Friday, June 13, 2008

Documenting "Monet Season" Before It Draws to an End

As I'm getting to know this new homestead of ours, I'm starting to identify mini-seasons on it - seasons within seasons, as it were.

These aren't real seasons, of course, but they're subsets of seasons based on groups of plants that bloom together, changing light and color conditions, and, above all, time swiftly moving by.

Last spring I fell in love with a soft, warm time of year that, in my private moments, I call the Monet season. It's characterized by young fresh foliage highlighted by blooms of soft blues and yellows and whites, with occasional pops of magenta. The weather tends to be balmy (at least in my memory!). Before it completely fades out this year, I'd like to commemorate it by posting a few photos.

The first photo, seen here to the right, is my attempt to capture the overall feel. As a side note, I find it's hard to capture the landscapes of this season - the photos tend to wash out. My eyes are evidently drawn to pick up the blues and light yellows...but the camera isn't! It doesn't help that many of these flowers don't fully open until the sun is relatively high in the sky, and that the same flowers close by mid to late afternoon. If you've ever done any flower photography, you know that mid-day is an absolutely horrible time to get photos; the lighting is too harsh.

At this time of year, much of the blue is supplied by spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.), seen in closeup in this photo to the left. Spiderwort gets its common name by its mucilaginous sap - when you break the stem and slowly pull it apart, the sap spins out thinly like a spider web. Of course another colorful, if not terribly complimentary, common name for this group of plants is cowslobbers, based on the massive amounts saliva coming from the mouths of cattle as they eat it - also caused by that viscous sap. Whatever you call it, the blue of its flowers is truly heavenly, reflecting the powder blue of the sky on sunny, late spring mornings.

Lots of gardeners in the deep south don't like spiderworts because they tend to escape easily into lawns there. They may do that here in Kansas, too, but I'll take that risk to have their fresh beauty shining through the newly green prairie grasses.

A little of the blue is supplied, when I'm lucky, by blue wildindigo (Baptisia australis var. minor), one of the queens of prairie wildflowers, as far as I'm concerned. Not only is its color magnificent, displayed in 18" spikes of vivid flowers, it fixes nitrogen and thus helps enrich the soil. It's definitely a "decreaser", a plant that tends to disappear from the prairie when it's subjected to agricultural grazing. Thus I feel lucky to have discovered 6 plants so far on our 10 acres. With care and luck, I hope to increase that number...significantly. I'm not sure I could ever have too much blue wildindigo mixed among my grasses.

Switching hues, the soft yellows of Monet season are often supplied by two dandelion look-alikes. The first, false tuber dandelion (Pyrrhopappus grandiflorus), even has a basal rosette of leaves that looks like dandelion leaves! When it blooms, however, it's obvious that it's a different flower from the common dandelion as it's much taller and softer yellow. It also has the virtue, in my eyes, of being native. Here a bee is helping itself to some pollen while helping out the flower by fertilizing it.

The other frequent yellow "pseudo-dandelion" on our property is known as western salsify or goat's beard (Tragopogon dubius). This species was introduced from Eurasia and, while it's not native, it's not very aggressive either so I don't mind having it around. In fact, one of it's most enjoyable features for me is its huge seedheads, again like dandelion seedballs, but on steroids and with a geometric bent.

As the season closes on this group of flowers and the mild weather that tends to accompany them, different, more vibrant wildflowers are starting to bloom and a new mini-season is coming together. Temperatures are rising and the sun's rays are getting hotter and higher. Plants are putting on spurts of growth and insects are appearing everywhere. I'll be blogging about those, too, but right now I want to bid a fond farewell, for this year, to the Monet season and its soft pleasantness. I'll be looking forward to experiencing its balmy warmth and blue and yellow beauty next spring.

1 comment:

Paul Decelles said...

Nice shots..cowslobbers for spiderwort..never heard that one before..I will have to use it in a poem! Cool!