Winter Botany Study, Part 4: Smooth Sumac



Bark, bark, bark, bark. Someone doesn’t wish there to be a sumac thicket inside the Cibola Wilderness boundary adjacent to the Indian School Trails. A few years ago all of the 3”+ diameter trunks were cut down and left on site to decompose. I remembered seeing these cut sumac trunks last year, and a few days ago reinvestigated the site for drawing ideas. I was very interested to see such intricate details in the slabs of barked that had peeled away from the down and dead trunks. (I also noted all of the new shoots that have resprouted from the cut trunks!)

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Winter Botany Study, Part 3: Smooth Sumac



Day 56: A leaf study, showcasing two of the 5 compound leaves that have emerged from the fully extended bud scales. The drawing illustrates how much the leaves grow in a relatively short timeframe; in this case, only 19 days.

Smooth sumac leaves, 7.5×8 inches, graphite

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Winter Botany Study, Part 2: Smooth Sumac



Day 1: Smooth sumac stems popped into a jar of tap water. ….. waiting, waiting waiting …….

Day 39: One of the sumac stems (stem #1) is showing life. The terminal bud and first lateral bud appear to be swelling and greening up a bit. Very promising. Unfortunately stem #2 may have fallen victim to rough treatment (or a curious cat?).

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Winter Botany Study, Part 1: Smooth Sumac



I never lack for nature journaling ideas during winter; there’s so much to investigate and discover when walking along trails lined with intricately detailed dried grasses, forbs and dormant shrubs and trees. This botanical study began with outside exploration, and a bit of impatience; impatience for spring and the first blush of green.

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Mystery Solved! Meet a native grass …. Bush Muhly

Yesterday’s impressive snowstorm kept me from hiking, but luckily the snow was predicted and I was prepared. Well supplied with a few dried grass specimens collected from the ABQ Copper Trails, I knew immediately which species to tackle.

For the past 4+ years, one grass in particular puzzled me. Each Fall and through the winter many ABQ Open Space trails are lined with soft, pinkish, delicate puffy shrubs. And growing through these beautiful puffballs are numerous coarse jointed stems, seemingly from another grass species. Well, what better time than during a full-blown blizzard to finally figure out this mystery grass!

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Before the snow

One of the most interesting plants found throughout the desert Southwest, the buffalo gourd is a native species belonging to the squash family. It grows from an underground tuber that can weigh as much as 160 pounds. The large triangular leaves can grow quickly from sprawling stems that can reach 20-30 feet a season. Yellow ”squash blossoms” develop into baseball sized green and white striped fruit, that look tasty, but don’t eat them ….. the fruit is poisonous! Buffalo gourd is common along the ABQ Open Space trails.

A Weirdly Wonderful Plant

The Unicorn Plant, aka Devil’s Claw. Definitely one of the most bizarre native species found in only a few spots along the Copper Trails, ABQ Open Space. what begins as a stout-stemmed, big-leaved, gorgeous-flowered plant, quickly produces okra-like fruits that dry into wickedly-clawed woody seed pods!