Sunday, June 07, 2015


Weather: A week ago Monday, the afternoon high was 67; this past Monday it was 83. Reach the season when whatever rain falls is less than the water sucked into the atmosphere. Last real rain 5/21.

What’s blooming in the area: Persian yellow, Austrian copper, pink, Dr. Huey and hybrid tea roses, black and purple locusts, silver lace vine, red hot poker, peony, alfalfa, purple salvia, Oriental poppy, golden spur columbine, pink evening primrose, blue flax, Jupiter’s beard, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, brome grass. First hay cut made.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, oxalis, bindweed, fern leaf globemallow, scurf pea, loco, wild licorice, goat’s beard, plains paper flower, green-leaf five-eyes, flea bane, common and local dandelions, June, needle, rice, and cheat grasses.

In my yard: Rugosa roses, potentilla, privet, beauty bush, chives, vinca, California poppy, snow-in-summer, Bath pinks, Johnson’s Blue geranium, Dutch clover, baptisia, winecup mallow, Maltese cross, pink salvia, catmint, blanket flower, chocolate flower, yarrow.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansy, snapdragon, moss roses, marigold, gazania.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Ground squirrel, rabbit, small birds, geckos, bees, ants, heard crickets.

Weekly update: Yarrow is coming into bloom along the shoulders, where I suspect it may have been planted to hold soils. The only places I’ve seen it are around the engineered rises leading to the new overpass in Arroyo Seco near the Pojoaque Ridge, and farther south between Buffalo Thunder and Camel Rock.

I haven’t seen it much elsewhere in the valley, though it will grow here. I have some plants I bought in Albuquerque last year that are putting out runners. The Texas seed I scattered three years ago is into its second generation of seedlings.

Yarrow grows everywhere else from the Yukon to Honduras, from high moist mountain meadows to dry valleys. It originated in the eastern Mediterranean in the Pleistocene ice age. In Europe, Achillea millefolium developed several distinct subspecies, including one that weathered the glaciers in the Pyrenees. A Chinese variety migrated here through Beringia sometime a million years ago.

As it spread in this country, it produced a number of variants that haven’t yet stabilized enough to be considered subspecies. Many have four sets of chromosomes. Plants with six sets live in California’s Mediterranean habitats The European strains primarily live in grasslands and along forest edges. Justin Ramsey says multiple sets of chromosomes are characteristic of alpine and arctic plants.

Even though they are genetically similar, the American varieties look different. For a long time, botanists distinguished western yarrow from the European by calling it Achillea lanulosa. Taxonomist who care about such matters can’t agree on how to distinguish the American from the old world strains.

You would think you would see more of it around. Al Schneider asked, "Is there a more common plant in the Four Corners area?" Elmer Wooton and Paul Standley said it was "common in all the higher mountains" around 1915, with a subspecies endemic to Truchas Peak, Pecos Baldy, and the Jémez.

It’s one of the most useful and easily recognized medicinal plants. Leonora Curtin said local Spanish speakers ground dried plumajillo leaves and mixed them with powdered English plantain in boiling water to reduce a fever. They must have brought the cure with them from Spain, because their explanation, that it was a cold plant that could also be used for purges, were part of the medical vocabulary of the sixteenth century’s four humors.

At San Juan, William Dunmire and Gail Tierney said it was used for sore lips. John Harrington only collected the name, pobi tsæig, from Santa Clara in 1916. He was more interested in their esoteric classification of plants than with ways they used them.

In contrast, Zuñi, have incorporated it into their ceremonial life. Members of the fire fraternity chew the leaves and root, then rub the mix on their bodies before they handle hot coals. More generally, the entire plant "ground and mixed with cold water is applied to burns."

Although its best known for healing wounds, treating burns may be its oldest use. Archaeologists scraped the teeth of Neanderthals found at El Sidrón in the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain. They found yarrow and chamomile from 49,000 years ago, along with evidence of cooked starches. Since they probably were roasting their foods, it's likely they burned themselves. I’m guessing they chewed some leaves and sucked their burned fingers.

It doesn’t have to be dried. It stays green in the snow. If you brush it, you can smell it. I tried chewing a leaf, and part of my tongue went numb. It begged to be used.

That’s why it’s such a mystery it doesn’t grow in wet places here. It may be the drought adapted varieties didn’t cross the mountains and the montane ones never adapted to the valley climate. Or, it may be it was eaten with all the rest of the native grasses. Sheep especially like the flowers. They may have inhibited the natural cycle so much it couldn’t come back.

Notes: The Pyrenees subspecies is Achillea ceretanica or Achillea millefolium ceretanica.

Curtin, Leonora Scott Muse. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore. English plantain is lantén or Plantago major.

Dunmire, William M. and Gail D. Tierney. Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province, 1995.

Gua, Yanping, Friedrich Ehrendorfer, and Rosabelle Samuel. "Phylogeny and Systematics of Achillea (Asteraceae-Anthemideae) Inferred from nrITS and Plastid trnL-F DNA Sequences," Taxon 53:657-672:2004,

Hardy, Karen. Quoted in Colin Barras, "Neanderthal Dental Tartar Reveals Evidence of Medicine," New Scientist, 18 July 2012.

Harrington, John Peabody, William Wilfred Robbins, and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

Ramsey, Justin. "Polyploidy and Ecological Adaptation in Wild Yarrow," National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings 108:7096-7101:2011.

_____, Robertson A, Husband B, Conti E. "Rapid Adaptive Divergence in New World Achillea, an Autopolyploid Complex of Ecological Races," Evolution 62:639-653:2008.

Schneider, Al. "Achillea millefolium," Southwest Colorado Wildflowers website.

Stevenson, Matilda Coxe. Ethnobotany of the Zuñi Indians, 1915; quotation on burns.

United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Germplasm Resources Information Network. Entry for Achillea millefolium L.

_____. Forest Service, Range Plant Handbook, 1937.

Wooton, Elmer O. and Paul C. Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915.

1. White yarrow head, grown from plant, 6 June 2015.
2. White yarrow, between Buffalo Thunder and Camel Rock, 21 May 2012.
3. White yarrow seedling from seedling, 6 June 2015.
4. White yarrow bud, grown from plant, 6 June 2015.
5. White yarrow bud opening, grown from seed, 21 May 2014.
6. White yarrow in snow, frown from seed, 28 December 2012.
7. White yarrow habit, grown from plant, 6 June 2015.
8. White yarrow florets, grown from seed, 19 June 2013.

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