Flanders poppies (corn poppies – Papaver rhoeas) are blooming in my yard. For more than 10 years I have watched them moving through my neighborhood in Albuqueque. I first noticed them in my church parking lot and a vacant lot about 5 city blocks east of my home. They moved to the west, against the prevailing winds and now I have seen them miles to the west of where I first noticed them. They are pretty, they have historic significance (see the poem below), but they can be somewhat weedy. They are winter annuals, sprouting in the winter, blooming in the spring, shedding their seeds, and then dying by the heat of summer (here in Albuquerque).
These are the flowers written about during WWI by Canadian John McCrae –
In Flanders Fields Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae Canadian physician in WWI
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
Silverleaf nightshade is a beautiful plant, but the beauty is a beast! The silver leaves are attractive, but their blue flowers with prominent yellow stamens attract a lot of attention.
This plant’s attractive characteristics hide some unattractive features. It is related to deadly nightshade and is itself listed among plants toxic to both humans and livestock. More than that, it is listed as a noxious weed in several states and acknowledged as a weed in most others. It is, however, a relative of tomatoes, tomatoes, and chiles. These are all members of the Nightshade family, Solanaceae, and most members of this family do contain toxic elements in some of the plant parts.
If that was not enough it produces spines on most above ground parts of the plants. While some plants produce more spines than others, and it has been reported that plants growing in humid climates produce few or no spines, for gardeners in the Southwest, this plant produces some spiny problems.
The unopened flower buds produce spines.
The spent flowers have spines. Spines can be found on leaves, buds, everywhere above ground!
Even the fruit produce spines on their sepals.
Silverleaf nightshade is a weed with a deep taproot that allows it to survive in very arid environments. Even a small piece of root left in the soil will generate a new plant. Plants in a clump are often attached to each other by underground stems, so that they can help support each other. This makes them survivors, it also makes them weeds.
As weeds we try to remove them, but be careful, the spines easily break after piercing your skin and become difficult to remove. These spines can sometimes even penetrate leather garden gloves!
So can there be anything good said about these plants? Well, they are beautiful, but the beauty is a beast! They are toxic, but like many toxic plants, the toxic principles can be curative when used properly. They were used medicinally and as beneficial plants by native people. They were even able able to use the ground, dried, fruit to curdle milk to make cheese.
Golden Currants, Ribes aureum, are a reliable, consistent producer in my garden. The black berries must be picked individually by hand, but make a delicious jam or preserves. In this drought year when the garden has received only about 2 inches of precipitation since October, none from October to January and none in April, it still made a crop. I did irrigate a few times, but only minimally.
Even after harvesting over 2 gallons from a few plants, there is much more to harvest.
Birds and a berry moth (their larvae) are the primary problems, but I still have a bountiful harvest of tasty berries.
Fragrant golden flowers followed by abundant harvest, even in times of drought, make these reliable producers a good choice for gardens in New Mexico.
Hare barley and some other grasses, such as foxtail barley and purple three awn grass, have characteristics that can be harmful to pets. These grasses are harmful plants that have awns, long threadlike extensions from the florets in the seed head. These awn have very small backward angled spines. These awn can enter a pets eyes, nostrils, ears, or even penetrate their skin. The backward spines prevent the awns from working out the way they entered, they only work deeper into the eyes, nostrils, ears, or skin. A few years ago my pet Brittany, Joy, had one enter between her toes and work deeply into her paw. She began limping and the veterinarian had to extract the awn. This is when I learned that this is an extremely common problem for pets.
In a year like this year when there has been little rain (just over 1 inch from October to late April), anything green seems to be a blessing, but that may not be the case, especially if you have pets. In garden hare barley and foxtail barley are sprouting and the hare barley is beginning to produce seed heads. I think I have eliminated purple three awn grass from my garden, but I will be watching for it. All these grasses are pretty, so it is tempting to allow them to remain, but if you have pets it is best to eliminate these grasses.
There are herbicides labeled for management of these grass weeds and other harmful plants, but if you are like me and have pets you may prefer to use manual means of weed management. Hoeing them when they first appear in late winter is helpful. If they are numerous and you cannot manage them by hoeing, you can use a torch to burn them, but be careful that you do not start a fire or damage desirable nearby plants. This year’s drought has been a blessing in limiting the number of plants that are growing to a relatively manageable few in my garden. I have been pulling, digging, and hoeing them for several months. Now, as the seed heads form and I can specifically identify the worst of the weed grasses, those with harmful awns, I can specifically target those plants.
I often have seed left from previous years and wonder if they are viable. Sometimes my plants will surprise me with seeds, but these seed often are not viable and do not grow. Testing the ability of these seeds to germinate saves time and space in my garden. Recently my gerbera daisy made seeds, so I tested them. I also found some one-year old liatris seeds that I decided to test.
I put the seeds into sealable plastic bags on moistened paper towels, each type in separate bags:
After a couple of weeks the liatris seed were sprouting, but there was no sign of growth in the gerbera seeds:
I carefully removed the sprouted liatris seedlings from the moist paper towel and placed them into pots of potting soil:
They are growing well and I will transplant them to the garden later in the spring, or give some to friends.
After treatment with Neem oil extract and Pyrethrin insecticides most of the aphids are gone, but there are new ones, especially young ones . Repeated treatment is required in these situations. Rapidly reproducing pests such as aphids require one or two retreatments after a few days.
Today I decided to photograph the interesting flowers of my Bryophyllumpinnatum (Kalanchoepinnatum). Upon looking at the photo immediately after taking the picture I discovered that the plant was infested with aphid insects. This is a benefit of digital cameras, you can immediately see the picture. This plant was in a south-facing (brightly lit) window behind other plants so that I could not easily get close enough to discover the insects. The camera proved extremely useful.
The Southwestern U.S. is beautiful, full of history, and a challenging place to garden. However, some things are best grown here; others are challenging, but worth growing.
From the beautiful sunsets, to the beautiful flowers and hazardous spines of the cacti, to the delicious, fiery chile peppers this is a wonderful place to live. To learn more about me visit my Welcome Page.