Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring Interruptus

April and May don't bring showers or flowers around here but mostly winds and dust, frequently spiced with brush fires, all of it to remind us of our a semiarid climate and terrain.

It's a season of both high expectations and frustrations, much like February and March in the upper latitudes of the United States: You know spring is coming soon but it takes its time in arriving and sometimes changes its mind. Jonquils and crocuses might pop out of the ground only to have their fragile blooms smothered by a blanket of late snow.

In late February and early March we had a similar Fool's Spring in the ranch. Huizaches, jarrillas and some mesquites exploded with yellow flowers but then a couple of freezes abruptly cut short the show.

Spring is here: The dramatic flower stalks
of the cucharillas. 
We have one jacaranda tree that we planted three or four years ago and in February its bright green, new foliage reached almost six feet, the tallest ever, and I secretly hoped for a least a sprinkling of the blue flowers that cover the mature trees in the center of town.

Our diffident jacaranda let me down again by shriveling in the late cold snap. It's sprouting new foliage now but there won't be any flowers this season. Last year we put rebar stakes and wrapped a protective piece of plastic sheeting around it but the barrier failed to fool nature or keep the sapling  from doing its frustrating leaf-out and dry-up routine.

But about ten days ago our cucharillas started a totally unexpected show: flower stalks about ten feet high which against the rest of the landscape look like, hmm, giant erect penises covered with tiny flowers. It's like a commercial for Viagra but far more interesting and without the four-hour warning.

Cucharillas are very handsome, round desert plants with narrow leaves with little threads at the ends. They are sold in the U.S. for arid southwestern gardens http://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/1503/green-sotol.php under the name of green sotol. Their botanical name, in case anyone is interested, is dasylirion acrotriche.

The stalks are covered with tiny yellow flowers
 that drive bees crazy. 
Their preferred habitat though is the great Chihuahuan desert of northern Mexico, just to the north of San Miguel. Indigenous people still use the leaves of cucharillas to make decorations for festivals, and in fact too many decorations and festivals apparently have led to an excessive harvesting of the plants in the wild.

When we planted several of them about three years ago they arrived in pots and were about three feet high. They let out a group yipee!!—or its Mexican equivalent—as soon as they hit the ground. Prolonged lack of rain and lousy, gravelly soil only seem to encourage their growth.

Accompanied by some LED uplights Stew installed, their long leaves waltz in the night breeze and could almost fool you into believing I actually knew what I was doing when I conjured up this bit of xeriscaping.

The spiny leaves are tipped
 with dried threads.
In some agaves similar flowering stalks look like candelabras of flowers that unfortunately signal the end of the mother plant. Not to worry because the seeds off the stalk land somewhere and become new plants.

In the case of the cucharillas the sudden appearance of the monumental stalks and the flowers—hundreds of bees are buzzing around them—does not presage the plant's demise, which would be an awful shame.

Finally, I'm almost afraid to talk about the other gardening news, so I'll just whisper because gloating about early successes in the vegetable beds only invites late-summer catastrophes. So keep this to yourself:

Although the leaf vegetables are pretty much done until cool weather returns, we seem to have a bumper crop of several varieties of tomatoes in addition to beans, peas, cauliflowers, carrots and what-have-you's. Everything is amazingly healthy, behind small wire fences around each plant to keep the rabbits away. 

Surprised the hell out of me, I tell you.

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6 comments:

  1. There has been a real Spring in the NY area this April. Gorgeous weather for gardening and hiking, blue skies, no night frost to do away with my newly sprung flowers... exactly... let's just keep it at that...

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    1. Wonderful for you. Actually the weather is very pleasant here except for the dryness and lack of rain. We've had a couple attempts at rain in the past couple of weeks and I hope that's a good omen of good rainy season.

      al

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  2. "Xeriscaping." Lovely word. Well used. Economy. At its best.

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  3. Great post. Isn't amazing how NOW, the little things mean so much to us. Way better then acquiring some expensive car or other material thing.

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  4. In both our Mexican locations (both more tropical than yours)we have an incredible variety of birds to go along with the flora - how is your bird (fauna)wildlife there?

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    1. I'm sorry to say, particularly since I used to be a birdwatcher, that I haven't followed our bird population here. I see mockingbirds, purple finches and sparrows, but I need to get my bird book and binoculars out and follow them more carefully.

      Also some roadrunners which are funny.

      al

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