Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Requiem for a native

Mentzelia nuda
For years I've taken them for granted: mounds of glistening white lasting for months at a time. They dotted the meadow to the west of my house--and I had a number in my meadow garden as well--growing more floppily there where they got an occasional drink too many and a bit of shade. But out in the dry pasture they made these wonderful domes, year after year....

During they day they weren't too impressive, but at dusk, when the flowers opened they had the magic of Cereus, Queens of tne night. And I would stroll out onto the meadow with gratitude and a sense of ownership. Wrong. The meadow wasn't mine, although it wasn't fenced and next door.

For the heck of it, I blew up a small portion of the second image in this blog--the little things one might miss: that's a small glimpse of a few skyscrapers 8 miles away in downtown Denver on the right, and in the background center a few of the Indian Peaks wilderness area--the Continental Divide averaging about 13,000' thereabouts fifty or sixty miles away. I'm a happy guy because of all these things...most of the time anyway!
Mentzelia nuda behind, Eriogonum annuum foreground.

I'd lived there almost twenty years before I noticed the Buckwheats one summer a few years ago--glorious towers of complementary white. Or echoing white (better said)...they were annuals: where had they been all those other years?

Eriogonum annuum

Tall, gawky and annual. The opposite of what we alpine gardeners are supposed to love (and white to boot). And I've yearned to grow it. Why bother? It's wild next door...

Mentzelia nuda with Heterotheca villosa behind.

A closeup of the truly miraculous blossoms, easily four inches across on some. Not as gigantic as M. decapetala--which likes alkaline clay better than our sand. But this one is perennial! A totally drought tolerant perennial with compact habit, huge flowers that last for months: is that cool or what?

This picture shows the fat seedpods that are so sticky (these are the plants that supposedly inspired Velcro). I have poured out cupfuls of seed to scatter when they're ripe.

Here in the opposite direction you can see my house--and why I treasured these so much. You're noticing the past tense by now, I suppose?

I think the honeybees like the plants even more than I do...

They haven't reappeared this year: perhaps the long drought after June or too much rain in the spring? There were dozens in the meadow--how could they all have disappeared. And no Buckwheat either this year. Of course, I hadn't seen that in 20 years. Perhaps they took a year off? Perennials aren't supposed to do that. My meadow, filled with gawky ones was never mowed, and they are down to one miserable specimen there too: I can't blame the Church's mowing regime on those...

Nature can do this to you: a fantastic display and then it's gone. Here the meadow is surrounded by Colorado's two biggest cities: Denver to the west and Aurora to the east--there's no where for them to migrate back if they truly are gone.

I have seen so many wonderful wildflower displays disappear like this. On wide expanses in the foothills or on the untrammeled Plains they will likely come back. But will they in my neighboring meadow? We shall see...


  1. Now that I've read about M. nuda not coming back I'm reminded that I didn't see any M. laevicaulis in the Wasatch foothills on my drive to work this year...Hmmm...sad.

  2. I think they come and go: and they didn't like our wet spring this year...xeric plants do need some dryness!


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