Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mullein over the Smoke

Up until yesterday, we have been living in this. This is smoke which originated in several fires in our region of Oregon, along with the other fires in the states that make up the Pacific Northwest. Considering decades of fire suppression, record drought, record heat, and an increasing occurrences of thunderstorms, the perfect conditions for large intense fires is created. This is the third year in a row that we have lived in smoke, which for the past two years persisted until the Autumn rains settled it down. Thankfully, we have just had a large rainstorm which helped curb the smoke and reportedly tamed some of the fires, giving the firefighters the upper hand.

Mountains, mere miles from where I was standing
The smoke, added to the heat of Summer (it had been hovering in the mid 80's to 90's F) has made life difficult for many of the plants in my garden. Smoke and ash, it seems, has a stronger drying affect than heat alone. Many of the plants in my garden, particularly those not from hot and dry environments, were showing more stress in the smoke than they were when there was no smoke but temps were ten degrees hotter. Could aerosol ash be wicking away moisture more efficiently than evaporation could accomplish alone? (See this article: Aerosols: Tiny Particles, Big Impact)

The smoke has largely kept me inside, not taking photos, and not observing pollinators. I have noticed bees working on Agastache foeniculum and a few others. This is a bit surprising initially, but they are like us and need to eat and feed their children at all costs. I do the same!

Staying inside has given me a chance to redesign this site! I felt the previous design became a bit bland, and navigation was poor. I have added some interesting pages for you to explore should you choose to do so:
Please have a look around, and do feel free to share your thoughts or ideas about how the site could be better by using the contact form, or leave a Comment below.

Croton setigerus
So no, I am not going to leave a post without plants. I just can't do that. So here is a plant that I've always found interesting: Croton setigerus. Known alternatively as Eremocarpus setigerus (a synonym), turkey mullein, doveweed. yerba del pescado, fishweed, and drouthweed. It is an annual species native to Western North America. Wild turkeys and Mourning doves eat and potentially distribute the seeds, thus the common names. However, plants have been known to present seed di- or trimorphism, with two or three different seed colors on a single plant (grey, brownish, and speckled) leading some to determine that doves or other birds favor one color and leave the other (the grey, produced on dying plants) to remain uneaten, i, and germinate in Spring.

The plants are in the Euphorbiaceae (spurge family), and like the spurges have toxins in all tissues, except the seeds. Foliage of the plants, along with the nuts of California buckeye (Aesculus californica), were pulverized by many Native American tribes and spread on the surface of pools to stupefy fish and cause them to float to the surface where they could easily be collected. The effect would eventually wear off and caused no harm to the people when they were eaten.

Croton setigerus
The plants form neat little cushions on practically all roadsides for miles around my house, larger cushions where resources are more plentiful. I admire plants like this; I would nearly consider them to be "extremophiles" (not quite, but nearly so) because of the harshness of their chosen habitat. Roadsides bake from radiant heat, and are probably deficient in nutrients after runoff from the road washes them away (I speculate). A small but surely impactful added problem is the wind caused from cars. I speculate that the strong brief burst of air (hot air in Summer) also has a drying affect on plants on the side of the road.

Plants like this out of necessity MUST be resilient against such difficulties as a multi-faceted drying affect and other challenges. The dense hairs are the most obvious adaptation against desiccation. An advantage of growing in such a harsh habitat as a roadside is there is little competition from other plants, except themselves, which they cope with by growing at distance relative to each other (like in the photo). The "cushion" plant form serves two purposes: to reduce the affect of wind by being more or less aerodynamic, and to reduce evaporation by having vegetative parts closely grouped (less exposed surface area). Some of the plants, possibly depending on the availability of resources, do not form cushions but rather sprawling mats.

Croton setigerus
The plants are monecious, having separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers are at the top/center of the inflorescences, while the females, consisting of only an ovary and an exerted style, ring the base. They are most likely wind pollinated, but this doesn't mean insects don't visit the flowers (honeybees were speculated to work the flowers in this old publication, though doubtful I am).

So, we will all be resilient against the forces that work against our well being. Croton setigerus can survive harsh conditions; we (including you) can withstand the smoke and other adverse life conditions. Rains bring hope; the approaching Autumn brings relief and great happiness. It is at the cusp of bulb-planting season, we have another daughter on the way (yes, you read that right, yay!), and life is good. More flowers next time, I promise!

1 comment:

  1. Does smoke promote the germination of Croton setigerus seeds?


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