Summer Bugs and Botany: Cochineal Dye Making

It was a rainy day in most of NM, but what a welcome relief to be getting moisture! As we hastily hiked the lower Copper Trails, we noticed the prickly pear seemed to be draped in a more-than-usual white fuzz, and it wasn’t cotton ball shaped but dripping and running down hundreds of cactus pads. Every direction we turned we found nearly every prickly pear to be covered………………….
And then we spotted hundreds of thousands of brilliant scarlet red bodies of the cochineal insect ….. exposed, naked and frantically trying to hold onto their food source, the vertical surfaces of prickly pear pads.  The rain had “melted” their protective coats of fine white wax and the green pads of the cactus looked white washed. 

Opportunity!

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Summer Botany: Wild About Wild Potatoes

One of the weediest places we camped during our recent Reservoir tour, Santa Cruz Recreation Area, became a floral hot spot of discovery, at least for me. I shared a photo sampling of some of the flora in my last post……

Two new-to-me members of the Potato family really stood out. A plant called Greenleaf Five-eyes and another simply called Wild Potato.

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Summer Botany: My “Crayola” Potato

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!”

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Summer Botany: Meet the Milkweeds

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?

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