Monday, October 12, 2015

An Alphabetarium of Sky island gems: A celebration of lesser known Madrean flora.

Agave havardiana
Donald Trump may be trying to deport 11 million undocumented aliens, but much of America has been historically, culturally and facultatively Mexican (or Hispanic--or whatever is current political correctness for "South of the Border") forever. The first city formally established in what is now Colorado (if we conveniently ignore Mesa Verde that is) was San Luis--before there was a Mexico. There are more Mexican restaurants in Denver than "Anglo" restaurants by far (we're not factoring Pizza joints or East Asian (oops, almost said Oriental) restaurants into the equation.)...but floristically--our most glorious and conspicuous groups of native plants: Penstemon, Eriogonum, Phlox, Cacti, Yucca--are largely Madrean in origin. Another way of saying Mexican.

"Madrean" refers to the Sierra Madre--two mountain ranges (east and west) that parenthesize the Mexican altiplano: they funnel upward phytogeographically so to speak, and a large portion of the flora of the Western USA (primarily) represents outliers, as it were, of this southerly flora. In fact, one could say that the flora of Colorado (for instance) represents an amalgam of Madrean and Holarctic flora--the Madrean prevailing in the south and west, spreading inexorably in hotter and drier years. Because so many

Let's hope that while Trump and the other jingoistic demagogues decry the people of Southerly origins who do our dirty work at bargain rates, that Mexico does not recall its floristic bounty out of spite.

Agave neomexicana
Of course, Mexico is the epicenter of Agave speciation: just a few outliers filter northward, and these are the pride of many local gardeners. Over a dozen taxa have proved hardy for us! A. neomexicana is the toughest (especially the forms from Cooke peak)

Agave neomexicana
This wonderful specimen, adorned with little death heads to protect the passersby from the spines, bloomed this year in Dan Johnson's incomparable garden.

Aquilegia scopulorum
I suppose columbines are technically Holarctic, but there are a cluster of Southwestern ones that we can sneak in--none lovelier than this Utah/Nevada endemic growing superbly at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens a few years ago.

Aquilegia scopulorum

Aralia racemosa
The seed of this wonderful Ginseng relative came from Southwestern Colorado, although the species is mostly distributed in the East. It has close cousins in East Asia--but this is our Colorado gem (thanks to Jeff Wagner of Durango)
Aralia racemosa
Closeup of the lustrous fruits!

Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis
The center of distribution of most manzanitas is California--although there is great diversity in the genus in Mexico as well. This is our Western slope hybrid that has provided Plant Select so many cultivars--one of the toughest and most beautiful groundcovers that are still much too rarely seen in local gardens.

Bessera elegans
A tender bulb, but a beauty from Mexico that's cheaply sold by Brent and Becky's bulbs. One of the gems of midsummer bloom in containers.

Callirhoe involucrata
Winecups is one of the most drought tolerant perennials--still too rare in cultivation although heavily promoted by Plant Select.

Cylindropuntia viridiflora
Mexico and perhaps northern Argentina could be considered the epicenters of Cactus biodiversity. This Cholla is known only from the City Limits of Santa Fe--where it is vulnerable to development still. One of my all time favorite plants and colors...

Draba asprella
Drabas are undeniably Holarctic, but the Southwest has several endemic taxa of our own...

Echinocereus coccineus and John Baumfalk
Not many plants eclipse a claret cup in full bloom--a spectacle that occurs throughout the Southwest in April and May. Here it is in a private home in Littleton..

Echinocereus coccineus

Eriogonum annuum
Photographed in the vacant lot next to me last year: this year the bozos mowed it before it could bloom: I hope some seed comes back and that their mower dies this winter. Meanwhile, Mike Kintgen re-created this spectacle in his exquisite xeric border with seed he collected in Oklahoma.

Eriogonum caespitosum (or possibly ovalifolium)
A champion clump of one of the finest buckwheats: I have repressed the name of the garden where I photographed it in the last year or so: probably out of chagrin.

Escobaria sneedii v. leei seedlings
Kelly Grummons grew a batch of this very rare native cactus (that grows only around Carlsbad Caverns in Southern New Mexico) and look at the variation in flower bloom! I wish I'd saved one of each.

Escobaria sneedii v. leei
Here is a fantastic specimen in a trough by Gwen Moore, who never liked cacti that much until she wrote Hardy Succulents (so she did get something out of our marriage after all!)  The lizard is clay. The label is distracting (I should have removed it).

Escobaria vivipara in seed
I must grow a dozen forms of this cactus--and it's not enough!

Escobaria sneedii v.bisbeeana
A particularly nice form of this species for bloom and white spination.

Eustoma grandiflorum
I took this picture just off Kipling a block north of I-70 where a shopping lot now stands. I would have preferred the tulip gentian had stayed: we are destroying everything lovely in our domination of the natural world. Just blame Trump

Hedeoma hyssopifolium
A delightful miniature mint I got from David Salman. Alas...I lost it in our wet spring this year...but I did collect a pinch of seed...

Hedeoma todseni
The ultimate Hedeoma.

Hedeoma todseni

Heuchera hallii
An endemic coral bells from the Pikes Peak region.

Hymenoxys torreyi
These have been lumped into "Tetraneuris" but I'm feeling crochety.

Ipomoea leptophylla
I have seen similarly glorious Ipomoea in South Africa. None better than our "man root"...

Ipomoea leptophylla
Here it is in context...

Lewisia 'Little Peach'
One of the loveliest new hybrids with wide currency in nurseries in recent years.

Liatris punctata
I took this picture a few years ago on Flagstaff mountain: the only truly xeric Liatris.

Mahonia fremontii
The magnificent specimen of this shrub on Dryland Mesa at Denver Botanic Gardens--just as showy as the next in bloom in late April and May.

Mahonia haematocarpa
You'd mistake this for fremontii at first, except it blooms a month later, and the foliage is far more deeply lobed. Both are fabulous xeric shrubs.

Melampodium leucanthum
One of the most underrated native perennials. At Chelsea Gardens in Grand Junction.

Mentzelia nuda
Growing in the vacant lot next to my house--a heavenly evening bloomer with enormous flowers for weeks and months on end.

Monardella macrantha 'Marion Sampson'
Growing in full sun in a Lakewood park. One of the finest American mints.

Muhlenbergia reverchonii
This amazing grass in midwinter is nearly as stunning as it is in late summer bloom. That's Echinacea tenneseensis tangled in it.

Oenothera coronopifolia
A spreading evening primrose in a neighbor's garden (perennial, by the way)

Oenothera coronopifolia

Opuntia debreczyi 'Potato'
One of the cutest of little prickly pears. 

Penstemon angustifolius
Growing in the neighbor's garden among the Oenothera above...Does this need comment?
Penstemon angustifolius
Overview of the native "lawn" weed.

Penstemon cleburnei
Sometimes considered a variety of P. eriantherus, one of the innumerable variations on a theme of Penstemon in the Madrean West...

Penstemon crandallii (was teucrioides)
Onhe of many masses of this in the Childrens Garden at DBG.

Penstemon pseudospectabilis
A fabulous penstemon for the Xeriscape--blooms forever and lives for many years.

Penstemon mensarum
What more need one say? Gem of penstemons: endemic to Grand Mesa, Western Colorado.

Penstemon mensarum

Penstemon mensarum and Clematis integrifolia 'Mongolian Bells' in white
Wonderful in combinations.

Phlos stansburyi
One of the innumerable Southwestern phlox, photographed in Sparks Nevada in the garden of John Weiler.

Primula specuicola
Very similar to the farinose Birdseye primrose of Europe, this grows on shady walls in Canyonland.

Salvia x 'Raspberry Delight'
Hardiest of the Greggii type Salvias--should be in every garden!

Salvia x 'Raspberry Delight'

Scutellaria suffrutescens
Absutdly called Texas skullcap, this comes from northern Mexico.

Sedum stelliforme
One of the many unusual Western sedums, this one from New Mexico.

Sedum booleanum
This grows near the skullcap above in nature, but has not proved as tough.

Senecio soldanella
One of the choicest alpine ragworts of Colorado. Impossible to grow.

Senecio werneriifolia
This one can be grown.

Shrankiia nuttallii
Bluebird has sold this for years, but I have only seen it in cultivation at Denver Botanic Gardens. It's a sensitive plant--touch and it winces!

Silene plankii
One of the cutest and rarest catchflies--from New Mexico.
Silene plankii

Sphaeromeria capitata
Abundant everywhere in Wyoming, and barely spilling into neighboring states. A terrific garden plant for the Xeriscape.

Stanleya pinnata
The only time we grew this well, in a garden that no longer exists in this form...

Talinum rugospermum
A rare Midwestern succulent with Southerly affinities...

Talinum rugospermum

Tonestus lyallii
A very local high alpine.

Tradescantia longipes
Dwarfest of Tradescantias--this Ozark endemic has been growing in my various gardens for fifty years. One of Boyd Kline's faves.

Vernonia larsenii
The queen of Vernonias--mistakenly distributed as V. lindheimeri
Vernonia larsenii and Bill Adams for scale

Yucca elata
State flower of New Mexico, this is perhaps the hardiest of tree-form Yuccas. Must be startred as a seedling and never moved, however.

Yucca harrimaniae
A miniature yucca forming a stem! Collected near Flaming Gorge dam by Louis Budd Myers over 30 years ago--he shared a piece with us back then. Everyone wants this!

Yucca sterilis
My niminatino for the cutest yucca, photographed near Roosvelt, Utah in early June one year.

Yucca sterilis
It grew along a highway for miles. Hope it's still there! Didn't see it many other places. A highly distinct taxon which adapts well to gardens.

Yucca faxoniana (left) and Y. tompsoniana (middle and right
The famous clatch of yuccas at the Education Building entrance at DBG. Might as well BE in Mexico!

Zauschneria garretti
A vast spread of Zauschneria (yes, I know it's an Epilobium in most books nowadays) at Yampa River Botanic Park--a SKI town!

Zauschneria garrettii

Zygadenus venenosus

Growing in my home prairie: a gift of Mike Bone.

I know it's a tad self serving to promote a book you've helped write on one's blog--but what the hey! If you're at all intrigued by the Madrean flora concept, you will find many plants from thence in the North American chapters of this book written by Dan Johnson (Intermountain steppe) and Larry Vickerman (Great Plains steppe). Many other valuable concepts are limned in their extremely beautifully written sections, and the pictures are pretty cool too! Just buy the book--and please give it another five star review on Amazon (we only have four so far)...


  1. It's not Trump's fault he is that way. He is a product of his environment. His father ruined him and his grandfather probably ruined his father etc. etc.

    “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different. ”

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

  2. Trump is twisting in the wind: some day he'll be a "huh?" in Trivial Pursuit. I just used him as an excuse to praise things Mexican that filter north!

    Everyone is born rich--we can spend our lives getting richer in money, experience, wisdom or generosity. Usually, alas, not all four simultaneously!

  3. I could benefit from having more of all the traits you mentioned. The last one being the most important. However, at the moment I will have to get my hands on that interesting book.

  4. Great post. Although it does make me realize I have precious little space for plants in my garden. I'm now thinking that I need to figure out how to cram a few dozen more in.


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