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Monday, May 14, 2012

For whom the bells toll?

The bells toll for the potatoes this past week.

Good weather makes for bad blogs, unpredictable weather makes for no blogs!

Fritillaria biflora x purdyi

I am going to do a whole write up on the series of hybrids pictured above. But for now I'm just going to bitch about the weather. It went from 80 Degrees F. to 30 Degrees F. in one day. A 50 degree weather swing is hard for most humans, but then again you can jump on a plane in Anchorage, Alaska and arrive in Honolulu, Hawaii in a few hours, and you can shed a coat or put on shorts.

Plants don't have that luxury. It was May 10th, and I had a really hard frost, so hard it even nipped the new growth on a big leaf Maple that is out on the back 40, now that's a tree that ranges well into Canada so you know that's a late frost when you see that. And, yes the bells tolled for my potato crop that was making nice one foot mounds of foliage, blackened instantly and mush now. My prized Davidia involucrata "Sonoma" that Dale Sullivan gave me for the birth of my Daughter finally bloomed this year....first time in the 9 years I've had it and then all the tips turned black from the cold.
 Fritillaria biflora grayana
Just another teaser to keep you interested.

So I was really lucky in that I happened to just catch the weather man saying, frost was likely in the outlying areas, but they were only forecasting 38 for Portland. Well apparently 38 in Portland means 28 at Illahe Nursery and gardens.So I got frost blankets on much of the garden, but there is only so much one can do. Then to add insult to injury, two days later it's 90 degrees and the plants are wilting like they have never seen the sunshine before!

Crazy indeed, well like the immortal lyrics of the grateful deads "Touch of Grey", "I will get by, I will survive"

Fritillaria purdyi x biflora
I think this one shows stronger characteristics of Grayana which might be in the mix.

So speaking of surviving.....I got seed potatoes of "Makah Ozette" this year and they, unlike the Russian banana fingerling's, have grown back substantially after the hard frost. I think this potato has a very cool story as far as plants go. The Makah Indians make there home on the north western tip of Washington's Olympic peninsula. Sometime in the 1700's the Spanish established a fort there. They brought with them some potatoes straight from Peru. They planted them in the forts garden, supposedly the only potatoes to come straight to North America without having first visited Europe. Well the Spanish didn't hang around and soon abandoned the fort, the Makah Indians came down and dug up the potatoes and starting cultivating them, adding much needed starch and carbohydrates to a diet built mostly on fish, fowl and gathered seafood. Several hundred years later those potatoes have proven to be a hardy addition to my garden......I'll let you know how they taste come late July.
Tulipa dideri

So with late frosts, then oppressive heat, I have been busy in the vegetable garden, got the irrigation system all fixed and ready for a scorcher of a summer since it's hit the 90's and it's not even the middle of May. The last few years have seen dreary, cold springs, this one is shaping up like a whole different monster



Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rock Midgets and Arroyo's part III

Desert Gold and White Tidy Tips
This is what most people came to see when Death Valley got over 6" of rain in the winter of 2005. Averaging under 2" of rain per year, the deluge unlocked the masses of annuals stored in the seed banks of the sandy washes almost right down to the salt flats. Miles and miles of gold and white covered the valley floor that year.

Argemone munita
The Desert Prickly poppy
This is on the wall of Hanupah Canyon where I spent the day looking for my rock midget.

Encelia farinosa
I've always had a thing for silvery leaved plants. This one ranks among the best of them. I did get cuttings to root but unfortunately this one is not adapted to a life at the 45th parallel.

Cheilanthes parryi
I have a thing for silver leaved plants and even more of a thing for silver leaved ferns. This is by far the most silvery one I have ever encountered and I spent a good deal of time trying to find one to best it. I had this species growing in a greenhouse for many years after this trip, but I lost it in the shuffle of moving. Dave Peterson, the excellent Portland fern grower kept one alive for longer and may still have it.

Monoptilon belliodes
Mohave Desert Daisy
I absolutely love Townsendia's and this is Death Valley's version.

Spheralcea ambigua
Desert Mallow
I'm rarely a harsh critic of any plant, but there is something just god awful about the color of this flower. It's leaves are very silvery though so it does get points for that. The var. rosea is said to range from violet to rose to carmine, although I only ever encountered the straight species with it's weird orange-persimmon colored flowers.

End Part III

I may have one more part to this saga to peice together so stay tuned but I do promise there will be more bulbs coming soon.

Weather: Rain showers all day, some wicked wind fields moved through this afternoon, sun breaks this evening for the kiddo's softball game, a chilly 39 degrees outside now. Forecast is for every day this weekend to get warmer and drier!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

rock midgets and arroyo's part II

Cammisonia brevipes- desert evening primrose
This shot was taken above the Wildrose canyon campground where I spent one of the windiest nights of my life, every gust seeming to flatten the fiberglass pole reinforced dome tent. The next morning the sun was out, the wind was calm and the snow capped peaks of the Panamint mts. framed nicely in the distance.
This is the  mono lake tufa formations, man what would you giv to have that in your backyard to grow Androsace, and crusty Saxifrage on? So a little geology here: These deposits were formed when the water level in the lake was much higher and calcium rich springs seeped to the surface, the calcium formed deposits like these and they only became visible when Mono lake was tapped into as a water source for communities around LA and agricultural interests around the area.

Just an up close shot of the tufa with some crazy lichens making a foothold on the former spring water turned rock. As an aside, I saw my first Jack rabbit at this site and while I chased it around for the better part of a half hour I never did get a clear photograph....amazing creature though, bigger than my cat and twice as mean looking.
Echinocactus polycephalus
Botanizing the Death Valley region is only for the sure footed, one tumble onto this beast and you would regret ever having ventured out of the comfort of you own abode.
Opuntia basialaris
Of course tamer cacti do abound like this beaver tail specimen.

So the Fritillarias are starting to finish, the Allliums are just coming on and it will be a few weeks before the  Calochortus start to peak. So if  you are here strictly for bulbs......bugger off! I'm going to do a few more installments of my desert section, because I like diversity and I'm still figuring out what recessive alleles might have passed from purdyi to biflora and what dominant traits may have led Jane to believe the parentage should be marked as such.......I'm also stuyding backcrossing as I believe a breeding program is in order for this complex.....bear with me and I will enlighten you about my education in the coming weeks.....but for now, please enjoy the ongoing saga of death valleys 100 year bloom.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rock Midgets and Arroyo's part 1

We are going to have to take a brief respite from bulb blogging tonight. In the interest of me refreshing my memory on the intricacies of plant breeding and to sort out the complications of Jane's bee hybridized Fritillari purdyi and Fritillaria biflora crosses. I'm going to stop and gloat a bit about my greenhouse full of death valley monkeyflowers.

Mimulus rupicola
The Famed Death Valley Monkeyflower
At last, blooming in my greenhouse, among the rarest in the genera and found only in the Southern California region of Death Valley and the Sky Island mountains.  I looked for this plant for so long, through all the seed catalogs. I asked Ron Ratko if he could make a special trip. Then I made the trip myself to Death Valley to look for it, but it always eluded me. I searched Hanupah Canyon for a whole day, climbing from 300' in elevation to well over 3000'. Picking my way through barrel cactus and huge patches of the gleaming white Encelia farinosa. I never could find the preferred habitat of craggy limestone cliffs.
Death Valley is an old rift, once a giant lake, now split into the  Panamint Mountains and the Amargosa range.
This still goes down as one of the most magnificent campsites I've ever had, and I've camped a lot of places. All alone on the Hanupah alluvial fan, looking over the salt flats to watch the sunset on the Amargosa range.
I thought I was looking in the right habitat, but all I found was Salvia dorii and Echinocerus engelmanii....and a ton of other cool plants, but not the monkeflower I was looking for.

Astragalus coccineus
This picture was actually taken just north of Death Valley in the White Mountains outside of the town of Bishop, California.

Astragalus laynae or funereus.
I think you have to see the pod to be sure, this is in Death Valley proper.

A selection of must have reading material for any botanizing trip to Death Valley.
The Charcoal Kilns
So bizarre to drive all the way up Wildrose canyon, in one of the most inhospitable places on earth and come across these giant, beehive looking structures. They seem completely alien in the making. Built in the late 1800's  these structures were used to convert Juniper to charcoal to fire silver ore smelting operations in the valley below.

End of Part 1
I have so many pictures and reminiscing about this great trip and the rewards of now growing Mimulus rupicola is making me nostalgic so I'm going to continue this chapter tomorrow.