Sunday, February 28, 2016


Weather: Snow Tuesday was gone the next day; water is still in the top inches of the ground.

What’s still green: Juniper, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, garlic chives, hollyhock, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; pampas and cheat grass; new leaves on fern bushes and golden spur columbine, new white yarrow sprouts, new western stick seed rosettes. People continue to clean out leaves, burn weeds, and prune fruit trees.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plumes, four-winged saltbushes.

What’s red or purple: Stems on roses, young peaches, sandbar willows; leaves on coral beard tongues, alfilerillo, purple asters.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae, stems of weeping willows.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds.

Monday afternoon around 2:20 pm birds near the river were making lots of noise; assume geese or some other bird is migrating.

Weekly update: The fleur-de-lis is the oldest flower motif used on the oddments of flatware collected by my mother. The basic form of a flower rising from two leaves was used on a helmet recovered from the Scythian grave. The cutwork was done in gold sometime in the fourth century BC on the Crimean peninsula. The outward curving leaves resemble rams horns.

Michel Pastoureau found the basic motif was used on a Roman coin in Gaul in the first century AD, or "at least the upper-half of one, and a sort of triangle in the lower-half." Hugh Capet took control of the Île-de-France in 987, and from there extended Frank power over the territory now called France. Louis VI used the motif on his coins, his son Louis VII used in on his seal in 1150, and his grandson Philippe II elevated it to a symbol in 1211.

During those years when the Capets were consolidating their power as the first among the lords, they and the design assumed religious associations that obscure their origins. Fleur has always meant "flower," but "lis" didn’t appear in French until 1150 during the rein of Louis VII. It now means lily. Some extended the religious associations denoted to the kings to the symbol.

Lilies have six petals, but, depending on the form, are all open, or all reflexed, or nearly joined in bells. They don't have a pattern that fits the fleur-de-lis.

Iris do fit the pattern. Some mistake the way they see the flower for the design, and believe the cluster of three erect standards are the center of the symbol and the two visible falls are the side petals. That assumes modern aesthetics of perspective and realistic presentation. When the fleur-de-lis was created, artists drew what they knew existed, not what they saw. The three standards, then, would have been the top of the symbol, and the three falls the bottom.

For those seeking explanations, the word "lis" remains a mystery. Godefridus Henschenius may have been the first to argue in the 1600s that the flower was the yellow Iris pseudacorus. It then was called lieschblume in German, but in the past had been spelled lies and leys. The Franks were a Germanic tribe.

Pierre-Augustin Boissier de Sauvages went farther in 1756 to suggest the flowers were common along the river Leie in the northern French and Belgium homeland of the Franks. Its French name is Lys.

A century later Jean Rey suggested things were much simpler. He said French kings, especially those named Louis, were originally referred to as "loi’s" or "loys." The fleur de list was simply his flower.

Since its standardization by the French monarchs, the image has existed in both its original forms and in the conventionalized one. One of my mother’s spoons showed a four petaled flower between two leaves with a tree shape below that might have been roots in the mode of the Gallic coin.

A similar pattern was used on the ends of the handles in her wedding silver: a central flower, two leaves that curled from the handle rim, and a triangular root. The main difference was the pineapple motif was substituted for the flower.

In the 1960s she bought a shell-shaped sugar spoon because it happened to be engraved with her initials. The most complete of its highly stylized designs was on the back. It had the conventional three sections with the curving edge lines of the handle forming leaves. Below was a diamond-shaped shaft surrounded by the pairs of reflexed lines.

The five-fingered design was repeated at the tip of the handle on both the front and back.

A more stylized three-pronged flower rose from a set of leaves in the middle of the handle, on both sides.

Boissier de Sauvages, Pierre Augustin. Languedocien Dictionnaire François, 1756, cited by Wikipedia entry on "Fleur-de-lis."

Henschenius, Godefridus. Cited by Velde, without specific reference.

Pastoureau, Michel. Traité d'Héraldique, 1979, cited by Velde.

Rey, Jean. Histoire du Drapeau, 1837, cited by Velde.

Velde, François R. "The Fleur-de-lis," Heraldica website.

1. Shell shaped sugar spoon, 1847 Rogers Bros. A1, purchased in Michigan.

2. Dutch iris in my yard, 10 May 2009.

3. Helmet, 4th c. BC from grave (kurgan) on Cape Ak-Burun, Crimea, in the Hermitage museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

4. Open faced Asian lily in my yard, 28 June 2013.

5. No markings, purchased in Michigan.

6. Heirloom plate, purchased in Michigan in 1930s.

7 and 8. Same as #1.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Snow Melt

Weather: Sun directions changed, so it's shining in my eyes through a different window around 7:15 am. People have been out on warm days burning weeds in fields and along fences. Last slight snow 2/3.

What’s still green: Juniper, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, hollyhock, winecup mallow, anthemis, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; pampas grass. Cheat grass coming up along the roadsides, garlic chives coming up.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plumes, four-winged saltbushes.

What’s red or purple: Stems on roses, young peaches, sandbar willows; leaves on coral beard tongues, alfilerillo, purple asters.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae, stems of weeping willows.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds.

Weekly update: Snow’s still visible when I look south toward the Jémez where I see the more northerly faces. I see less when I look directly across the river. That same area has streaks of white when I look at it from farther north when I’m in town.

As I watch the slow dessication of the snow fields I think about the final retreat of the glaciers that began around 19,00 years ago in Europe. Ice had buried vegetation for years. Moving rocks had removed any vestiges of top soil and left gouges that became mires, bogs, and kettle lakes. Denise Leesch’s team believed, the first plants had to be "capable of growing on mineral soils."

Mammoths moved north through the newly exposed Swiss plateau, but were gone when relative cold returned in the Oldest Dryas that lasted from 17,050 years ago to 14,650. Early in that period, reindeer were hunted. They’re the only ruminants that can live on lichens. In the later millennium, horses and ptarmigan were more common. The latter, a form of grouse, eat birch and willow buds in today’s arctic.

The plateau is rather like our valley, though it has a very different geological origin. On the southeast side are the Alps, which like the Sangre, were uplifted, then eroded to cover the plateau. On the northwest side are the Jura Mountains. Unlike the Jémez, they are limestone. The same calcareous rocks also overlay the Alpine skeleton. During the Pleistocene, granite and gneiss were left in the moraines that marked the boundaries of glacial advances.

Betula nana, which still grows in the far north of Europe, was adapted to the still barren landscape. Insects existed, but not ones that pollinated woody shrubs. The three-foot high birch was pollinated by the wind, which also dispersed its seeds.

Earthworms, which add calcite that neutralizes soil, hadn’t return. The tree grows on acid soils. During the summer, it stores nitrogen and phosphorus in its roots, so that it can feed its own new growth the following spring.

The nitrogen its roots stored probably wasn’t there when the glaciers receded. It was deposited by other plants that didn’t produce pollen. Betaproteobacteria combine ammonium in the soil with oxygen from the atmosphere to produce nitrite. Cyanobacteria capture nitrogen from the air and store it with carbon and phosphate. Because the microbes lack a waxy outer skin, these nutrients leak into the soil.

Cyanobacteria, which is a generic term for a group of species, are the dominant life form in "cold polar environments such as ice shelves, glaciers, glacial meltwater streams and ice-capped lakes," according to Warwick Vincent. They also inhabit the surfaces of rocks, and fissures within them. His team noted they colonize moraines and permafrost soils from those locations.

In water they form mats, with different species living at different levels. On land, they form a dark crust that encourages mosses. When the moisture disappears, they go dormant and merge with the dust. As soon as water reappears, they resume respiration. Within 30 minutes they begin photosynthesis.

Over time, the mosses and bacteria coalesce into more complex communities of lichen, in which the larger plants provide shade that preserves water, while the smaller ones provide sugars for their protectors. Many lichen attach themselves to rocks where the root-like hyphae of the moss penetrate the surface, breaking granite into its constituent parts. They also secret carbonic acid that dissolves granite. The cyanobacteria exude oxalic acid that dissolves limestone.

Jie Chen’s team looked through studies of different types of lichen colonies to estimate the time they took to weather rock. The group found one report from Antarctica suggested colonization began within 40 years on cement, a form of limestone. They found another that suggested it took nearly 10,000 years for a plant community to fully cover sandstone. The last Pleistocene thaw took 7,300 years, enough to create preliminary soils for the Holocene that began 11,700 years ago,

Belnap, Jayne, Julie Hilty Kaltenecker, Roger Rosentreter, John Williams, Steve Leonard, and David Eldridge. Biological Soil Crusts: Ecology and Management, 2001.

Chen, Jie, Hans-Peter Blume, and Lothar Beyer. "Weathering of Rocks Induced by Lichen Colonization - a Review," Catena 39:121-146:2000.

Hendrix, Paul F. Earthworm Ecology and Biogeography in North America,1995.

Leesch, Denise, Jérôme Bullinger, Werner Müller, and Ebbe Nielsen. "The Magdalenian in Switzerland: Re-colonization of a Newly Accessible Landscape," Quaternary International 30:-18:2012.

Preusser, Frank, Hans Rudolf Graf, Oskar Keller, Edgar Krayss, and Christian Schluchter. "Quaternary Glaciation History of Northern Switzerland," Quaternary Science Journal 60:282-305:2011.

Tollefson, Jennifer E. "Betula nana," 2007, in United States Forest Service, Fire Effects Information System, available on-line. I couldn’t find comparable information on the Salix retusa that was dominant at Champréveyres and Monruz.

Versteegh, Emma A. A., Mark E. Hodson, Stuart Black, and Matthew G. Canti. "Pleistocene and Holocene Temperature Reconstructions Using Earthworm-produced Calcite," Geochemical Society and European Association of Geochemistry, Goldschmidt conference, 2013.

Vincent, Warwick F. "Cyanobacterial Dominance in the Polar Regions," in B. A. Whitton and M. Potts, The Ecology of Cyanobacteria, 2000.

_____, Frédéric Zakhia, Anne-Dorothee Jungblut, Arnaud Taton, and Annick Wilmotte. "Cyanobacteria in Cold Ecosystems," in R. Margesin, F. Schinner, J.-C. Marx, and C. Gerday, Psychrophiles: from Biodiversity to Biotechnology, 2008.

Photographs: Crust and moss taken on the prairie; 2010 was a particularly good year for them.

1. Close up of moss in its green and brown phases, 13 March 2010.

2. Crust in its dormant black phase, 21 March 2010.

3. Green just beginning to appear as snow recedes, 19 February 2010.

4. Green and brown moss with black crust, 28 March 2010.

5. Close up of moss and crust, 13 March 2010.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Silver Roses

Weather: Very warm afternoon temperatures, ground getting friable on top, still hard below: snow still visible in the Jémez; last slight snow 2/3.

What’s still green: Juniper, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, snapdragon, anthemis, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; pampas, and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plumes, four-winged saltbushes, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on roses, young peaches, sandbar willows; leaves on coral beard tongues, alfilerillo, purple asters.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae, stems of weeping willows.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds.

Weekly update: I’ve been sorting through the flatware that’s collected at the back of a kitchen drawer. Some of it my mother bought in antique stores in Michigan, some I picked up at local supermarkets when I suddenly needed something at work. Nothing of value and nothing carrying any memories.

I did notice, though, how many of the handles were decorated with flowers, often roses. Only one was a natural representation of a modern flower. The rest were five petaled, sometimes with the stamens visible.

Charles Fox-Davies says this is how the rose was always shown in English heraldry. The representation was earlier than its use in the War of the Roses. The Tudors sometimes showed two rows of petals.

My mother’s silver with the King Cedric design shown at the top comes closest to the traditional design. The stamens or what Fox-Davis called the seeds are prominent. The selection of pattern name indicates the allusions were deliberate. Cerdic, the Saxon king of Wessex from 519 to 534, is thought to have created the kernal of the English kingdom. Wikipedia says his name was transformed to Cedric by Walter Scott in Ivanhoe. Joshua Mark has published an image of square headed bow decorated with four, not five, petaled flowers.

An older spoon owned by my mother has a simpler five-petaled flower in the center of a design, surrounded by two four-petaled ones. The difference may have been manufacturing technology. Both were sterling plate, but Oneida began manufacturing the design in 1933 in silver plate, while International Sterling, who produced the other, was organized in 1898.

When the production of cutlery moved to east Asia, the rose motif was maintained, but sometimes with local variations. A Japanese company used the conventional rose with a much simplified center for the end of the spoon.

But in the middle of the handle, the Stylecraft designers for T and N used an impressionistic full rose in a shield. The edges were marked by half flowers that look like they had four petals.

The Taiwanese apparently copied the Japanese when they produced flatware for the American market. The spoon I probably picked up in an emergency in a supermarket is the same kind of simplified heraldic rose, though their stainless stamping was thin enough to bend or break with pressure.

Ekco Products Company was one of the major producers of kitchen utensils in the 1950s, but since has been manufacturing flatware in China. Their design, Country Gardens, which I brought at a local supermarket, used the same kind of impressionistic design as the Japanese had for their shield flower. However, the stainless steel die was cruder, substituting background patterns and simple edges for precision.


Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles. A Complete Guide to Heraldry, 1909.

Mark, Joshua J. "Cerdic," Ancient History Encyclopedia, published online 30 December 2014.

Wikipedia. Entry on King Cerdic.

1. Oneida, King Cedric, manufactured in silver plate in 1933, and in sterling silver with hollow handles and stainless steel knife blades from 1949 to 1971. My mother bought this new in the late 1950s.

2. Betty Prior rose flower in my yard, 8 July 2015.

3. No markings, bought by my mother in Michigan.

4. Wm Rogers IS (International Sterling), no other markings, bought by my mother in Michigan.

5. T & N Stainless Steel of Japan, Stylecraft, with no other markings, end of handle, probably bought in a supermarket.

6. Same as #5, middle of handle.

7. Taiwan, stainless steel, no other markings, end of handle, bought in a supermarket.

8. Ekco Eterna, Country Gardens, stainless steel manufactured in China, bought in a supermarket.

9. Same as #7, middle of handle.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Peach Mortality

Weather: Jémez are so marbled with snow they look like limestone. Temperatures remained at least five degrees colder than normal in the mornings. Rained Monday night with snow in the air Wednesday.

What’s still green: Juniper, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, snapdragon, anthemis, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; June, pampas, and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plumes, four-winged saltbushes, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on roses, young peaches, sandbar willows; leaves on coral beard tongues, alfilerillo, purple asters.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae, stems of weeping willows.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds.

Weekly update: I’ve always been told the life expectancy of Prunus persica is 15 to 20 years, and my peach tree is now 18 years ago. The bark has begun to split, and aphids attacked a couple years ago.

I’ve been wondering when it will die, and why. All I could learn on the web were the likely causes of mortality, which were nematode infestations, peach borers, and consequences of split bark. I didn’t learn much about the inherent life cycle of the tree itself.

That information is equivalent to being told the life expectancy for men is 46 years and for women 48 because that’s what it was in 1900. In 1950 it was 71 years for women and 66 years for men. What changed wasn’t something inherent in the species but the ability of doctors and governmental agencies to control the spread of infectious diseases.

Now, with more people living beyond retirement age, medical researchers are studying the effects of aging, and more important, what constitutes aging, or senescence. One important factor is the hormonal changes that divide a woman’s reproductive years into childhood, maturity, and post-menopause. Equivalent changes occur in men’s bodies but aren’t as visible.

The known botanical hormones follow annual cycles, with some encouraging growth in spring, and others preparing plants to survive the winter. As Oliver Rackham made clear, the above ground portions of all trees die every year and are rebuilt from the roots each spring. So why, if a tree has survived its initial exposures to drought and heat and cold and wet, would it die?

I got one hint from a group of Chinese anthropologists who quoted one study that said the "modern peach loses considerable productivity after 10-15 years," and another that indicated "early Chinese records report that productivity declined in years 7-8."

There are, no doubt, as many factors affecting peach fertility as there are influencing human life expectancies. Climate has changed in the thousands of years of peach domestication in China, and so has the species. The differences might also have been as simple as differences in fertilization methods and subsequent soil depletion rates.

Still, when a group in India asked orchard growers about the economics of growing peaches in Punjab and Uttrakhand they discovered incomes declined after 17 years. The horticulturalists saw no returns for the first four years after they planted trees, then earned 22,927 in year five. That increased to 31,790 in year eight and to 42,838 in year eleven. Income dropped to 31,793 in orchards that were 18 years old, fell to 21,443 in year 22 and 13,633 in year 25.

The three researchers didn’t provide their currency unit. They also wrote about orchard ages, not average ages of trees within those orchards. Thus, incomes may have been higher in older orchards because new trees had been planted when ones died. Even so, their data suggested age phases existed.

I wonder if decreases in fertility in peaches covary with decreases in the abilities of plants to survive stress caused by insects, bacteria and weather, the way age and flexibility seem to in humans.

Christina Wells and Desmond Layne found trees produced new fine roots at least three times a year, with "a significant flush occurring immediately after harvest." The plants they observed were four- to six-years old and in their first years of fruiting. Do trees grown barren have the same spurt?

Wells and another team found the age of fine roots had less effect on their life spans than "seasonal factors." In Italy, a team led by Elena Baldi found the roots "born later in the summer lived longer than those born in the spring." That in part is because "root numbers declined in the fall and remained low over winter" according to Wells’ group.

Age was important when it meant roots were larger or reached lower depths in the soil. In addition, with time, roots become more fibrous and brown. Wells’ group suggested that made them less attractive to pests and better able to handle drought. But age for them was relative to the roots themselves, and not to the parent trees.

So, I really know no more about the metabolism of my tree than when I started, because researchers aren’t interested in what happens to commercially important plants when they no longer are productive. After all, Lal Singh Gangwar’s team recommended growers replace their old orchards when their maintenance costs were greater than their gross profits.

Baldi, E., M. Toselli, D. M. Eissenstat, B. Marangoni, and Peter Millard. "Organic Fertilization Leads to Increased Peach Root Production and Lifespan," Tree Physiology 30:1373-1382:2010.

Faber, Joseph F. and Alice H. Wade. Life Tables for the United States: 1900-2050, 1983.

Gangwar, L. S., Dinesh Singh, and Goutam Mandal. "Economic Evaluation of Peach Cultivation in North Indian Plains," Agricultural Economics Research Review 21:123-129:2008.

Rackham, Oliver. See post for 19 October 2014.

Wells, Christina and Desmond Layne. "Irrigation Effects on Fine Root Dynamics in Peach (Prunus persica)," HortScience, July 2005.

_____, D. Michael Glenn, and David M. Eissenstat. "Changes in the Risk of Fine-root Mortality with Age: a Case Study in Peach, Prunus persica (Rosaceae)," American Journal of Botany 89:79-87:2002.

Zheng, Yunfei, Gary W. Crawford, and Xugao Chen. "Archaeological Evidence for Peach (Prunus persica) Cultivation and Domestication in China," Plos One, 5 September 2014.

1. Replacement peach trees, planted 19 May 2012.

2. Tree of left the next year, 19 June 2013.

3. Earliest picture I have of the main peach, 6 August 2006.

4. The worst thing that happened to my peach was a Russian olive hid in the middle, forcing its branches outward, 4 May 2012. After the olive was cut down, the tree was invaded by aphids in 2013 and the bark began splitting.