Friday, March 28, 2014

We have a state cactus!

Thanks to the young women of Girl Scout Troop 2518 of Douglas County, and nudged forward by Rep. Carole Murray's rap performance, we have a new state cactus. On March 7th, unbeknownst to my small circle of plant enthusiasts (who may not be diligent in watching legislative activities, it must be confessed), the Denver Post announced the event, which became official in ceremonies with Gov. Hickenlooper at the Capitol.

We may have missed it because we were en route to Tucson for a meet-up of the First Friday Botanists, but that's another story.

Anyway, lest the suspense grow too unbearable, let me introduce the Scarlet Claret Cup, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, as this week's [year's?] Plant of the Week!

My rather inadequate portrait is of a "captive" specimen at Red Rocks Park, a remnant of a cactus garden that once thrived there, back in the 1960s to 1980s. It was in the way of new landscaping that's about to be installed in front of the Trading Post, so (as of yesterday), the two surviving specimens and their historic sign are residing in custody awaiting transfer to a new site in our Red Rocks Native Garden.

Better photos are available from the Southwest Colorado Wildflowers site, an excellent resource.

The one puzzle was why "Kingcup" in all the publicity? It's not a name I'd heard applied, and for a moment I feared SW Colorado Wildflowers, with their photos of a "King" and "Queen" and "Supreme Master" of the species, had led the poor Girl Scouts astray. Further checking revealed that there is, indeed, a related species called Mojave kingcup cactus, and in fact the USDA Plants database uses "kingcup" for the species we have long known as "claret cup." Perhaps wisely, Plantlist.org refuses to give a common name and prefers to consider the subspecies as mere synonyms.

You have only to try to say Echinocereus triglochidiatus three times fast to know why we might prefer a good common name. In any case, perhaps we may be forgiven for not knowing it as "kingcup," as it's clear from the distribution map that this cactus is not strictly "native" to Jefferson Co. (red star) and our local occurrence may be considered an outlier. For that matter, it doesn't naturally occur in Castle Rock, where the Girl Scout Troop is, either! (blue dot)

I'm going to be old-fashioned and stick with "claret cup" for the foreseeable future. This is another of the cacti known as hedgehog cactus, and this makes a good common name for the entire genus. Our other local hedgehog is Echinocereus viridiflorus, which translates to the green-flowered hedgehog. It occurs in most of eastern Colorado and New Mexico, with just a bit in Wyoming and the westernmost tier of plains states for good measure. But, alas, those inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers just don't attract much publicity! Did the good Girl Scouts opt for the pretty tepals, or did they just prefer western Colorado over eastern?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Going south...

We found three beautiful inches of snow on the yard and cars and everything else this morning. Lots of moisture in it too--I thought, mistakenly, I could just sweep it off, but it was far too heavy. Good for those lovely green daffodil tips that are just poking out of the soil.

But soon I will have something completely new to post about!* Tomorrow bright and early, friends and I head south and west. We're off to Tucson, AZ, for some birding and botanizing with Book Lady and more of the First Friday crew. The Chemist, the Lioness, and I are (gulp) driving down together, and expect to share many nature adventures along the way.

I'm hoping that this will help jog the blogging genes loose and we'll get lots of new photos and material to share online. Book Lady has been dazzling us for weeks with temptations like bobcats, hummingbirds, Gambel's quail, and (so I hear) even roadrunners. Foothills Fancies will hang out in some different foothills, maybe even old stomping grounds in southern Arizona, and (we can only hope) come back newly inspired to write about the home turf.



* Let me assure you there's been no dearth of things to post about around here for the past few months. Have just been off pursuing other challenges...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thanksgiving Tribute

(Original title: The Grand Ladies of Blogging)


I guess I woke up, too early, in a philosophical frame of mind this morning. Did you wonder where I've been, or whether I'd ever be back? Sometimes our favorite bloggers just seem to disappear, so this morning I'd like to give tribute to a few, selected from many, who can be counted on to shift my mental gears toward the positive, and from whom I still long for fresh postings.


My blogroll has 20 names on it, but only those who've posted recently appear, and ten of those names haven't posted in quite some time. The three I want to remember today are all, apparently, older than I am, and reliable sources of perspective. I'd say "wisdom," but sometimes, when it comes to the young, the essence of wisdom is NOT to share it. Let them find out in their own good time, as we all must.


"Granny Smith," or Phyllisophy, sits at the bottom of the visible list, having posted seven months ago. I haven't been one of her regular followers, but I always enjoyed checking in with her and soaking up a little of her unique blend of life lessons, reminiscences, and verbal and artistic creativity. Phyllis was a regular at Sunday Scribblings, and being regular at creativity is something my writer-self has yet to manage. Her poetry and essays are still there to be enjoyed—and that, to me, is one of the intriguing benefits of blogging. We hope all is well with Phyllis and her world, but whether or not she writes again, her words and pictures remain behind to inspire all of us with life's joys.

Another Granny. Granny J of Walking Prescott, kept me in occasional touch with Arizona and its wildflowers. Her disappearance is less mysterious, as her daughter posted a stirring memorial on her passing three years ago. (There's an indication of how far out of touch with blogging and my early community I've become.) Granny J (for Julie) was a woman I can not just admire but relate to, one who walked the deserts near her home looking for and photographing all sorts of natural (and sometimes unnatural) history with an appreciative eye for the eclectic. Thanks, and farewell, Granny J—I hope your new trails are as entertaining as your familiar outback.

One of my earliest blog buddies, Endment, hasn't posted since Christmas 2011. She'd been worried about water, and had posted about the anniversary of the Gettysburg address two years before everyone else. She'd become mom to a puppy just three years before her posts dwindled. But mostly she posted wonderful photos and stories about her backwoods yard in upstate New York, reminding me of places I'd grown up and keeping me in touch with the eastern deciduous biome. She too has gone quiet.

These "grand ladies" taught me about blogging and became friends of a distant but readily accessible sort. Kindred spirits, in fact. As Phyllis once said "blog friends aren't virtual, they are real!" So amazing, this technology that, even in one's 80s, one can master and use to stay in touch with others. These ladies used blogging to share good times as well as challenges, moments prosaic and uplifting, and became an inspiration to others in the process. And, incredibly, whether tis fate or choice keeping them away, their work remains "out there" to inspire and inform. I aspire to their example, which retreats ahead of me as I reach for it. But I'm thankful they and many others have been part of my life, and (yes!) I still believe in blogging, even when I'm not here! It's a medium that transcends distance, age, and even time.

If I may mention one more, still highly reliable, source of constant inspiration, Cate at Beyond the Fields We Know has been blogging pretty much daily (!) since November 2005. Is that a record?? Look for her bobbing to the top of my blogroll; she never misses the mark and always amazes, whether in stunning photographs, thought-provoking text or poetry, or just reminders of the pleasures of staying in touch with one's immediate territory. Her diligent recording of each month's Full Moon, to name one example, is a testament to persistence and Earth wisdom. Thanks, Cate!

To these ladies, and to the many other bloggers whose acquaintance I've enjoyed and learned from, a heartfelt Thank You!!







Wednesday, May 01, 2013

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Snowing

You'd hardly know it to look out the window, but somewhere in the world plants are blooming, spring is springing... and we are, after a brief hiatus, locked again in white today. (Okay, I know it's Wednesday this time.) My main preoccupation (sorry, boss) is keeping the hummingbird feeders thawed, an activity that is, to all appearances, much appreciated. It was pathetic, this a.m., to see a hummer sitting bleakly on the clothesline next to a frozen-over feeder. They're happier if I can keep the little holes from icing up.



Posting the view out there would be redundant (see last week), but if you want to know what it looks like, drop in on seven years ago this week. 80-degree Sunday (check), sunburn (check), several inches of snow (check), lilacs in bloom (oops). Or, for something a little fresher, try April 27, 2009. It's not like this is unusual. What may be is having this weather on a recurring basis, Tuesday or Wednesday, week after week this past month.

So for a "taste" of something more cheery, I visited April's edition of Berry-Go-Round, the plant blog carnival that, this time, treats us (that may not be the right word) to smelly, ugly denizens of the plant world. I sat this one out, as I really couldn't think of a local plant that was smelly, ugly enough— due to lack of imagination, I'm sure. (In fact, this morning I can think of two easy candidates. Oh well.) I was amazed at the diversity of posts Hort Log was able to attract to this eclectic collection!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Earth Day Aftermath

At 5:30 last night:



And this morning, 7 a.m.


Thinking of going somewhere?


Coffee on the patio, perhaps?


'Nuf said!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Something with leaves

We drove out yesterday to look at pretty snow and rocks, and I had an encounter with a plant that was at least green! (An accomplishment at this time of this particular spring.) Other than our ubiquitous conifers, predominantly Ponderosa Pine and Rocky Mountain Juniper, the aspect out there is bleak and brown for plant life, and white for everything else.


 
Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius) is the rare exception. Four of these large evergreen shrubs grow near the Trading Post at Red Rocks Park, far from their normal range in the Intermountain West. These artificially introduced interlopers are not unwelcome, at least to me. One reason is that they don't seem to be invasive: four aging trees, no longer thriving, and one stump suggest long presence here, yet there is no sign of offspring. Research into that must await a more appropriate season. For now, we'll just enjoy the touch of life it adds to the winter landscape and its aesthetic charm against the red rocks of the Fountain Formation.



Despite the cyanogenic glucoside Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany apparently contains,a it's enormously popular as a browse for wild ungulates. So is our local species, variously "true," "alderleaf," or just plain Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus), which would look like this in a different season, but today looks more like a "Cerco-carcass." (Photo of Alderleaf Mountain-mahogany leaves and seeds -- July 2005, Nikon D70, by Cory Maylett, via Wikipedia.)

My first Rocky Mountain ecology teacher used to call this plant "deer ice cream," and our shrubs are generally "managed" within browsing height by the frequent deer pruning they receive. They rarely reach much more than a meter in height.

Curlleaf, in contrast, grows more as a tree and exceeds the reach of its would-be predators, whose munching efforts among its lower branches apparently help stimulate its upward growth.b In deer feeding studies back in the 1940s and 50s, curlleaf was deemed "most desirable" of 17 species of browse offered to captive deer. A hybrid between these two species was ranked second, though data were limited.c

The overlapping ranges shown above create the opportunity for hybridization, with the two occurring together at lower elevations in Utah and other intermountain areas. That factor also contributes to complex intraspecific taxonomic issues, so we're fortunate that here in eastern Colorado, the situation seems to be a little more straightforward.

Lots more to learn about Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany at this site.

Coincidentally, last week before the snows I encountered another individual of the curlleaf species about four miles (7 km) south of the Trading Post. I was surprised to spot it, but again, it was in an area of our foothills long popular with original Americans as well as with later inhabitants. This tree, however, had an unusually intimate relationship with a large boulder next to it. It had grown into and around this huge chunk of red sandstone, or, it appeared, the rock had grown into it.


I have to confess I'm rather baffled by this one. The boulder is on the downhill side of the tree, and what you see in these photos are the trunk and branches, not roots, of a mature tree. I'm looking forward to suggestions from readers on how this might have happened.
———

aDhurrin, the cyanogenic glucoside of Cercocarpus ledifolius (pdf), Nahrstedt and Limmer, 1982, Phytochemistry Volume 21, Issue 11, Pages 2738–2740

bResponse of Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany to Pruning Treatments in Northern Utah (pdf), Austin and Urness, July 1980, J Range Mngt 33(4), 275-277

cFeeding deer on browse species during winter, Smith, Arthur D., 1950, J. Range Mngt 3(2):130-132

Sunday, March 24, 2013

'Tis the Season

Yesterday...



Today...



"We heard the lilacs needed pruning!"



Introductions? That's Heir Apparent (aka Son-of-Funny-Face) on the left, Funny Face herself on the right, and assorted daughters and grandchildren in between. Prongs, who is, I think, about three years old now, is out of frame on the right; he has been hanging out with the family lately. They were munching the lilacs (left) until I showed up to distract all ears.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

A Body in Motion

While compiling the Berry-Go-Round collection last week, I got to spend some time with an "old friend," which is to say, Laurent, the original guru of BGR, one of the first bloggers I got to know when I started nigh onto 7 years ago (this month). Laurent's been somewhat scarce these last couple of years, life gets busy, as we know! But now he's becoming a prolific and entertaining blogger again, over at Seeds Aside. You never know what he's going to come up with!

So there I was, hanging out on his blog, checking out posts, and I discovered he's also highly educational. I learned two new tricks, and I'm going to subject you to one of them this very morning:



Whoa! I can't move quite that fast. Let's slow Squirrel Nutkin down a notch.



And he can keep that up all day. Now I know where all the sunflower seeds are going!

So, yes, we have fox squirrels at last. They found us, recognized a well laid table when they saw it, and it looks like they're here for the duration.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Bringing you Berries!

Here we are: February's issue of the Berry-Go-Round plant blogging carnival has reached your mailbox. What is a carnival? Hollis will clarify the concept at In the Company of Plants and Rocks, with a post designed to encourage more plant blogging, and not coincidentally, more carnival submissions! We did well this month, thanks to reminders via email and twitter (#berrygoround if you'd like to join us).

Jessica at Moss Plants and More has recently moved from one side of the U.S. to the other, and now brings us user-friendly photo field guides to help identify mosses of Sequoia National Park. She also shares her up-to-the-minute research on the paradox of cryptic species. I prefer my species a little more obvious (aka "easy"), but "morphologically austere," that sounds intriguing!

Hollis also presents a couple of newsworthy items, with The Plant Press reporting that leaf identification software is trending, and Helen McGranahan reminding us that lichens have a lot to tell us about air quality.

A Taste of Spring

The Phytophactor declares the official first day of spring on February 13th. (Oh, eeps!) Can you guess which of the plants in his neighborhood is his harbinger? He also offers a winter edition of Friday Fabulous Flower I can't resist adding to our collection this month. And, being the Phactor, many more posts of botanical interest.

Spring is not unique to TPP's area, as JSK of Anybody Seen My focus? knows, but in February you have to really look for it. On February 14th, she sneaks up on her target, with fascinating results!

Arts and Crafts

Susannah, On the Other Hand, decides that joining the National Phenology Network will help with her PhD project, as she enlightens us on the phenology of pollen. In another innovation, she also starts a life list of gymnosperms. This should catch on! Why let birders have all the fun?

Speaking of fun, Kim Gilbert of The Modern Forest tells us what it takes to have adventures in the field and survive them! If indoor sports suit you better, check out herbarium fun and games, another entry from the Phytophactor, who strives to interest his students in "reality taxonomy" via specimens.

Laurent, founding parent of this botanical carnival, is back! Now finding himself with more time for blogging at Seeds Aside, he submitted four entertaining posts. His gift for wordplay is well exercised, with an exploration of "chori", which is, of course, the plural of chorus, but in plant form. In other words, everything you wanted to know about how plants get around. More words bring us randomly generated poetry with, he writes, "small bits of botany and Academia."

Are you more visual than verbal? Before BGR, maybe even before we knew Laurent, he introduced It's been beesy (yes, more wordplay), featuring a technique for making plants a little more lively than usual. Now he's moving into a new art form, with his charming Peanut Leechy Gallery (more samples at this post)! I am going to have to try this, though I sense it won't be nearly as elegant in dusty brown Colorado.

Remember how you've been wondering "what is wuyuanzao"? Luigi answers all (except how to pronounce it) at the Agricultural Biodiversity weblog. In another post submitted by Jeremy, Luigi explains all about agroforestry and conservation and why we should care about this approach to the rainforest.

Jeremy introduces Another Blasted Weblog and assures us that Mentuccia is not pennyroyal. He reminds us it's good to know exactly what's cooking, especially when herbs are labeled ambiguously.

Sally delves into, but does not solve, the mysterious Hackberry here at Foothills Fancies.

That wraps up this month's edition. Hope you found some good reading, and if so—don't forget to share your appreciation with a comment or two at each stop! Next month's Berry-Go-Round will be hosted at In the Company of Plants and Rocks. Thanks, everyone!!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mysterious Hackberry and a Hackberry Mystery

Lioness and Guardian stopped by the other day to pick up a large night-blooming Cereus in need of a good home. Somehow the conversation turned to Hackberry; I forget just how that happened. They had asked me to ID a couple of dry winter twigs they found (Brickellia californica and Eriogonum effusum, don,t ask me how I knew--Gestalt taxonomy?). And I needed to write a plant post for BGR, so...

What is mysterious about Hackberry? Lots of things, it turns out. I knew it as a native shade tree, but the story is complex, as so many are once you delve into them a bit. The genus Celtis is a tangled web whose strands cross the planet. Wikipedia isn't sure how many species there are, 60 to 70 perhaps, but one or more of them is found in almost every continent and archipelago. Who knew?

Mysterious identity

Hackberry once belonged to the Ulmaceae, and in its "shade tree" form makes a good substitute for American Elm. Now, however, I hear it's been placed with the Cannabaceae, with whose famous members it probably shouldn't be confused. It is a tall tree, graceful and elegant. Sometimes. And much in need of taxonomic examination.


Here's what one set of data suggests for its U.S. occurrence:

We have, perhaps, two species in Colorado. Once I would have readily said these are Celtis occidentalis L. and Celtis reticulata Torr., but the experts don't agree even on that simple point. They unite on the species C. occidentalis, the Eastern or Common Hackberry, named "western" by Linnaeus apparently as distinct from C. orientalis, an Asian species but disagree on whether it's here. They also waffle on C. reticulata, formerly C. douglasii, which some place as a subspecies of Celtis laevigata, a species confined by others to the southeastern U.S.

The Chemist is certain. He believes C. reticulata is a gnarly small native tree, and C. occidentalis is the tall, nonnative shade tree one. The latter is far more likely to be spotted, often along drainages. They are so different, he says, that they must be two distinct species; I'm inclined to agree. Take a look at the Colorado distribution (adapted from the Plants database; green being reticulata, pink C occi, and blue for both):
 

(Contrariwise, NatureServe says C occi is in 40 states--but not Colorado.)

"My" hackberry, the solitary one in our yard, is an indeterminate case. I'm leaning toward C occi. The house was 12 years old when we moved in, and this tree presumably no older. Now, thirty years later, it's a bit taller but not much changed. It still looks young, without witches brooms, and without a trace of gnarliness. Was it planted from nursery stock, by former occupants? Or did it germinate from seed brought in by birds? I can only guess. It doesn't grow (much), probably because it's surviving solely on natural precipitation, but it doesn't die either. A testament to the drought hardiness and resilience of this plant.

Mysterious witches brooms

Guardian's question was about "those things" that grow on Hackberry. "Galls" I said before I got my brain in gear, and it's true that Hackberry is beset by gall-forming insects, from bud and petiole galls to the distinct nipple gall often seen on the leaves.

"Witches brooms" is the correct answer, at least this time of year. What causes these odd growths that become the easiest and most reliable way to recognize Hackberry in winter? Turns out, scientists aren't exactly sure. Two candidates—an eriophyid mite and a fungus—vie for the honor, but the result is a characteristic of the plant that is practically diagnostic! They disfigure its winter aspect, but are barely visible in summer after the trees leaf out.

Mysterious Hackberry Hill

In our part of Colorado, Hackberry is historical legend. Place names abound, as you'd expect; this ubiquitous genus lends its name to towns (in AZ, LA, and TX), street names, and Hills (in Las Vegas, NV, as well as TX, CT, and IN). Our Hackberry Hill is in Arvada, at about 76th and Wadsworth, has its own Wikipedia page, and is made even more famous by the nationally known elementary school (see Southern Poverty Law Center for a nice story; good for them!). But it no longer has a famous Hackberry tree.

The tree that gave its name to Hackberry Hill was, most likely, a common Hackberry, C occi, singled out for its exotic occurrence on this high spot. 'Tis said that natives and pioneers used the tree as a distant landmark, and it is believed to have sprouted from the medicine pouch of an Indian chief killed in battle and buried at this spot long ago. It was huge! But it was in the way of progress, and therefore had to be cut down. Locals rebelled, and the giant tree was to be transplanted. A trench was dug around it in preparation, but vandals intervened one night in 1937 and settled the contentious issue before the tree was salvaged.

If a plant post comes, can February's Berry-Go-Round be far behind? Look for it later today!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

This should help!



A co-worker and I were debating this year's coming drought the other day, especially relative to its effects on grass and therefore large domestic herbivores in Colorado. This came in the wake of dire forecasts in local media and across the West. With little forage, livestock feeding started early last fall, hay prices doubled, and groceries will too, after a lag.

Thus the snow that fell energetically all day Sunday, delivering 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) across the Front Range, was greeted with universal enthusiasm. Guess what it's doing out there today? After a wimpy start, today's storm (above) is now gaining its own momentum. Six or eight more of these, and we should be in good shape!

My colleague is right that drought bodes ill in many ways, from another bad wildfire season to water rationing in municipalities, but the native grasses of the Great Plains of Colorado have seen such episodes many times before. Give them a little encouragement—and this storm certainly will—and they'll be back! That, however, is a topic for another day.

Changing the subject somewhat, I'm happy to report that we have a great selection of submissions for this month's Berry-Go-Round. Thanks to all of you diligent plant bloggers, we'll have some good reading for you here later this week!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Berry Good Deadline...

Good morning, all. Today is the deadline for submissions to this month's Berry-Go-Round, our carnival for plant bloggers everywhere! If you haven't heard of it, check the link for past issues and instructions on submitting. Or tweet us a link to your post using hashtag #berrygoround. There's even a handy submission form!

Generations of BGR hosts have given me leeway on those submittal deadlines, so I will tell you that, as a practical matter, the true deadline is more like 6 a.m. Mountain Standard Time (US) tomorrow, February 26th. Need more time? Talk to me and we'll work something out. I aim to have this month's edition posted by the end of the week-- and already have almost a dozen entries!

Maybe extending a tad will give me time for a post of my own! But the 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) of white stuff that arrived yesterday means I can't even see plants out there (except trees, of course)... but I know that somewhere in the world there is green, and even flowers!

Back soon!!

Can't wait? Enjoy this video of potato late blight set to music, just tweeted by Luigi! Beautiful, but sad too... Thanks, Luigi!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Berry-Go-Round comes back around

That's right! This month's Berry-Go-Round will be hosted here at Foothills Fancies, which itself is experiencing a bit of release from dormancy. (Posts have been scarce here due to a long intense project that is, finally, nearing completion.)

If you can't wait, or are in need of inspiration, check out: Please bring on your plant-related posts by February 25th for our round-up, appearing here at the end of this short month. I look forward to seeing tons of posts by BGR regulars as well as new plant bloggers!

Need help submitting? It's all right here. BGR overlord Susannah has also made it even easier: all it takes to get our attention is use of our new Twitter hashtag! #berrygoround.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cordials as a Botanical Adventure

Update: This post belatedly submitted to Mixology Monday, the Witches' Garden edition, to be hosted at Cardiff Cocktails after May 20.

As with so many adventures, this one started quite by accident. I was browsing happily, and something caught my eye on someone's website—it might have been the Phytophactor’s—off we go then! The link led me to the Drunken Botanist, surely an intriguing name for a website. My curiosity was captured at once by a story about chartreuse, a word heretofore known to me only as a color.

A discovery like this makes you wonder where you’ve been all your life—how could such a thing be novel after so many decades of botanical exploration? I needed to find out what this tasted like, and as the post was not merely a description but an invitation to experimentation, my course was set. I rounded up some likely suspects—herbs as well as friends—and we assembled the fixings by a “bring your own…” process. The first batch last June contained some 32 botanical ingredients (excluding the vodka) and was deemed wildly successful, although insufficient; a second batch had to follow before the month was out.


Chartreuse, as you may know, is an ancient herbal liqueur first formulated by monks in France as a medicinal tonic incorporating the benefits of some 130 herbs. Everything we needed to know was found at Amy Stewart’s post on the Drunken Botanist. Me, I'm still trying to imagine 130 herbs!


By the end of our adventure, I was somewhat closer to being able to envision such abundance.

We took Amy at her word: "If it grows in the French countryside and it’s not likely to kill you, it’s probably in there." But caution is of the essence—PLEASE don't attempt this, or any other botanical creation, unless you have the required expertise, or can consult someone who does!

Our second attempt focused more on the botany of imbibing. We assembled the bot group for a foraging expedition, price of admission being one or more forbs as contributions and perhaps a bottle of vodka for the steeping. Indigo Flaxweed, who got me started several years ago on these infusions with chokecherry (but a prickly pear sample is here), has an outrageous herb garden, buckets of which she brought to the mix. The Lioness invited us all to her place to forage in the wilds. The Chemist brought grape leaves (Vitis vinifera) and sweet flag (Acorus calamus) from his garden; Bee Lady brought a few nutmegs and helped with plant ID; and Strawberry Tree brought a bundle of dill (Anethum graveolens).




Unfortunately, the droughty summer limited foraging success, though we were able to add small amounts of beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), chiming bells (Mertensia ), plantain (Plantago major, a weed), raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus), salsify root (Tragopogon sp.), wild peppermint (Mentha piperita), and some sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis) just to get our species count up. Always helps if you can use weeds or exotics; we were extremely cautious about taking more than a leaf or two from natives in this bleak season. Most of the largess shown here is home-grown, but you may be able to spot a few foraged varieties.


I brought balm (Melissa officinalis), the one thing I can grow, and exotic spices and fruits, including cinnamon, star anise, bay leaves, cloves, cardamom, and some lemons and limes. And, of course, vodka.

Thanks to Indigo Flaxweed's incredible garden, we ultimately assembled about 62 ingredients! Again this count excludes the vodka, of which Indigo and the Lioness are here adding copious quantities. It made for a phenomenal brew.

Next day the Lioness and I met to decant—this isn't one you need to leave for weeks of slow steeping, but is ready overnight. Taste before decanting to ensure flavors have developed. Our 62 ingredients quickly turned into a tasty potion.

After decanting, the infusion is blended with a simple sugar syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water or sweeter if you like) to attain palatability. Start with 1 cup syrup to 3 cups brew, and adjust to taste. Although both batches were quite green at first, the final result became a lovely golden color within a day or two.
So what did it taste like?

To this day, I can't report whether or not it tastes like a proper Chartreuse, or even any of the French clones. I've yet to invest in a "real" bottle!

We were more than happy with its complex earthy flavors; perhaps our palates were piqued by the thrill of creation. The first batch, though simpler in content, seemed just as delightful as the second and was equally appreciated.

In sharing it with others, however, we find people react with either enthusiasm or disdain. As with cilantro—perhaps because of the cilantro—our homebrew triggered a love/hate response. Happily, it has more than enough admirers to ensure a ready market for any we were willing to share. Honored Elder swears it makes a perfect bedtime cocktail.

Strawberry and the Chemist, however, aren't big fans of the alcohol version. For them, we infused some of this incredible mix of botanicals in vinegar as well. That one steeped for a couple weeks, but the final result was also more than adequate, I think, though I can only vouch for the cordial!

The tasting (above) offered opportunity for further experiment and adjustment. What if we sweetened with honey or agave, instead of simple syrup? Pinch of this, pinch of that... It turned out that a final secret ingredient—contributed by the Queen's Taster—put this concoction over the top, at least to our taste buds. We already knew a little chile pequin gave it a zing, but the real winner proved to be ... habanero!

You would think all those bottles would last a while! And they did, through year's end. The saga went on... but that's another story!

The Plants
In some cases, my best guess... Warning: Possible obsolete taxonomy, but this should get you there.

Allspice, Pimenta dioica
Alpine strawberry, Fragaria
Amaranth, Amaranthus retroflexus, aka redroot pigweed
Bacopa or water hyssop, Bacopa monnieri
Basil, Ocimum basilicum
Bay leaves, Laurus nobilis
Beebalm, bergamot, Monarda fistulosa
Borage, Borago officinalis
Cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum
Catmint, Nepeta x faassenii
Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla
Chiming bells, Mertensia lanceolata
Chives and flowers, Allium schoenoprasum
Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum
Cinnamon sticks, Cinnamomum verum or C. cassia
Clementine/orange peel, Citrus reticulata
Cloves, Syzgium aromaticum
Comfrey, Symphytum officinale
Common mallow, Malva neglecta
Costmary, Tanacetum balsamita
Cress, Lepidium sativum
Dill, Antheum graveolens
Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium
French tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus
Garden sage, Salvia officinalis
Grape leaves, Vitis vinifera
Horseradish, Cochlearia armoracia
Juniper berry, Juniperus communis
Lamb's ears, Stachys lanata
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis
Lemon thyme, Thymus x citriodora
Lemon zest, Citrus × limon
Limes, Citrus x latifolia
Lovage, Levisticum officinale
Lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis
Marigold, Calendula officinalis
Mexican tarragon, Tagetes lucida
Milk thistle flowers, Silybum marianum
Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris
Nutmeg, Myristica fragrans
Orange mint, Mentha citrata
Oregano, Origanum vulgare
Parsley, Petroselinum crispum
Peppermint, Mentha piperita
Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans
Plantain, Plantago major
Purslane, Portulaca oleracea
Raspberry leaves, Rubus idaeus
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis
Salsify root, Tragopogon sp.
Scarlet globemallow, Sphaeralcea coccinea
Sorrel, Rumex acetosa or R. acetosella
Southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum
Spearmint, Mentha spicata
Star anise, Illicium verum
Strawberry leaves, wild, Fragaria
Sweet flag, Acorus calamus
Thai cinnamon basil, Ocimum basilicum
Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium
Yellow sweetclover, Melilotus officinalis


Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving is for the Birds

(Well, except for the turkeys, who are too tasty for their own good.)

We try to take care of our local critters year-round, but we do extra on Thanksgiving and that big holiday in December. We go through untold hundreds of pounds of birdseed every year. Perhaps, if the Lord of the Universe is an ecologist, it will earn us a little karmic appreciation. But that really isn't why we do it.

Lately we've had a couple warm and fluffy rodents around too. We don't usually get squirrels here—not enough pine trees here below the edge of the mountains—but these two Fox Squirrels have taken to chasing around the front yard. Yes, I know they're invasive, and technically I should be shooting them (and eating them), but I can't bring myself to take such noble causes beyond a vegetarian attempt now and then.

So Tuesday at the feed store, when I saw a big bag of peanuts in the shell, it came to mind those would make a good Thanksgiving treat for the little buggers. I even, in my naivete, thought putting them in the suet feeder might require enough manual dexterity (as opposed to mere beak dexterity) to coerce the scrub jays and magpies to leave a few for the squirrels.

Yesterday morning I loaded up the peanuts and put them out a bit after 7:30. The squirrels were running around, and foraging under the main sunflower feeder for fallen seeds, but they didn't get the point.

Within minutes, on the other hand, first one scrub jay then another found this new gift. Mind you I also filled the regular suet feeder with suet, and topped off the sunflower seed, but it turned out peanuts were the main attraction and my grand idea of treating the squirrels went bust.

Then the magpies came...
And teamed up with the scrub jays...
According to the time stamp in my phone, all these photos, documenting the disappearance of just the last third of the peanuts, were taken at 7:43 a.m.
Clearly, a 10-pound bag of peanuts won't last long at this rate!
These days we find the sunflower feeder on the ground every single morning. At first we thought it was the wind, knowing a bear would have pulverized it. (The weather's been so nice lately, the bears are staying up way past bedtime! Thanksgiving was a shirt-sleeve affair; we could even have eaten on the patio!)

Accustomed as I am to having scavengers, from skunks and chickens to woodrats and now squirrels, poking around for scattered seeds under the feeder, I was unprepared for the confirmation I saw in the flashlight beam about 5 a.m. yesterday morning. Sure 'nuf, a big fat raccoon was our latest visitor. No wonder the dogs have been so excited on their pre-dawn outings! They may never have seen one; it's been years since one passed through!

Last night we brought the feeder in for safekeeping. No dice; he/she just went for the thistle seed instead. AND, finding no sunflower feeder to empty, ventured onto the porch in search of a few spilled seeds; I spotted him/her again there in the wee hours this morning.

So far, thankfully, the raccoon has shown no inclination to go after the dogs, and I'm on watch now to be more careful when letting them out for early runs.

Let the feasting begin!

The little birds were so happy with the refilled feeders that they attracted the attention of a top-level feeder. The Cooper's Hawk made a long glide low across the front yard, in hopes of an easy meal of his own, no doubt.

We also lost one of the chickens over the holiday, so most likely some unknown predator—coyote or fox perhaps—enjoyed Thanksgiving as well!

Me, I'm thankful for all this wildlife, even if it includes the likes of Fox Squirrels, English Sparrows, Starlings, and urban foxes. We are blessed, even by the Rattlesnakes and Skunks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Record Heat; Welcome Break

When anything under 90 degrees (32 C) feels cool, you know you've been IN it. Two of the last three days set records; the third, yesterday, might as well have. (38C sounds so much cooler than 100F!) Because it's a challenge to capture the searing heat and stifling dryness in a photo, here's today instead. At a full 40 degrees cooler and overcast, the plants on the patio are breathing a sigh of relief along with my own. We can all smell and feel the moisture in the air, hanging heavy. "10% chance" offers little promise, but at least the heat's off for the moment.

Colorado's two active wildfires are distant. High Park, to the north of us and west of Fort Collins, has now claimed 59,000 acres, 189 homes, and one human life. It has been burning since June 9th and is, finally, 55% contained. We've been awash in smoke here off and on, as the evidence of the fire is liberally shared across the Front Range. Springer, a smaller fire near Lake George, is currently at 900 acres and 10% containment. (Photo, High Meadow burn area, 11 years later.)

It's going to be another one of those years, reminding all of us of 2002. In that June, just 10 years ago, the Hayman Fire burned for most of the month, scorching 138,000 acres and leaving a lasting impression on the people of Colorado.

Memories of the earlier Buffalo Creek Fire of May 1996 were brought close to home last March when the Lower North Fork Fire hit in the same part of the county, claiming three human lives. Eight years later, Buffalo Creek's 12,000 acre scar was still visible, as it is today, though slowly healing.

Both photos above of the High Meadow burn area were taken in June 2011.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Soaked!

A long-awaited glorious morning, one in which water actually falls from the sky. Among other desired effects, it salvages our spring, rescuing native wildflowers that were already on their way to crispening.



The "downside," if there is one in this most welcome weather, is that we missed seeing the full effect of the Supermoon Saturday night as we stood outside admiring a light show in the clouds and hearing... what's that? Thunder! Hallelujah! (No matter, next month's full moon will be only 1% smaller.)


Very little water actually fell Saturday night, and skies were Colorado-clear-blue Sunday morning. Hopes seemed dashed, but were redeemed last night when an apparent gentle monsoonish season started. Only 0.22 inches so far, but snow is expected above 7,500 ft later today, so all seems promising.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Fussy Chickens

They're always a bit fussy in the morning anyway. Dashing out of the coop and checking out the world first thing has them likely to be chattering away. Hens are cackling over eggs. Roosters are horny, especially this time of year, or calling hens to some tasty morsel they just dug up.


But we've seen Reynard, the local red fox, too many times lately, so this time I decided to check. 6:54 a.m., full daylight, and he's just outside their gate, about 10 m from the front door; hens are huddled under the big juniper, wary and restless. Naturally, I let the dogs out, and watched as the fox took off to the east and the dogs, logically, dashed north. I'm not sure they ever saw him, but he saw them, so it did the trick.


It's April, after all, and Earth Week, which seems to be a prime time for spotting predators around here. It was April 2001 when we had our first and only eagle attacks; Earth Day 2004 when the coyote attack (only one to date, thankfully) occurred. About 20 chickens died in those episodes. At least the eagle was thoughtful enough to take only one a week.


I realize we have somewhat inadvertently baited local predators by even deciding to keep chickens. On the whole we've been successful—and lucky—these last 16 years, and foxes have not been a problem, even last year, when neighbors kept saying "did you see the fox?" and we kept saying "No!" Lucky, that is, until last Sunday. I was just back from a weekend away, and spotted feathers as I went out to lock up the flock. Too many feathers for this time of year, it's not moulting season and they were too fresh. Sure enough, one short on the beak count! One of the young Araucanas, the ones that like to hop the fence and hang out in the backyard, would no longer be coming home.


Later I found the piles of feathers, drifts in some places, that marked the sites of what must have been a fair struggle. Poor hen.


The dogs are elderly now, 13 and 11, and consider themselves retired. They'd rather spend the day sleeping on the couch than out monitoring for trespassers. In particular, Starbuck (no relation to coffee) has lost much of his hearing and doesn't respond easily. Since their rush to the scene of excitement this a.m. and momentary interest, they are now lobbying strenuously to come back inside.


The fox, who has a good understanding of fences and dogs it seems, circled east and around into the driveway, reluctant to leave and clearly thinking another source of interest might present itself. So I am also on duty, and have to add my eyes and ears to the patrol, checking the east drive regularly in the direction Foxy Reynard went off, with a window open to noise on the west, and with one dog stationed north, the other south. Can their acuity—and mine—be trusted? Will it be enough?


[Technical difficulties prevent photos at the moment; I hope I can put some up later. No fox pix yet anyway...]


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Heron Habit

Great Blue Herons have been stalking me for about six years now. That is, it was 2006, the same year I started this blog, when I first noticed herons were making a habit of dropping into my consciousness. And a happy habit it is! Friday night, enroute to our regular gathering of bot-brains, I spotted my first heron of the year here in our local creek (fifth of the year overall). Must be time to post those pictures at long last.

Perhaps, to state it better, I was never aware of a special relationship with herons until 2006. That summer I saw herons hither, and I saw them yon. I'd be driving to the grocery store, or some such prosaic activity, and my eye would fall, as if by animal magnetism, on a heron. Silhouetted in flight or motionless in patient pursuit of prey, always a heron. The niece and I launched the trip of a lifetime that summer, and herons were spotted time and again as we drove from Colorado to Connecticut. More herons. After she left mid-adventure, I went on to Maine. One day I was driving through Worcester, Massachusetts, and spotted three herons overhead while I was on the freeway! This is not good for attentive, or even defensive, driving, especially when you end up doing more than 7,000 miles of it!

But I was often driving, and capturing the moment in more than memory was impossible. Once home, I watched for herons regularly on walks by the creek, though, and finally the heron moment and the camera coincided, mid-June 2009.

You walk and you look... until finally you see what you're looking for! Don't you? (maybe you'd better enlarge it, then)


But sometimes your subject doesn't appreciate being seen, and turns his back on you. And stalks, then flies away.


And stands quietly in the shade, a little upstream where he knows you can't see him. Finally you go on with your walk, knowing you can find better pictures on the internet than you could ever take yourself. Good info too!








But on the return walk, 13 frames later, you find his patience has been rewarded, and he's more cooperative. So your patience gets rewarded too!


Why post this now, almost three years later? Well, Catwoman sent a timely link to Heron Nest Cam! Perhaps not timely enough, as the last egg was imminent a full week ago. That means it will probably be lonely and boring for the sitter most of the time until about May 1, when the eggs start to hatch! But at the link, you can watch video clips of arrival of the third and fourth eggs, as well as other heron activities.

Maybe not as boring as I thought! Yesterday morning, the nest was attacked by a Great Horned Owl, creating a bit of excitement for the defending sitter, who went into fight mode (something to see in a heron!), revealing that there are now FIVE eggs in the nest instead of the usual four.