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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Summer Botany: Banana Yucca Seed Pod Dissection

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 …..

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The Road to Master Naturalist: The Middle Rio Grande Bosque Tour and Lessons Shared by a Nature Journaler 

“From the spillway below Cochiti Dam to the headwaters of Elephant Butte Reservoir, the Middle Rio Grande Bosque is more than a cottonwood woodland or forest. It is a whole riparian (or riverside) ecosystem…..”

This is how “A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque”1 begins, and on June 26th, the Master Naturalists’ trainees spent quality time touring and learning about the nature of this very special area.  

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The Road to Master Naturalist: Oh No! Noxious Weed Alert ….. 

Probably best known as Tree of Heaven (ToH), Ailanthus altissima seems to be more widespread in the Albuquerque area and up in the East Mountains than I thought. And it’s officially on the noxious weed list for New Mexico.

How did this happen?

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The Road to Master Naturalist: A Field Trip … Tijeras Creek Remediation Project

Yay! After waiting out Covid for 2 years, Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) is once again holding classes for Master Naturalist certification! Both Roy and I applied and were accepted into the program along with 20 other students of all ages and backgrounds.

Many of the classes are being held via Zoom meetings. But thanks to scheduled field trips we are getting to know each other while learning some cool stuff, including a visit to The Tijeras Creek Remediation Project, in our home town. We never realized!

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Backyard Birds: Up Close and Personal

Hummingbirds are one of the most fascinating and beautiful bird species that come to our yard each summer. The black-chinned, the broad-tailed, and the feisty rufous are the three species we see most often. Competition for nectar can be fierce, and it’s exciting to watch their aerial acrobatics as they buzz back and forth to determine the “owner” of our flowers!

It’s all about nectar ….. a commodity somewhat scarce in the desert, especially during a drought.

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An Urban Desert Surprise Dressed in Pink Chiffon

“Nature has an economy, an elegance, a style ……” if we could just ”rise out of the rubble” and see.

What is your motivation for getting out in nature? Is it to log miles, climb the next hill, socialize, take a pretty picture, experience wildlife, or perhaps calm your mind? When walking, anywhere, how often do you just pause and really see what’s around you, or ”oops” underfoot?

More often than not, I like to think I fall into the latter category, but at times it doesn’t hurt to get a wake-up reminder …. and yesterday was one of those days.

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