It’s National Wildflower Week!

Three yellow cactus flowers in New Mexico to celebrate National Wildflower Week

Wildflower season is in full swing, so be sure to get out there and enjoy the colors and scents!

May 2-8 is National Wildflower Week! I only found out yesterday, thanks to a scan of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Instagram feed. (blush). It does make for a nice kick-off to the 2016 Wildflower Wednesday season, 😉 .

Here are some great botanical gardens, arboretums, and nature centers offering events and programs to celebrate:

The dates for National Wildflower Week vary by geographic climate band, so you may want to check with some of your local arboretums and gardens to see what’s going on in your area.

How will you enjoy your local wildflowers this week?

Book of the Month Club: Land of Enchantment Wildflowers

Executive Summary: 3/5  Land of Enchantment Wildflowers: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest), by Willa F. Finley and LaShara J. Nieland is an informative and beautifully produced book, but impractical for use while hiking. Editing and organization makes it harder to find specific flowers than necessary.

There are affiliate links in this post. As with all reviews on this blog, I purchased the item with my own money, for my own use, without any sponsorship.

 Land of Enchantment Wildflowers: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest), by Willa F. Finley and LaShara J. Nieland has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years now. This field guide to New Mexico wildflowers features more than 200 plants, all photographed by the authors, with details of their blossoms, leaves and seedpods.

There are 456 color photographs, plus information about traditional uses; toxins; etymology of both common and scientific names; usage in landscaping and gardening; and interactions with livestock, wildlife and insects. The book is written in a clear and engaging prose style.

This guidebook is beautifully produced, with accurate color reproduction. For a trade paperback, it is fairly compact and lightweight–just shy of 9″ x 5 1/2″ x 1″ and 1 lb, 11.5 oz (780g). Personally, if I’m doing a serious wildflower hike, with sketchbook, drawing tools and camera in tow, on top of my water, weather and dog gear, that nearly 2 pounds of paper weighs too much and takes up too much volume in my daypack to be useful. And if I’m doing a fast and light dayhike, I’m not going to be making any lengthy stops to peruse a guidebook.

Land of Enchantment Wildflowers organizes the flowers by color, rather than botanical family. This seems like a helpful way to categorize different species, especially for a novice wildflower enthusiast, but it’s not as useful as you might think. For one thing, not everyone sees colors the same way. Also, flowers can have slight color variations in certain locations.

Plants that are in the same family have more in common with each other than they do with plants that have the same color flower, but are totally different in their shape, preferred locations, pollinators, etc, etc. It’s the same reason most bird guides are organized by general family–a crow and a raven are very similar in what they eat and how they move, but a blackbird is a songbird, with totally different needs and behaviors. Yet all three birds are black!

Another problem with the book is the way the photographs are selected and arranged. The photos are all of the plants in full bloom. There are no photos of young plants, seed pods, etc. Wildflowers only bloom for a short period each year, so knowing how they look “out of season” is important!

The authors have placed photos of very closely related flowers together under one species entry heading, but the labeling as to which (sub) species is which can be confusing, or missing.

Finally, the photos are all literally postage-stamp size. Not very comfortable viewing for those of us with aging eyes!

We keep a selection of New Mexico books in our guest room for guests to enjoy while visiting us. Land of Enchantment Wildflowers has a definite place on the bookshelf. As a field guide, it’s a little too heavy and the photos are too confusing to take along for most dayhikes. I still prefer to snap photos with my phone camera, then use the databases at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center to make a positive ID.

The authors also wrote the guide, Lone Star Wildflowers: A Guide to Texas Flowering Plants (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest).

 

 

The Native Tree Project

Mature piñon pine tree, Pinus edulis, on the banks of a small arroyo in the high desert of New Mexico.

This piñon pine near my home will be the model for a 2-year portfolio project.

As part of the RBGE Distance Diploma in Botanical Illustration, I need to document the life of a native or historic tree for 2 years.

Choosing a tree was surprisingly difficult. I was very enamored of the heirloom varieties of apple, pear and apricot trees that were planted throughout the Four Corners states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, the Randall Davey Audubon Center here in Santa Fe has such an old orchard dating back to the 1890s, and I talked with them about using one of their trees in exchange for a lecture or exhibit to help with their programming. Unfortunately, their orchard doesn’t always bear fruit every year due to the extreme climate at the top of Canyon Road. I couldn’t find another tree of the same variety to serve as an understudy if the star couldn’t perform, so the search continued.

A horse chestnut on Canyon Road at the Santa Fe Historical Foundation’s HQ, El Zaguan, caught my eye. The last survivor of an historical garden and chestnut grove dating to the 1850s, this imposing specimen is a beautiful anomaly in this desert city. The foundation’s office staff gave me the impression that the foundation was not going to work hard to save the tree if its health began to fail as, “it had already lived past its normal lifespan.” So the hunt continued.

The aspen grove located in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains also intrigued me. Aspens are like grass: essentially a large, single, clone organism. This particular grove is perhaps one of the largest in North America. Even though this grove is just across town, getting there entails a 45-minute drive–in good weather. I’ll need to be able to check on the tree’s status at least weekly, and more frequently at key lifecycle points, so this was rather inconvenient.

Finally, I realized the answer was in front of my eyes. The piñon pine, or Pinus edulis, is the state tree of New Mexico. It also grows all over the high desert around my exurban house in an environment described as piñon-juniper woodlands. It’s an important food source for animals and humans. Individual trees have beautiful forms, sculpted by wind and weather. Existential drama comes from an epidemic onslaught of an insect pest.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning along with me more about this icon of the Southwest!

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