur columbine, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower, anthemis, coreopsis.

In the open, along the drive: Buddleia, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Snapdragon, sweet alyssum, blue salvia, moss rose, gazania.

Seeds: Larkspur, reseeded Sensation cosmos from last year’s plants, yellow cosmos.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, geckos, small birds, bees, grasshoppers, large and small black ants.

Weekly update: Some mysteries are never solved.

A few years ago a woman down the road planted some bulbs that erupted after the monsoons came in July of 2010. They reached four feet by the first of August with maroon, begonia-like leaves. I thought she’d ordered something from some mass market catalog that featured South African novelties.

The next year, someone two miles away planted something with similar red leaves between rows of African marigolds in a cutting garden. By the end of September I decided the red heads must be some type of giant celosia instead.

The celosia I know, the plumed variety of Amaranthus argentea sold as a bedding plant, might get a foot high. These were six-feet tall, with spikes like Amaranthus caudatus. However, they didn’t have the hanging habit of love-lies-bleeding.

This year I decided the burgundy-leaved, maroon-flowered giants were a form of the red amaranth grown by the Hopi and Zuñi. They extract a beet-like pigment from the plumes to dye the thin wafer bread distributed by kachina dancers.

The real mystery isn’t the identity of the plant, but how Amaranthus cruentus got into Española area gardens in 2011.

When I was in Santa Fé this week I saw them growing in two yards. I’m told one of the gardeners had purchased it as bedding plant from Agua Fria Nursery in 2012. It naturalized and since has come back from its own seeds.

The seeds themselves are not offered by Lake Valley, the company whose seed is most available here and in Santa Fé. One has to order packets from some small company that specializes in native or heritage plants.

One such company, Seeds of Change, has offered Amaranthus cruentus x Amaranthus powelli as the Hopi Dye Plant. The company was founded in 1989 in Gila, New Mexico, by Gabriel Howearth. The research farm was moved to El Guique, northwest of Española on the road to Ojo Caliente in 1996.

The following year, the company was bought by Mars, Inc. The corporate owner closed local operations in 2010 amid chaos that could have scattered inventories. Employees were abruptly dismissed. Seed crops were abandoned. Headquarters originally were in Santa Fé. They’re now located in Rancho Dominguez, California.

The people with the cutting garden might buy plants from Agua Fria. They maintain their yard and put bedding plants in a whiskey half barrel laid on its side. However, they usually grow petunias that are available everywhere.

It’s more likely they planted seeds. The companion African marigolds usually are grown that way. I wondered for a while if they were cropping the amaranth, perhaps drying the heads and selling them in the Santa Fé farmers’ market as everlastings. They could also have been harvesting the grain or leaves for sale to gourmet cooks.

However, they seem to leave the plants to be killed by the frost. It takes three to five months for the seeds to mature after plants die.

I saw red-topped plants in three other places last year. All were in yards of single-wides in settled locations, not mobile home parks. The one also has a few rose bushes, perhaps selected from the ones imported in mass by the local hardware. Another has morning glories grown from seeds and iris that may have been passed along. While all three trailer dwellers appreciate flowers, none look like they would frequent stores that sold unusual annuals or seeds.

It’s possible one person’s plants came from a neighbor who bought bedding plants or whose ATV, snowmobile or hauling trailer tires picked up seeds around El Guique. Those plants could have gone to seed over the fence. Individuals then might have traded seedlings among themselves last year. Friendship and kinship ties spread over miles in the valley.

No one seems to have planted the amaranth this year. Instead the plants look like they reseeded in dense patches. One even came up on the shoulder opposite one of the trailers.

The cutting garden still has its plants in rows, but it looks like someone may have dug the furrows after the plants emerged. Everywhere, this year, the plants are variable heights and colors.

As for the first plant that had red leaves and plumes, the woman continued to plant it for several years, then stopped. I still have no idea what it was.

[I have since been told this is the castor bean plant, Ricinus communis. It’s in the spurge family.]

1. Red amaranth head, trailer on south side of village, 17 August 2012.

2. Red amaranth plants growing outside fence by road to post office, 5 September 2014. The plant grew here last year, and apparently reseeded. I would guess the sprouts inside the fence were weeded out, but the ones outside left to fend for themselves. With irregular watering, they became deep red and short.

3. Unknown red-leaved plant growing on the main road, 11 September 2010.

4. Red amaranth growing in rows with African marigolds, double-wide on north side of village, 12 October 2013.

5. Plants in the cutting garden shown in #4 killed by frost, 26 November 2011.

6. Morning glories blooming with plants in #1, 17 August 2012.

7. Plant growing on shoulder across the road from south trailer, 4 September 2014.

8. Cutting garden plants from #4 growing this year, 4 September 2014.

9. The red-leaved plants that first piqued my interest, 11 September 2010; same as #3. The fence is about three-feet high.

1 comment:

Lazy Gardens said...

That tall plant in photos #3 and #9 are castor beans.

Ricinus communis, probably the variety known as "Carmencita"