Sunday, October 25, 2015

Oshá: Popular Image

Weather: Our fall monsoon finally arrived with heavy rain Wednesday and smaller amounts Tuesday and Friday. Whatever the forces that direct the paths of winds have sent most of the moisture that developed off México this season to the west; water from Patricia went northeast through Texas and Oklahoma. Morning temperatures were so cold Friday there was frost on my neighbor’s roof, but the ground was covered with a descending fog that must have insulated plants.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, morning glories, calamintha, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias, áñil del muerto.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches, evidence of the ground squirrel.

Weekly update: I saw three people selling piñon yesterday in drives facing Riverside between the lights for Fairview and the road to Chimayó. In one place, they shared the parking lot with pickups filled with firewood.

It won’t be long before men show up with oshá. They only put out cardboard signs with the single word written with a thick magic marker. Everyone one who cares doesn’t need to know more.

When I talked to a vendor this summer at the local farmers market who had a similar sign, he gave the tersest answer to my question, what is it. A root used for coughs. All he would add was that it grew in the mountains and resembled celery. He had green peppers to sell and many of his customers knew him.

The first man to sell the root commercially was Jacob Krummeck in Santa Fé in the 1860s. He’d been born in Darmstadt in 1835, and must have migrated as soon as he was of age. Lansing Bloom said, he joined the Masons sometime between 1857 and 1864.

He must have been trained as a druggist in Hesse, because he was described as a confectioner when he married Adelaida Barron in 1863. Pharmacists in those years usually bought their raw materials locally and compounded themselves. They knew enough chemistry to test what they were offered for purity.

Krummeck had two challenges when he arrived in the territory of New Mexico: learn Spanish and English, and discover what drugs were wanted by his potential customers. Then, he had to find sources and learn how to test them. He probably got little from outside the area. The railroad didn’t arrive until 1880.

In 1866 he sent samples of oshá to the editor of the American Journal of Pharmacy for identification. William Proctor couldn’t help because "the essential portions, the fruit, flowers, and leaves were missing." In 1867, he sent another sample, this time "with the leaves attached."

The fact Krummeck only sent the root and could only describe the leaves closest to it suggests he was buying it from someone. William Bowen was told Krummeck "first learned of this remedy from the noble red man." The German said, in an accompanying letter to Proctor, that "this root is extensively used in Indian medicine."

One would guess his source was someone from Pecos, because that was the nearest pueblo to Santa Fé at the time. In addition, family genealogists have found his wife’s brother, Bonifacio, was living in Pecos county in 1870. He was baptized in Aldama, Chihuahua, in 1822. Adelaida also was born in Chihuahua.

Krummeck claimed "he was the first to introduce it to the white man." That probably was true in New Mexico. He had a physical store by 1869 when he was advertising a "selected assortment of fresh drugs, medicines," and "pure liquors for medical purpose, and a large assortment of all the leading patent medicines" in the Santa Fé Weekly Gazette.

The United States army commissioned George Wheeler to survey lands west of the 100th meridian between 1869 and 1871. No doubt when they got to Santa Fé his team spent time with members of the English speaking community.

Joseph Rothrock published the section on plants in 1878. He said oshá was a "root, so well known in and around Santa Fe, is derived from an unknown plant, probably a Peucedanum." He thought it was probably the same plant described by Oscar Loew in 1875. The latter had said it had "a strongly aromatic root, used for weakness of the system. Mr. Krummeck considers this root more effectual than that of our eastern Angelica species."

Ligusticum porteri wasn’t officially recognized until 1888, and then the description was based on a specimen collected at the "head waters of the Platte near Denver" in 1873. By then, it was much better known from the mining towns on Colorado where it had been collected. When Bowen was capitulating the history of the Apiaceae, he said it was known in Kansas where it was sold as Colorado Cough and Catarrah Root.

Most of the elements of standardized public image were in place by then: it was called oshá, it was used by native Americans, and was used for coughs. He repeated another, that the name was "said to be Indian for bear, and it was applied to this plant owing to the fact that bears are very fond of the fresh root, digging it and eating it with great gusto."

The final element of the popular lore, that it looked like celery came from outsiders. I doubt many in the Española valley have ever seen celery growing. It has very special requirements. The governor in 1903 said it was a new crop around Roswell where it flourished on saline soils watered by large springs.

However, it’s much smarter to say the plant resembles something safe and familiar than to admit it actually may be mistaken for poison hemlock.

Bloom, Lansing B. Notes to the reprint of the minutes of seventeenth regular meeting of the historical society, 24 June 1862, in New Mexico Historical Review 18:418:1943.

Bowen, William F. "A Study of the Osha Root and Its Volatile Oil," Kansas Pharmaceutical Association, Proceedings 16:72-76:1895; source for all quotes not otherwise attributed.

Coulter, John M. and J. N. Rose. Monograph on the North American Umbelliferae, 1900.

Krummeck, Jacob. Advertisement, Santa Fé Weekly Gazette, 20 March 1869.

Loew, O. "List of Plants of Medical and Technical Use" in Wheeler, v 3, Geology, 1875.

Otero, Miguel A. Report of the Governor of New Mexico to the Secretary of the Interior, 1903.

Rothrock, J. T. Wheeler, v6, Botany, 1878.

Schmal, John, and others. Notes posted on under "Barron family > MX > New Mexico 1860 to 1870s."

Wheeler, George M. Report upon Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the One Hundred Meridian.

Photographs: Oshá vendors in a local store parking lot, between trucks selling firewood. The first is from Tuesday, 9 December 2014, the other from Sunday, 23 November 2014.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Negligent Elms

Weather: Tuesday, for the first time this season, the sun was in my eyes when I was sitting at my desk; since early morning low temperatures have fallen into the high 30s; last rain 10/5.

What’s blooming in the area: Datura, morning glories, Maximilian sunflowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Áñil del muerto, broom senecio; empty white seed receptacles on composites catch the early morning light along the roads.

In my yard: Calamintha, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches.

The ground squirrel reestablished its barrier the day after I removed it. This time the row of cactus bits was reinforced with tops of purple coneflowers and pieces of tomatillo capsules. I removed it again, and again it laid its line of thorns.

Weekly update: Nothing signals neglect the way a field overrun by Siberian elms does.

When you drive the same roads day after day, you become familiar with passing yards. When one that’s flashed red roses and white roses of Sharon becomes hidden behind pigweeds and elms, you wonder if someone died, became ill or moved away. You never knew the owners, but you’ve miss their spirits anyway.

I’m often been puzzled why that particular tree has that emotional affect on me. It’s not just that it meets the technical definition of a weed and grows abundantly where it’s not wanted, though it certainly does that.

Every spring, the papery round seed cases are blown into my yard, where they settle in before they show they green heads. By the time I find them, their roots are several inches deep and can only be removed when the ground is thoroughly wet. If I cut them, they come back bushier than before.

Lots of plants do the same things, including the hollyhocks growing with the Ulmus pumila sprouts in my iris bed.

It’s what happens next. They become weedy, that is they outgrow themselves and become lanky, scrawny, gawky, gangly, rangy. The synonyms multiply.

When you look carefully, you see there are two traits that create this effect. The branches diverge widely from their trunks, and their leaves are small.

When they mature, there are enough branches to fill in the spaces, like the trees in the background of the above photograph. It’s their adolescence that’s distressing.

Compare them with the self-seeded fruit trees that bloom every spring.

If you look closely, you see the branches remain closer to their trunks. Their leaves are larger, and when they emerge, they give the trees the dense canopies we learn as children characterize shade trees. Their owners may not appreciate them, but I do.

1. Siberian elms in front of a local house.
2. The same area two years before.
3. Elm and hollyhock seedlings in my iris bed.
4. Two-year-old elm tree in my yard.
5. Self-seeded fruit trees in a local yard.
6. Another two-year-old elm next to a cherry tree.

7. Elms overrunning a local field. I imagine most of the mature trees in back are all elms, although the one with bare branches is a Russian olive.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Columbian Exchange

Weather: Time to stop watering and let the garden adjust to the realities of nature. Rained before I woke up Tuesday morning and again after I went to bed Tuesday night.

What’s blooming in the area: Datura, morning glories, alfalfa, Maximilian sunflowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Bindweed, chamisa, native sunflower, gumweed, áñil del muerto, broom senecio, golden hairy, purple and heath asters; eaves on Virginia creeper turning maroon.

In my yard: Calamintha, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon, marigold.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, goldfinches on Maximilian sunflower heads, geckos, cabbage butterfly, bumble bees on blanket flowers.

Weekly update: Every year around Columbus Day someone in the media does a piece about the effects of the Columbian Exchange on our diet. It usually focuses on the introduction of cattle and wheat into the New World, and the export of potatoes, corn, chocolate, peppers and tomatoes to Europe. It may mention the import of African foods like yams. The fourth leg, the one back to Africa is rarely mentioned. After all, the only people making that trip were slave traders.

One food, however, did make that journey, the parent of the amaranth used as a red dye by the Hopi. Amaranthus cruentus is used as a vegetable in west Africa.

As mentioned in the post for 21 Feb 2010, grain amaranths were one of the five primary foods in Aztec México. However, Spanish ships weren’t much involved in the slave trade, and the crown jealously guarded all other trade within the empire. After Spain took over the throne of Portugal in 1580, Portuguese seaman provided slaves, primarily from Angola and Gabon.

When the Bourbons ascended the throne of Spain, France was given rights to the Caribbean trade in 1703, with a proviso it continue to draw slaves from the Portuguese colonies. In 1716, France eliminated some monopolies, and allowed any ship owner from one of five ports to sell slaves so long as he paid duty in Saint-Domingue.

All this means is that the Mexican amaranth had to travel to Africa through one of the islands where French, Portuguese or English merchants were active. French began infiltrating the western part of Hispaniola in 1625 and formally gained control of Saint-Domingue in 1697. The English took Jamaica in 1655.

I haven’t found anything yet on when and how the red leafed plant moved to the Caribbean islands. It’s found on both Cuba and Hispaniola today, but is considered an introduced species. A different species, Amaranthus viridis, is associated with Jamaica. It may have come from Asia where indentured servants were recruited between 1845 and 1917. There may have been another species before, and the local term for the one may have been transferred to the other.

Ships’ registries were controlled by European treaties. The compositions of their crews were not. Both Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Pio Baroja’s The Restlessness of Shanti Andia limned groups drawn from Europe, Asia, Africa and the New World. Baroja, in particular, described a nineteenth-century slaver under French colors with a Basque captain that sailed between the Caribbean, Africa, the East Indies, and the Philippines.

Any one could have taken seed aboard as food or ballast, then left it in some African port. It’s been mentioned in former French colonies from Senegal south to the British controlled Nigeria, where it’s particularly common in the lowland south. It’s also found today in the former British Ghana, which lies west of one-time French Benin.

Once in Africa, the seed spread from group to group, much like Watermelon had in this country. It was "already present in gardens in some the remotest regions when explorers such as Livingstone, Speke and Grant, Burton, and Schweinfurth arrived."

Gérard Grubben said, it not only was used as a food, but also had been adapted for medical uses. "In Senegal the roots are boiled with honey as a laxative for infants. In Ghana the water of macerated plants is used as a wash to treat pains in the limbs."

Meanwhile, back in the Caribbean African slaves transformed the grain amaranth into a vegetable. They boiled it like any other green to produce callaloo. In Belize, a mixed African, Carib and Arawak community, the Garifuna, use the plant to "build up blood."

Notes: Many writers discussing amaranth in Africa mention many species, and don’t specify which one is found in which country. To complicate matters, amaranths in general, and this one in particular, are being promoted as food with high levels of proteins and minerals in areas where malnutrition is a problem. The initial distribution of Amaranthus cruentus could have been much wider than I’ve indicated, but I restricted myself to sources that were specific.

Watermelon was discussed in the posts for August 23 through September 6 of this year.

Acevedo-Rodriguez, Pedro and Mark T. Strong. "Amaranthus cruentus L.," in Flora of the West Indies, Smithsonian Institution, Museum of Natural History website.

Baroja y Nessi, Pio. Las Inquietudes de Shanti Andía, 1911, translated as The Restlessness of Shanti Andia by Anthony and Elaine Kerrigan, 1962.

Grubben, G. J. H. "Amaranthus cruentus L.," in G. J. H. Grubben and O. A. Denton, Vegetables/Légumes, 2004; quotation on medicinal uses.

Santos, Jeffery. A Study on the Medicinal Usage of Flora and Fauna by Ganifuna Comminity in Belize, no date.

Sauer, Jonathan D. Historical Geography of Crop Plants, 1994; quotation on explorers.

Photographs: Taken in the area on 21 August 2015.

1. Hopi Red Dye amaranth, planted for the first time by someone who nurtures native plants. The remains of a yellow mullein is at the far right in front of the road fence.

2. Hopi Red Dye amaranth, in the place it naturalized for several years; this year they destroyed most of the plants.

3. Love-Lies-Bleeding, planted by someone who has planted the Hopi Red Dye variety for several years; they may have only been able to find the right seed this year. It had both maroon (right) and gold (left) flowers.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

African Hibiscus

Weather: Warm afternoons, a little rain last yesterday and early this morning.

What’s blooming in the area: Silver lace vine, datura, morning glories, alfalfa, Maximilian sunflowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, zinnias.

Beyond the walls and fences: Bindweed, chamisa, native sunflower, gumweed, áñil del muerto, broom senecio, golden hairy, purple and heath asters.

In my yard: Calamintha, larkspur, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, sweet pea, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragon, marigold.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, chickadees on wild lettuce, goldfinches on chocolate flowers, geckos, cabbage and sulfur butterflies, bumble bees on blanket flowers, grasshoppers, ants.

The ground squirrel is definitely protecting its area. I laid a block path along the side of the garage so I would have a place to sit when I was cleaning the garage bed. A winterfat got large on the other side. That’s the one I clipped back to the blocks and cleaned debris from under. I left the block walk clear. When I went back a few days later (earlier this week), the six feet of block in front of the winterfat was strew with cactus thorn clusters and heads from purple coneflowers. I looked closer and discovered most of the ones in the bed had been decapitated. It must eat the seeds. The seedless heads become pin cushions.

I cleaned the blocks. The next day there were a few cactus clusters. The day after, another line of debris the length of the winterfat.

Weekly update: Even a place as isolated as Española has cosmopolitan centers where seeds congregate from the provinces. I mentioned the post office in my entry on Hop Clover for 14 June 2015.

Another meeting ground is the Farmers Market, which is held on old farm land near the river. Venders drive from Velarde and Chimayó with produce and whatever hitchhikes in their tires and truck beds.

When I stopped a few weeks ago very tall chicory was blooming by a fence near where customers were parking down the street. The market itself had a wildflower garden between the road and drive into the market where trucks either stopped for directions or turned toward their slot. When I saw the area a few weeks ago it was mainly native sunflowers and something in the mint family with white flowers.

African hibiscus was scrambling over everything. The five petaled white flowers had maroon centers. The leaves were gray, narrow and serrated. No one there knew what it was, but one man did say he’d seen the annual around his place in Velarde.

The most distinctive trait is the green seed pod. When flowers open, the pistils are erect, waiting contact with an insect. Bumble bees are the most common pollenizers in Illinois. If none appear, they bend to touch the yellow anthers to fertilize themselves.

Inside the ridged Turk’s cap, dark brown seeds develop hard shells that prevent germination until conditions are right. Scotts says they "can remain dormant underground for several decades."

Hibiscus trionum is native to the Mediterranean, probably Africa. It’s known everywhere there except in the rainforests and the driest deserts. It spread east as far as China and northwest into southeastern and central Europe.

The white tap root assumed three identities in its migrations. Most commonly, it was a weed that contaminated crop seeds. The National Botanic Garden of Belgium says it arrived in the Vesdre valley in the 1890s in wool-waste, and since has entered in grain shipments.

It was already in Michigan in 1838. One would guess it came with settlers coming west from Philadelphia. Today it’s most common between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes west to Kansas and Nebraska. It likes moist, disturbed soil; in arid lands it chooses irrigated fields.

From the midwestern prairies, it probably traveled west by rail. By 1915, it had reached Raton, Las Vegas and the area north of Kennedy near Galisteo in New Mexico.

The flower was so attractive the seed was sold for gardens. Joseph Breck was offering African Hibiscus in 1851. He promised it was "extremely easy" to grow and bloomed from June to September.

Flowers of the Southwest advertizes its seeds today, and one person told me he remembered it being sold by Santa Fe Greenhouse as an African mallow. Any car going north from Santa Fé to Taos could have dropped seeds in Velarde when it was stopped by epicures to buy cherries or apples.

The member of the mallow family also migrated as a healer. The Swazi used it to treat intestinal parasites. In Uzbekistan, where it infests cotton and melon fields, an infusion is used as an expectorant. Zhu Xiao was recommending the young sprouts and leaves as a famine food in China in the early 1400s.

Today it’s found in Australia where it's been there so long, it’s evolved at least three new subspecies. In New Zealand it was grown by the Maori, and used as a hand cleaner. David Given suspected it may have been " introduced by early Polynesian colonists."

Notes: Bob Pennington of Agua Fria Nursery in Santa Fé identified the plant for me.

Breck, Joseph. The Flower-Garden, 1851, reprinted by OPUS Publications, 1988; identifies as Hibiscus vesicarius.

Centre for Biosciences and Agriculture International. "Hibiscus trionum (Venice mallow)," on-line data sheet.

Craven, L. A., P. J. de Lange, T. R. Lally, B. G, Murray, and S. B. Johnson. "A Taxonomic Re-evaluation of Hibiscus trionum (Malvaceae) in Australasia," New Zealand Journal of Botany 49:27-40:2011.

Given, David R. Rare and Endangered Plants of New Zealand, 1981, cited by Landcare Research, M ori Plant Use website.

Hilty, John. "Flower-of-an-Hour," Illinois Wildflowers website.

Kartesz, John. "Hibiscus trionum," Floristic Synthesis of North America, 2013.

Long, Chris. "Swaziland's Flora - siSwati Names and Uses," 2005, Swaziland National Trust Commission website.

National Botanic Garden of Belgium. "Hibiscus trionum," Manuel of the Alien Plants of Belgium, available on-line.

Scotts Company. "Broadleaf Weed - Venice Mallow," available on line.

Voss, Edward G. Michigan Flora, volume 2, 1985.

Wooten, Elmer Otis and Paul Carpenter Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915; identifies as Trionum trionum.

Zaurov, David E., Sasha W. Eisenman, Dilmurad A. Yunosov, and Venera Isaeva, "The Medicinal Plants of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, in Sasha W. Eisenman, David E. Zaurov, and Lena Struwe, Medicinal Plants of Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, 2013.

Zhu Xiao. Chiu-huang pen-ts'ao, 1406, cited by Ken Fern, "Hibiscus trionum - L.," Plants for a Future website.

1. African hibiscus at Española Farmers Market, 31 August 2015.

2. Debris scattered by the ground squirrel in front of the cut back winterfat; the hose is the second replacement, and no longer hidden under the shrub; 1 October 2015.

3. Chicory growing in a field near the Española Farmers Market, 31 August 2015.

4-6. More pictures of patch shown in #1.

7-8. Unknown mint plant at Española Farmers Market, 31 August 2015.