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.

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