Wildflower Fever: March

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This time of year I am on the look out for the first spring flowers and on March 1st I discovered the first desert dandelion (Taraxacon officinale) feeling absurdly happy that such flowers exist here in the high desert too! All parts of the dandelion can be utilized for food or medicine. The whole plant can be dug when budded and eaten in salads or boiled like spinach after the roots have been cut off. Save those roots and make a tincture for stomach problems!

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At the monastery in the cracks of a stone path I discovered a thicket of small magenta star-like flowers nestled in fern-like leaves. This plant is an Erodium from the geranium family. It is commonly called heron or storkbill because of its distinctive seed pods.

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Field milkvetch (Astralagus) appeared next, a single fetching purple blossom perched above the compact blue gray clump. Vetches are from the pea family and astralagus is used as a popular herbal medicine.

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Last week I was thrilled to find the bird cage primrose (Oenothera detoids) with its stunning flowers – snow white fading to pale pink – the flowers look as if they have no stems. Even the teardrop shaped buds lay almost horizonally in the center of a reddish rosette. These lovely wildflowers seem oblivious to low temperatures and hard frost, probably because they lie so close to the ground.

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The brilliant orange desert globe mallow (Sphaeralcea) caught my attention one day last week. It was hiding behind a large white stone, which no doubt, brought the plant into bloom before any of its relatives). I plan to dig up this one and plant it out back because with little care it can spread into a carpet of flaming orange.

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Yesterday, April 1, at the steep edge of a wash I discovered an unknown flower growing out of dead looking gray clumps. It had new sage colored leaves emerging with clusters of tiny white flowers opening to buttercup centers. Although I searched diligently I was unable to identify the plant, and so its name remains a mystery.

I think wildflowers are the most astonishing flora in the world because they grow in the most unlikely places and require no care! When I was a child I used to pick bouquets of these (mostly) diminutive flowers with utter abandon. Now at 72, after having been a dedicated gardener all my life, I turn back to the wildflowers that once enchanted me because they appear without any effort or attention on my part, producing blooms that leave me with a joyful heart.

This year I saved the prickly pods of the wild Datura (Solanaceae) and during this last month I began to germinate the seeds… These seeds can be very stubborn about growing their first roots if one doesn’t have much patience, but I persevered! Last week I planted a few seeds indoors in a pot and I am wondering when the tiny roots will push down into the soil and begin sending up a shoot or two. One has broken the surface but the rest are still growing in the dark. I feel such a thrill seeing that first white root appear which sometimes curls back on itself or does the exact opposite – stretching itself out with abandon. In my imagination I see glorious clumps of trumpet like pure white or lavender tinted blossoms that take my breath away with their scent after a summer rain.

I also have been watching brittlebush, saltbrush, big sage, and countless other desert shrubs and trees leaf out creating a mist of gray green sage that hovers over the desert. Many of the fruit trees are in bloom and some are deliciously scented. Honey bees are pollinating the fruit trees. Our high desert has been blessed by rain, and every day, new shoots pop out of powdery red dirt. Although we had something akin to a hard freeze the night of March 30, at least here, down by the river, every plant seems intact.

I am confident that the month of April will bring me in contact with new wildflowers. The arroyos are running and there is still snow on the mountains so I am thinking that it’s time to begin walking in the washes to see who might be blooming there.

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