Wednesday, 28 August 2019
Rain, glorious rain. A deluge hit us right around sunrise this morning. I had watched a small storm cell on radar build for about an hour after waking up before it finally got to us. I was fearful to hope too much, giddy as ever in anticipation, and delighted when it finally arrived. I could feel the garden sighing relief. This rainfall is the heaviest we’ve seen in a month. Enough of those 0.06 inch drizzles that barely coat the driveway. This event broke the one inch mark! (We would eventually get 2.06 inches!!!)
I, too, can take a breather because I’ve been hauling hoses left and right for the past few weeks. It is my own fault, trying to get perennials in the ground before the onset of frost and an early start on direct seeding fall crops.
I sowed some more collards last evening in the nautical twilight, ‘Alabama Blue’ and ‘Variegated’ from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I got home a bit late from work, and by the time I got outside I could barely see. Phone flashlight and hoe in hand, I made furrows, and then again with the phone flashlight, I scattered seed in the uncovered earth. I closed the soil, watered the seeds in, and said a little prayer that the rain would indeed come. This morning, that request was answered.
I always like to time my fall seed sowing outdoors with good forecasts of rain. But, you never know this time of year. One forecast predicted an 80% chance today of 0.25 inches; another said 40% for around half an inch. Guessing the weather is mostly models and probability, and until the rubber... or perhaps I should say rain... hits the road, it is all wishful thinking. I’ve watched storms go around us or break apart it seems like for the majority of the summer.
Towards the end of the soaking this morning I went out umbrella in hand and sowed two handfuls of ‘Red Giant’ purple mustard seed I saved from last year into an area of my prairie that I just plugged some grasses for autumn. I want biomass to cover the soil so that I don’t have too much weeding to do in that area this fall.
The rain saved me today, too. I had just planted some ‘Standing Ovation’ Schizachyrium grasses into the prairie when I discovered them ripped out of the ground this morning by an armadillo. Furious, I stooped to the ground and replanted them in the muck. I don’t know what they are going after. Perhaps moisture. They have plenty of that now to go after other places.
Recently, my colleague Wayne brought me some Hymeocallis seed that he found at an old homesite, probably Hymenocallis occidentalis var. eulae, but I’m not going to rule out other species until it flowers in a few years. I was thrilled to receive these seed because I’ve wanted to propagate spider lilies. In the middle of August when other native perennials are struggling, these late-flowering forms are usually erupting into bloom with their fantastic white flowers.
Another really cool fact that I learned about Hymenocallis recently is that their seed coats are photosynthetic. Norman Deno hypothesized that photosynthesis actually helps the seed produce compounds that aids germination. The trigger for many seeds to germinate is the presence of water (at the right temperature with plentiful oxygen). However, many Hymenocallis are hydric species. Therefore, having an additional requirement like the need for light would be the better germination trigger than water since the liquid stuff is so plentiful in swamps and ditches. My guess is that some of the species that grow in drier conditions haven’t quite lost this requirement. I plan to put the pot in a bag to help keep the humidity up on the seeds and check on them once a week.
PLANT OF THE WEEK: LIATRIS ASPERA
Liatris aspera has been an incredible bloomer in my garden this August, and the butterflies and hummingbird moths seem to enjoy it as much as I do. This year is the first I’ve grown this species of blazing star. I first learned it as rough blazing star (aspera is Latin for rough), but I never liked the taste of that name when it rolls off the tongue. Rough, bleh. I’ve recently heard it called button blazing star because of the large involucres that eventually blush and erupt into bloom, and I find that name much more pleasing.
I found or perhaps I should say rediscovered Liatris aspera in the wild recently on a roadside near Gurdon, Arkansas. Back in May a traffic jam forced us off the interstate and onto a back road where I found a massive population of Echinacea pallida along a half mile of the roadside. Amongst them I noticed some Liatris aspera just starting to elongate.
Fast forward a couple months, and on a trip back to Texas I wondered if they would be in bloom since my clump was just starting at home. We drove back to the spot and sure enough they were just beginning to blossom. It was like a Milky Way of blazing stars with constellations of white buds twinkling and clusters of purple spirals capturing the eye. Being in a plant community they were shorter and less vigorous than those in my garden. But, some inflorescences were still up to my chest.
But, why were there so many here? My guess is because the plants are allowed to go to seed, and then mowed late in the year. The Echinacea seed heads still visible support my hypothesis. And, the late-season mowing likely keeps down the competition from trees and shrubs. It is a good management strategy.
Back home, mine is just starting to go to seed. I cut a flower cluster in half and found several black kernels starting to swell inside. Maybe one day parts of my prairie will be full of blazing star just like that vibrant roadside that left my starry-eyed.
Until next time, #keepgrowing!