This week’s flower is fetid goosefoot, and it does give off a fetid odor. However, all odorous faults are forgiven by its stunning fall visual display. Even though it looks like fetid goosefoot is blooming now, this annual plant turns a beautiful magenta when it dies. Often, you can find a stand of 50 to 100 plants under a ponderosa, which light up the area as though a magenta colored mist encircled the tree.
This week we highlight a flower many of you may know and nearly all New Mexican residents have seen, matchbrush (Gutierrezia sarothrae), also commonly known as snakeweed. It can cover entire fields, a sign of overgrazing. Since matchbrush is not eaten by cattle, it takes advantage of the lack of competing plants in overgrazed areas. You will often find matchbrush growing in lower elevations: toward the end of the mesa tops, in the canyon bottoms, and across grasslands. It does well in full sun and the hotter temperatures found in these areas.
This week’s flower, Heliomeris multiflora, is one of the many yellow composite flowers we see during our glorious fall season. You may know this flower by the common name, Pieces of sun, a poetic translation of its botanical name. It is also commonly known as Goldeneye, derived from flower’s color and shape. In addition to Heliomeris multiflora’s bright yellow, round composite flowers, the plant has pointed, narrow leaves, which often appear in pairs.
A few weeks ago, Debby Hyman, Christine Cloyd, and Rozelle Wright took a Gentle Walk in Bayo Canyon. Rozelle found a plant she didn’t recognize, took pictures, and, after some research, ran it by Chick Keller. He gave the stock answer based on his knowledge of the plants found in our area. Rozelle compared her find with his suggestion, but it did not seem to match the plant he named. Determined to identify the unusual plant, she asked Chick to take another look at her photos. When he did, he realized it was something new and ran it past a colleague. Rozelle’s photos revealed a plant previously unknown in Los Alamos county. Her finding marks the first record of the Orobanche corymbosum or flat top broomrape in Los Alamos county. In addition, it is only the third sighting of one in New Mexico, and the expert thinks it may hold the honor of being the farthest east record.
The Gentle Walks philosophy of meandering and wondering is helping to increase our understanding of our natural history. Chick is particularly happy, since it contributes to his goal of finding 1000 different species of plants in Los Alamos county.
This week’s flower – Showy Daisy Fleabane, or Erigeron speciosus – is one now blooming nearly everywhere, from the town up to the ski hill. Summer rains have made it even more beautiful and profuse than usual.
Many people confuse this flower and its cousins (we saw six different species on our walk yesterday) for asters. The difference is pretty easy—the fleabanes have many, many more petals—asters having only about 20 while the fleabanes can have over 100. Fleabane means it keeps away fleas, and it must work since we don’t seem to have fleas around where they grow! Their name—Erigeron— is greek for ‘early-eri and old-geron,’ as in geriatric. I don’t know why it gets old early but there you have it. It grows in two forms—substantial bushes and single stems. In fact I’m thinking Los Alamos has its own variety, which is a cross between a higher altitude form and ours.
This week’s plant is another lily, Death Camas. Anticlea elegans is its new name, and Zigadenis elegans is its old one. Its rather daunting common name points to its poisonous nature, which belies its real beauty. To see this one you have to again go up high (as for last week’s Mariposa lily). It’s currently blooming in a number of places, but nowhere in such numbers as on the trail between the Ski Hill and Cañada Bonito. It’s usually about two feet tall so is hard to miss. As with other monocots, its flower parts are in threes and sixes. Thanks to Craig Martin for the picture, which shows its habit of sending up a single stalk with a raceme of flowers.
All parts of the plants, from the leaves to the bulbs, contain zygacine, a steroidal toxin. While not as toxic as its cousin Zigadenus venous (meadow death camas), it causes cardiovascular distress, but hospital care usually can save the person. This plant is not to be confused with one of the same common name also having bulbs used for food by northwest natives and made famous for being eaten (with mixed results) by members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Enjoy its beauty though—one of our really pretty flowering plants. Thanks to MountainNature.com for additional information about this plant.