Sunday, September 1, 2013

Santa Rosa mountain or bust!

Penstemon rostriflorus (flesh shades)
If you live long enough your every wish comes true. I have obviously been living quite a long time: some time in the 1990's I attended a Native Plant Conference at Rancho Santa Ana where Bart O'Brien (the living spirit behind that great Garden) gave a talk about California salvias. As I watched slide after depressing slide (none of those looked promising for Colorado gardens) Bart ended with a flourish of astonishing slides taken on the Santa Rosa mountains of the most glorious salvia imaginable--Salvia pachyphylla: I remember his saying "this one is for Panayoti"--and I made sure the next few years we obtained lots of seed from several collectors, and sure enough, this has become a classic plant already in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. I was invited back to Los Angeles this weekend to speak at their awesome Succulent Symposium, and I sent hinting emails to Bart in advance about perhaps, could we, might we, etc. etc....and sure enough! He took the bait! Off we went, with Evan Meyer as driver and a delightful companion on a late summer trip to the high hills above Palm Springs. The light was oblique (the monsoon had been quite strong this year) and perfect for viewing and photographing. The air was cool and the day packed full of spectacular plants and views. Thank you Bart and Evan for a perfect end of summer jaunt and a dream fulfilled! Check out a few of the goodies we saw beginning with this flesh-toned Penstemon rostriflorus. I have admired this plant for decades growing on Dryland Mesa at DBG--and in the wild here and there throughout the Southwest--including Montezuma county in Colorado where it is also abundant. This is one of the few penstemons that blooms in late summer--in fact, for many months on end. And it is long lived. Thanks to Plant Select, it is widely sold and more frequently seen in landscapes (but still not enough!)...

Artemisia ludoviciana
I don't know why I would be surprised to find "Louisiana" sage in Southern California: there is a sort of Universal American flora that grows from coast to coast, and this is a good example. I thought this was a rather graceful manifestation of one of our most abundant and widespread Artemisia--for which I have a very rational fondness (it's my mother's first name)...

The Santa Rosas are wonderfully pristine--the chaparral is diverse and the hillsides steep and with the mist of the monsoon clinging here and there, made for a wonderfully cool day of travel, with Chinese landscapes on all sides...that's livin'!

A more typical Penstemon rostriflorus
Although there were substantial rains in recent days and weeks, most of this year had been so dry that last year's spent stalks were twice the size of this year's.
My two fellow travelers: Evan Meyer (behind)
and Bart O'Brien--plant meister extraordinaire in front!
Bart has been at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in a multitude of roles almost as long as I've been at Denver. Bart is universally acknowledged for his intimate knowledge of the California flora--to be with him on a field trip is a great privilege. I have walked through Rancho Santa Ana with Bart on many occasions over the decades--his institutional memory of every plant, its distribution in nature and gardens and its foibles is humbling...thank Heavens he's been distilling that knowledge in a several wonderful books co-authored with David Fross and Carol Bornstein

Eriostemon sp.
Bart may eventually read this, and no doubt the ignominious "sp." on this will be transformed: an absolutely wonderful little phlox cousin that I would love to grow. It looked annual here, but in other spots I saw some dense tufts that were obviously perennial.

A glowing shelf mushroom...
Where is Gary Lincoff when you need him? Or Vera Evenson? or my other Mycological friends?

Silene parishii
I was rather charmed by this modest endemic of the local ranges--largely confined to crevices and rock slopes, this made dense tufts and had obviously been blooming for a long time. It would be fun to try and grow this in the garden. Some forms were much more yellow than this (and of course I forgot to take pictures of them)...

Eriogonum wrightii v. subscaposum
I have seen acres of this across much of the state--it is practically a solid groundcover over much of the eastern Sierra--and have grown this subspecies in the past. I can make quite a lovely groundcover in some sites for a while. But this boinsaied specimen in a crevice gave me another idea of how to grow it!

Silene parishii and Ericamerica cuneata
What a cute pairing! A very recondite rock gardener might want to reassemble this in a garden...

Ericamerica cuneata
Here's a solo shot of the composite: I Google-imaged it and the flowers are quite fetching. But I love the lustrous, mounding tight habit. I must obtain seed of this one and test it in my rock garden!

Guttierezia sarothroides
"Oides": indeed! Looks like our common snakeweed ("sarothrae")--although I'm sure the botanists have done their work and they are distinguishable...I have a real fondness for this plant that can make a monoculture on abused land (suggesting potential weediness) but it has proved restrained and elegant in the landscape for me--go figure!

Pinus jeffreyi
On the top half of the mountain, the Jeffrey pines grew more and more common, and taller and taller. I love these massive trees with their colorful bark!

stretch of road
Although  gravel, I was impressed with the smoothness of the road, and the fact that we saw virtually no one on a vast stretch of it on Labor Day weekend! Within a few hours drive of 10% of the US population!

Oak chaparral
I love the gnarly oaks--of which there were many species (I forgot to ask Bart which one this one was)...With the chaparral covered hills behind....California is glorious!

Salvia pachyphylla (Methusalah)
As I suggested in the first paragraph, visiting this site for this sage was a high point for me: it is astonishing that before Plant Select promoted this plant, it was essentially non-existent in the trade. I think it has rapidly become an essential plant for xeriscapes--and it is teaching gardeners to water less since the one thing this plant DISlikes is too much water. It is one of America's great ornamentals. There will be lots more pictures of it in habitat--I would love to have a gnarly old specimen like this!

Salvia pachyphylla and botanists...
A good view of how it looks on its native heath, among manzanitas and the other chaparral rabble (chaparrable?)...

Salvia pachyphylla close-up
The electric color is amazing!

Salvia pachyphylla in context
A bit of bare gravel, some mounding manzanitas in bright army green, silvery mounds of sage and a few pines beyond--this is divine landscape design! Why don't we see this in gardens?
Bart O'Brien in Salvia pachyphylla bliss

Another gnarly Salvia pachyphylla

A closer shot of Salvia pachyphylla
Is this not the bee's knees?

Lotus sp.
Apparently, this Fabaceous genus has had a name change--if Bart corrects me I shall change it...

Salvia pachyphylla
I know I'm posting WAY too many pictures of this Salvia--but if I were photographing Marilyn Monroe would you settle for just a couple shots?

Heuchera hirsutissima
The green tuft between the rock and tree roots in the center is the local, endemic Heuchera. California has no end to diminutive Heuchera--all of them adorable.

Eriogonum wrightii ssp. subscaposum
This is a great image of a single plant on a road cut...

Lupinus excubitus var.
Worth growing for its foliage alone, although this enormously variable plant has gorgeous blue flowers that smell like grape soda (according to Bart)...

Phlox austromontana on the roadcut
We saw many prickly mats of this widespread southwestern phlox, but only one roadcut had some with fresh pink blossoms--and lovely they were!

Phlox austromontana on the roadcut
Closer up a bit...
Phlox austromontana on the roadcut
And the closest ones.

Eriogonum wrightii v. suscaposum on the crest of a roadcut
The top of the same roadcut was crested with a froth of buckwheat...

Abies concolor filled with mistletoe
The higher we went, the thicker the woods--quite a few species of conifers were growing here--douglas fir, fir, pines and lots of oaks still...

I love incense cedars!
I don't know why I was surprised to see enormous incense cedars--one of my favorites. Such a hardy plant and so little grown outside California...

Eriogonum wrightii v. suscaposum looking down
More of the carpeting buckwheat from a different angle.

Solidago sp.
Of course it's the time of year for goldenrod everywhere in North America...

Lichens on pine
I love these shaggy lichens...on such a small tree. It must be a dwarf!

Aquilegia formosa
We only found columbines in this one spot--they seem more tangerine colored than most.

Chrysothamnus cf. albicaulis
A very dwarf one.

Chrysothamnus cf. albicaulis

Salvia pachyphylla AGAIN
Did you think I couldn't share THIS one?

Salvia pachyphylla

Salvia pachyphylla with a single Penstemon rostriflorus flower...

More Salvia pachyphylla

The last Salvia pachyphylla ...honest!
I can't resist revisiting these...a different colony is my excuse.

One last Salvia pachyphylla

Quercus chrysolepis
The gnarly canyone live oak with huge acorns

Quercus chrysolepis Acorns

Zauschneria californica
On the way up we thought this one vale filled with red might be Penstemon rostriflorus--there was some there, but most of the red comprised vast clumps of Zauschneria!

Zauschneria californica

Zauschneria californica
Each clump seemed a little different..

Sweeps of Zauschneria

Zauschneria californica close up
I find this plant as alluring up close as making masses of color further away!

Evan collecting Yucca whipplei seeds
On the way up we decided to leave collecting seed on the big yuccas and nolinas for the return down--and fortunately it was still dry!
Nolina parryi v. parryi in the distance

Nolina parryi female closer up
Yucca whipplei rosette

Nolina parryi and Evan (I suspect you can tell which is which)

Evan collecting seed of Nolina parryi

Eriogonum fasciculatum
Glad to see growing high up--and some in seed!

Mirabilis multiflora
Alas, no seeed on this glaucous, more compact and prostrate race that is so different from what we have under the same name. You really have to follow our native plants around the West--they vary so muich from state to state. And each has its special charm...

Thanks, Evan, for driving and your derring-do collecting seed! And thanks, Bart, for so many years of friendship and helping find so many treasures to grow in Denver!


  1. Although the Salvias and other perennials were glorious, I can not forgive you for not taking more pictures of oaks. You were there at the very best time for pictures! Oj! Allan

  2. Oakie doakie, Дорогой зяте! Θα με συγχωρέσεις αν φέρω μερικά βελανίδια;

  3. Hi Panayoti,

    Do you think us Midwesterners have any chance of growing Salvia pachyphylla?

    I think the reason we do not see such landscape designs is because of the amount of time it takes for such elements to grow.

    Finally, when taking close-up photos I suggest you take multiple photos about a centimeter apart a couple shots in front of where you think the plane of focus resides and a couple shots behind it. When you get home you can discard the slightly out of focus shots. It takes slightly more time but you are almost guaranteed to get one good shot. It is much easier to take a few extra photos than to repeat a rare once in a life time trip.


  4. Hey Panayoti - One hell of an outing you had there! Glad to see that glorious pachyphylla in the wild. I've been growing it for a few years in Vancouver, always looking forward to its flowers and fragrance.. happy also to witness others I cultivate.. as well as can be expected up here (Mirabilis,Y. whippleifor two). Anyway, a real treat!

  5. I think I need to e-mail you my 3 pages of comments on this! Only when I saw the conifers with the Salvia pachyphylla, do I understand why none of the plant gatekeepers in Abq denied it's right to grow there. Diverse plant communities there. Quercus chrysiolepis - a great one, with a leaf kind of like Q. suber, but unlike the latter, the former didn't seem to even flinch at the 2/2011 uber freeze in Abq and Las Cruces...though I heard many froze under drought stress in far SW NM and SE AZ, where that huge fire was that same summer.

    I only hope you don't do somewhere more interesting and diverse for interesting flora w/ landscape potential (to-me) - so I don't get jealous, how about Elko or Cheyenne next trip?

  6. Cliff Booker - Lancashire - UKSeptember 2, 2013 at 12:28 AM

    Your obsession with this magnificent species is understandable PK ... another 'adorable' post. Many thanks.

  7. Thanks, Cliff, for your always heartening notes. And as for YOU, Jim, you have embarrassed me: my miserable little point and shoot doesn't do closeups worth a dang--I do need to upgrade. I do think Salvia pachyphylla could be tamed in the Midwest: I'd give it a crevice garden treatment (steep, south facing slope), and gravelly soil for the top five inches, although I think it needs nutrients, so richer soil for the roots to reach into. Il don't think it's too much fussier than lavender, which I know you can grow. They are quite similar in many ways, although the Salvia is more truly a shrub. It has great cold tolerance I can assure you! I'd try it.

  8. Hi Panayoti, My comments were in no way meant to embarrass you. You have no idea how many once in a lifetime shots I have that I discovered were a centimeter or two out of focus when I viewed them on my home computer. I use the zoom on my digital camera to get the focus in just the right spot. The problem is I only realize I was a centimeter or two off after I get home and view the image. Often by the time this has occurred the flower is no longer blooming and I have to wait an entire year for another chance.


  9. I don't mind being embarrassed in the name of the truth, James! I will do something about me dang camera...Christmas isn't too far away is it?

  10. Hi Panayoti, Does your camera have a manual focus mode? If so, you might not need a new camera. If you can zoom in with manual focus mode then you can get rather close to the desired focal distance. Otherwise, you could just go old school and use a measuring tape. Most cameras will tell you the focal length. An assistant could hold the measuring tape out so you could get the focal plane at just the right distance. I would still suggest taking a number of shots a few centimeters forward and behind the focal plane just in case you were off a tiny bit.



  11. Glorious! An amazingly beautiful group of plants. I'm jealous.

  12. Inspiring post PK, love the focus on the Santa Rosa Mountains flora, so many wonderful plants and native plant scenes. Of course, Salvia pachyphylla taking center stage, gnarly bliss indeed.

    Penstemon rostriflorus, Lotus species (Holy crap Batman, why isn't this in cultivation?), both Eriogonum, Lupinus escubitus, all are wonderful, but Eriostemon, what an eye-opener!

    Silene parishii is such a comical urchin, one that I tried unsuccessfully to grow from seed once before, and will try again should the opportunity arise.

    Last, I must comment on "Ericamerica"; at first I thought this must be a clever taxonomist's concoction, taxonomist's are not without humor and cleverness coming up with plant names, surely named for an Ericaceous plant from N. America (get it?), but googling the name found it is actually Ericameria, and as you say, a most interesting shrubby plant with attractive flowers. However I recommend buying the internet domain name "Ericamerica", because bets are on that a Heath and Heather nursery in North America will want to buy it from you, at a good profit. ;-)

    Stay focused my friend, as always your blogs are provocatively educational.


  13. OMGawd, Now YOU want me to Focus...I'm going to have to move to the Springs and join Focus on the Family (or as they say in Boulder: Focus on your own danged Family)...

    I am checking up on the domain name as I type! Thanks as always for your kind and witty notes. Some day we must go exploring together (Epimediums in Yunnan, or shall it be Penstemons in Pioneer Mts, or perhaps Alliums in Ali Botush?)

  14. When this salvia hit the front cover of High Country Gardens' catalogue I immediately fired off an order and killed it almost as quickly. I've been loath to repeat the heartbreak, but if you say its culture is similar to lavender...and now I'm wondering if it's too late in the season for a road trip to the Santa Rosa mountains. Thanks for all the inspiration.


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