Sunday, August 16, 2015

Green-Leaf Five-Eyes

Weather: Afternoon temperatures in the high 80's with teasing clouds; last rain 8/8.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, bird of paradise, buddleia, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, datura, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, annual four o’clock, bouncing Bess, David and purple garden phlox, red amaranth, cultivated sunflowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, yellow yarrow, zinnias, brome grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, yellow mullein, goat’s head, white sweet clover, bindweed, green-leaf five-eyes, white prairie and yellow evening primroses, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, plains paper flower, horseweed, wild lettuce, flea bane, gumweed, goldenrod, áñil del muerto, Tahoka daisy, golden hairy and purple asters; ring muhly, side oats and black grama grasses.

In my yard: Rugosa roses, yellow potentilla, fernbush, Saint John’s wort, California poppy, lady bells, calamintha, blue flax, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, nasturtium, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, bachelor button, white yarrow, purple coneflower, Mönch aster, yellow and reseeded Sensation cosmos.

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

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Goldfinch, geckos, ants.

Weekly update: Green flower I called it when I first saw it, and green flower I call it still. It’s formal name, Chamaesaracha coronopus, is a nearly unpronounceable Latinized portmanteau of a Greek adjective (chamae) and a Spanish surname (Isidoro Saracha). Its common name is too cumbersome to remember: green leaf five eyes is supposed to distinguish it from silver leaf nightshade, as if one would confuse this with something with lavender flowers on foot high stalks.

Flowers aren’t supposed to be a pale lime green, so others see more expected colors. Beth Kinsey sees "pale yellowish green." Michael Nee sees " dirty - or green-white." Nathaniel Britton saw "white or ochroleucous," which Wiktionary translates as "yellowish-white; having a faint tint of dingy yellow." In New Mexico, Elmer Wooton and Paul Standley saw something "ochroleucous, often purple tinged."

Most botanist are too busy looking at the form of the hairs to see the flowers. They’re still debating if the specimens collected in Texas and Mexico are the same species as the ones found in New Mexico. They compromise by describing it as variable.

The plant grows so low to the ground, you actually only see the flower if you squat or kneel. The petals on the ones in my driveway are creamy white with two darker stripes down the centers. Before it opens the bud only shows the mauve bands.

The only people who seem to have actually looked are the Kayenta Navajo near Monument Valley in northeastern Arizona. They call it frog tobacco or cricket’s emetic. Louisa Wade Wetherill indicated they associated it with Coyote who gave "his tobacco" to Frog as "hush money" after Frog saw Coyote "steal the Water Monster’s baby."

Tobacco and green flower are both in the nightshade family. It has the same protruding yellow stamens coming from five-sided cups. Their Solanaceae relationship is obscured by the central ring of white ruffles.

The Kayenta used it as one of the plants they ground into water and dropped on heated stones in the Fumigant-Boiling ceremony to cure head aches or eye problems. Wetherill said they also used it for drowning and swellings.

The association with water seems odd, since it’s a dry southwestern plant. It ranges from western Texas through most of New Mexico into Arizona and down into Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, and San Luis Potosí.

However, most say it grows on clay soils. In my yard, it grows in gravel. The perennial first appeared in my drive in 1996, and a few small plants have bloomed near there every year. In 2012, the man who worked on regrading my drive, brought in new gravel. The plant appeared in many more locations in 2013 and spread into a bed. I’m not sure if they were new seeds, or if he had dispersed what existed and broken the yellow seed pods so they could germinate.

The narrow, scalloped leaf fingers spread out to cross one another in mats during the summer that trap moisture underneath. In late October, they turn a more lemon green that continues to generate heat. When snow covered the drive in November of 2013, they were green islands in grey pebbles. The leaves finally turned brown in winter, when their sharpened edges hugged leaves to protect their roots.

Usually green flower begins blooming in late May and continues until the cold of autumn. This year they have not been as vigorous. I suspect that, while they are arid plants, they don’t much like excessive heat. Early in the season, they open in the morning, and usually are closed by noon. With the changing the sun angles on late summer, they stay open after noon.  They shut at night.

After about a week of afternoon highs in the low 90s in late June, some began to die back. The leaves of another high country plant, golden spur columbine, began turning yellow at the same time. The columbine leaves died, and the roots are only now putting out replacements as seedlings germinate. The green flowers persisted but much diminished.

It may be too insignificant for most to notice. The plants only get about 3" high. But, and this is important in this part of the country where goat’s heads thrive, the green mats are harmless.

Notes: Isidoro Saracha was an eighteenth century botanist and pharmacist. Casimiro Gomez Ortega named a Peruvian genus for him. The name was then used with chamae to describe another low growing genus.

Britton, Nathaniel and Addison Brown. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions, Volume 3, 1913.

Kinsey, T. Beth. Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and Plants, Firefly Forest website.

Nee, Michael H. "Solanaceae Nightshade Family," University of California, Jepson Herberia website.

Wetherill, Louisa Wade. Collection described and annotated in Leland C. Wyman and Stuart K. Harris, The Ethnobotany of the Kayenta Navaho, 1951.

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

Wyman, Leland C. and Flora L. Bailey. "Two Examples of Navaho Physiotherapy," American Anthropologist 46:329-337:1944; has more on fumigant boiling, but does not list the plants used.

Photographs: Green leaf five eyes growing in gravel in my driveway.
1. Flower, 16 August 2015.
2. Blooming mat, 21 September 2013.
3. Stem and pod, 16 August 2015.
4. Flower, bud, and leaves, 2 May 2013.
5. Flower profile, 16 August 2015.
6. Leaves in summer, 26 July 2008.
7. Leaves in fall, 10 November 2011.
8. Leaves in snow, 23 November 2013.
9. Leaves in winter, 21 December 2012.
10. New growth, 5 April 2013.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

What an interesting post. I found what I called Five Eyes or False Nightshade on my lot in Sandia Park in August, 2013 - I found it to be unique and did not often grown there (perhaps the amount of rainfall made a difference?)
Now that I've moved to Albuquerque, I only have seen the purple flowered Silver Nightshade. It has a been a great year for wildflowers with all the rainfall.