Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow in the summer, memory in winter...

Euphorbia marginata
 We've been looking at snow for months this winter: ironic that I'm waxing nostalgic for a plant that goes by the common name of "snow in the summer"--but nostalgic I am. And with good you will see anon. As snooty plantsmen, we're supposed too look down our noses as annuals (particularly COMMON annuals), and not many plants are commoner than this. Common in the sense that it is widely sold by seed catalogs. I have seen it in cottage gardens in Kazakhstan, in Europe and even in South Africa. And there was a time it was common in nature...

For years I would drive on the "Boulder Denver Turnpike" (as we called it back then--and old timers still do: it's Highway 36 to most folk now).  Come to think of it, really old timers called it the Denver Boulder Toll Road (prophetic words those). Anyway, I commuted weekly on this for decades, and year in year out there would be these extraordinary billow mounds on one side of the road. I'd crane my neck as I whisked by at 65 m.p.h., and wonder...

One year I couldn't stand it any more and had to pull off to the side of the road (illegal and just a tad dangerous): when I got closer I was even more amazed with the brilliance of the form and color of this crazy annual weed. Once common on buffalo wallows here and there across the Great Plains, most of its habitat is now wheat field or burgeoning suburb. You still see them here and there--usually just a few stems in the shortgrass. But these were amazing!

You'd have to be a card-carrying member of the church of Tony Avent ("Friends don't let friends plant annuals") to not want this monstrous mound of delicious white and green striped wonderfulness in your garden!  Notice that it's growing on the side of a freeway, on hard packed clay. Don't try this at home! Year after year I've sowed seed of these in my xeriscapes, and miserable plants result that never look like this. Put this in rich soil, water it and you can get plants like the first image, taken at Denver Botanic Gardens years ago...

 I feel somehow guilty that I've not yet managed to produce one of these lolapaloozas in my home garden. I must remember to look in my files for old seed--or break down and order some this spring!

I wonder how many Coloradoans even know that this--one of the hoariest of cottage garden annuals, cherished in gardens around the world is our very own native weed?

 In a few weeks I will be staying at the home of the ultimate Euphorbia grower near San Diego, so I shall have a chance to admire quite a few of its congeners: Euphorbia is an acquired taste--but once you have it, you come to love even the weedy ones with the emphatic exception of our other native Euphorbia maculata--one of the worlds most pestiferous weeds (albeit native to the same range as snow in summer!)  Let's skip back to the cyathia above--are those not lovely?

I end with a picture of how this usually looks in nature--not nearly as compact as the big beach ball shown up above...

By the way, that stretch of highway I enjoyed these along for so many years was bulldozed, expanded and I haven't seen one of these anywhere nearby any longer. I have watched wildflower fields disappear like that year after year: really, folks. It's time we made preserving natural areas a bigger priority all around--although I don't think it's shown up on the planks of either party's platforms in the upcoming elections! But, this election cycle is so wacky and out of control, anything is possible, right? Here's for the Euphorbia party! Long may it rule!


  1. A real beauty, I need to try it here sometime! I think there is a big difference between growing native/wildflower annuals (esp if they will naturalise) vs growing overbred commercial balls of flowers..

  2. I am an annual snob for sure. Do love portulaca though.

  3. Hi, do you sell Persea yunnanensis?



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