Like my January “Littles” page of the bird species that visit our feeders in winter, here’s another “Littles” to commemorate the not-quite-winter-or-spring month of February ….. Seeds and Seed Pods. As a way to pass the time while waiting for Roy to finish up with a doctor visit, Luna and I conducted a focused scavenger hunt along a 2 mile circuit surrounding a large Albuquerque shopping mall. In no time at all, my collection bag was full. But knowing my pages would need some local flavor and color too, I scavenged a bit longer and turned up a few more curiosities.
Like with January’s page of birds, sketches of the species of seed pod and seeds (if collected) took less than 5 minutes each; my watercolor pencil paintings took about 10 minutes each. The restaurant logo and the frog design took a bit longer, and were done using my photos as reference.
I’m not sure why it took nearly the entire month to decide what to do for my February “Littles.” In hindsight, the decision should have been obvious, because I love seeds and the seemingly unlimited variety of pods. Now I have a record of a few city seeds that will soon germinate, helping change the landscape from brown to spring green!
Let me know what you think! I’m looking forward to March, when wildflower seedlings will be popping up which may appear in a few “Littles” boxes as well!
Thanks to “Made by Fay” for the “Littles” inspiration!
The Desert (Eastern) Mountain Mahogany is a very branchy shrub commonly found in the mid-elevation foothills of the Sandia, Manzanita, and Manzano Mountains east of the Rio Grande River in central New Mexico. This species’ formal and very appropriate name, Cercocarpusbreviflorus variety breviflorus, comes from both Greek (kerkos: tail; karpos: fruit) and Latin (brevi: short; florus: flowered). As a matter of fact, the 9 species of the genus Cercocarpus all have long feathery tails that twist and turn from the tip of a single fruit, called an achene (like a sunflower seed).
So why is this species odd?
Well, the fruit, for one reason. Most of the thousands of rose family members have fruits called a hip (rose), pome (apple), drupe (prune), or aggregate (strawberry). And even though the strawberry is composed of numerous miniature achenes, it’s the single achene found in the mountain mahoganies that’s unusual to the family.
To further emphasize the oddness of the Cercocarpus genera, all of its 9 species has a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria called Frankia. And that’s an unusual characteristic of the rose family, which moved Cercocarpus and 4 other genera into the subfamily Dryadoideae. That’s all a bit technical when it comes to plant classification, and kind of skips the real reason why the Frankia bacteria is important to the survival of Desert Mountain Mahogany. Nitrogen Fixation!
Not wild, but wildly rattling in the wind? Not snakes, but the showy seed pods from a row of Chinese Lantern trees, hanging on for dear life throughout our numerous winter wind events.
We frequently park near 8 of these non-native trees used as sidewalk landscaping, just before the Copper trailhead. After wondering for several years what these medium sized trees are, in September 2020, discovering the answer, I drew them out …… seed pods, leaves and all.
Searching for something wintery to add to my journal this year, these hardy seed pods called loudly. It was hard to resist!
Browsing my 2020 journals, I came across my first drawing. Always fun to see if and how my technique has changed. Can you detect the differences?
Oh I do love purple …… not sure why? Anything purple and any shade of purple ….. even a hint of purple will do! As a kid (then and now) my most treasured possession was a new box of crayons. Breaking the seal and inhaling that delicious aroma of color (admit it …. you know the smell) was only the first step in my love affair. Removing each crayon, one-by-one, and taking them for a test drive soon followed, with special care and attention paid to the purples, with names like ……….
Vivid violet, wisteria, twilight lavender, pearly purple, purple pizzazz and purple mountain’s majesty. Who wouldn’t love cyber grape and lilac; or plump purple and sugar plum. How could here be so many purples!
So when I literally stumbled into a mound of the exquisitely purple-hued Silverleaf Nightshade, my surprise and delight was audible. While carefully removing countless nettle-like prickles from my hands, Roy heard me explain, “My “Crayola” Potato!”
Strolling the neighborhood on a cool July morning, in search of any newly-blooming botanical delights (thanks to our all-too-brief bout of monsoonal rains), from a distance I recognized something different. From a distance it looked like a common pepper plant, or maybe a spectacle pod? Coming closer I thought, “shepherd’s purse” with those tiny satchel-like seeds! Or could it be bedstraw, with such an intoxicating fragrance? Finally facing this spindly, narrow-leafed plant, I reached down to a stem and prepared to take a sniff when I was surprised twice!
An ant that had been busy gathering nectar (?) had leaped into my hand and bit me, hard! Obviously he was extremely upset at being disturbed and wanted me to know about it. I instantly dropped the stem and when I flicked the ant from my now throbbing finger, noticed an army of busy ants climbing up and down this tasty plant.
It was then that my surprise was complete. The flowers were unmistakable and recognizable. This plant was a member of the Dogbane family ….. a beautiful Milkweed! Now I had to learn which species of Asclepias this one was that had such tiny flowers?
After trying for 4 years to collect one of the giant seed pods from our small population of banana yuccas, I was sure this would be the year. One of the plants was in full bloom about a month ago, and after noticing the fleshy fruits were enlarging, I kept watch almost daily.
I should’ve suspected the local population of mule deer were also keeping close watch, because a week ago they snuck in and harvested every single seed pod! Disappointed? Yes. But still determined …….
Then a few days ago I discovered another plant loaded with a dozen of the huge fleshy green pods! Without further ado, I liberated 2 of them and dissection began …..