Friday, November 14, 2014

Foray on the San Luis hills, June 12, 2014

Claret cup on the San Luis Hills
In mid June, Dr. Melissa Islam, Mike Bone and I took a quick two day foray to the San Luis valley to revisit a ranch near Jaroso with some unusual and possibly unique plants I'd last visited twenty years earlier. While we were there, Dr. Islam noted that the San Luis Hills just a dozen or so miles to the West, were little known botanically. We had some time to spare before heading home, so off we went to see what might be there. We happened to hit the Hills when the Claret Cup was in peak bloom--this being a classic form of Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. gonacanthus which has fewer, larger stems and redder flowers than the earlier blooming Echinocereus coccineus which is more common to the east and west of here. I have to share a number of images: like those potato chips, you can't have just one!

Another claret cup

And yet another

And another!
Fallugia paradoxa
I have another dozen or so shots of claret cups, but these should suffice! For a change of pace, how about this tiny Apache plume? The conditions on the ridge were so windy and harsh, the apache plumes were all dwarfed--and I fantasized that it might be a dwarf strain. I've had enough experience with these things that I was confident these would turn full, monster size in cultivation, and we did not bring back seed or cuttings....yet I wonder....

Tetraneuris (Hymenoxys) acaulis
I have finally caved in and use the more recent generic on this wonderful tuffeted composite that was everywhere on the lichen encrusted cliffs.

Just a few days past peak, the clumps were still enchanting. This form seems to be grading into what has been called var. caespitosa--the nearly stemless alpine form common above treeline. But you find something comparable all over the Wyoming Red Desert and steppe, and here and there around Colorado as well. The common lowland form can have stems six or even ten inches tall.

Isn't this a handsome clump? This has always been one of my favorite native daisies (and we have more than our share)--I have some clumps that have persisted in my home rock garden for at least a decade--nearly two.
Monarda pectinata
This wonderfully fragrant mint was just coming into bloom--near the northern end of its distribution.When in full bloom--spurred on by the monsoon later in the summer--it can be quite attractive and looks great in cultivation as well.

Back to a few more shots of cacti--here some very spiny Opuntia in with the claret cups.

Opuntia polyacantha

We were a few days away from bloom time on the prickly pears--it looked as though they were all yellow flowered. As I look at these stems, I realize they approach hystricina in spiny-ness. I wish now I'd brought back a cutting to compare with one of the many dozens of polyacantha I already grow: So little time, so many cactus pads!

Many of the hills here were russet with cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) my least favorte must have a devastating impact on what originally grew here. It looks so "pretty" until you realize it's Eurasian, and excludes other plants.

Here's Mike Bone, a wonderful field worker (and good friend)--who always seems to make it to some picturesque spot--there were some cool plants there!

As we departed the hills we noticed some enormous stands of yucca in the distance. Of course, we had to check them out: this seems to just be a rather dwarf form of Yucca glauca--with lovely short racemes of flowers: it would be fun to grow this alongside our local form to compare. Alas, no seed in sight.

A typical and charming colony--very uniform. I suspect they're all one clone that's spread rhizomatously over decades (or longer) blooming in mid June--at over 8000'--long after ours were done in the Gardens.

Mike posing near an especially short flowered colony: perhaps one day we'll venture back near here when the seed is ripe (and we have our permits to collect of course!): although I don't believe there's a rancher in the state who wouldn't welcome us taking the whole lot.


  1. Excellent. I collected O. polyacantha seed just NW of there near Mt. Blanca and the youngsters are coming up. The plants look similar - with the yellow flowers as you mentioned. I could have sworn we saw very low growing E. viridiflorus there near Mt. Blanca - which would be ideal for me to try. When we returned the second time, couldn't find 'em. So no seed.

    I did find tiny Yucca glauca like that, both in that Mt. Blanca area and in Park County west of Spinney Mountain Reservoir. I got seed and some have even been sent to Europe - I still haven't sown them. What have I been waiting for??

    I have unfortunately never been to Colorado in midsummer, to collect seed from perennials like the Hymenoxis ;) and the countless other fantastic plants. Every seed I have collected has been a throwback to last year!

    Great shots - I live for those days too.

  2. EAST of Spinney. And Hymenoxys... ;)


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