It’s October in Portland and my Agave montana is in the process of flowering…I know, we’re heading toward winter, with its rain and average low down into the mid-30’s with potentially sudden damaging temperature swings from mid-November into March dropping below freezing to the low twenties, with extremes some years, generally limited to the upper teens, though historically, some areas have dropped into the single digits, those Arctic blasts from the interior….Winter temps here can be extremely unsupportive of Agave’s from ‘low desert’ and tropical regions. Combined with these cool/cold temperatures are our seasonal reduction in daylight hours and its intensity (day length and angle of incidence varies much more widely here at 45º north) and the rain, ranging from 2.5″ to 6″+ each month here Nov.- Mar., resulting in a ‘trifecta’ of negative factors which can compromise an Agave, even when in its long rosette producing stage. Any Agave here requires thoughtful siting with special consideration for drainage, exposure and aspect. For an Agave, conditions common to the maritime Pacific Northwest are generally marginal, yet I am far from alone in my attempts to grow them here. Previously, in April of 2016 I had an Agave x ‘Sharkskin’ flower, a process that spanned the summer months, taking 7 until mid-October to produce ripe seed. I was initially a little pessimistic this time about A. montana’s prospects. Why, I wonder, if plants are driven to reproduce themselves would this one be starting the process now? Continue reading
I know, politics again! Gardening affords us all an escape from the mess of politics…but that ‘mess’ promises to take even that from us.
I’ve heard it argued that there is no point in having money and power if you do not use them. It certainly seems to be a popular or even dominant view in the US today. In a country where many of us feel relatively powerless to affect change or even have some degree of control to keep our own lives from falling to pieces, many of us would seem to identify with the man who today epitomizes the extreme of this position, our president, Donald Trump. His standard places winning above all else and it doesn’t matter what’s at stake, if he simply says he wants something, that is the only thing that matters. He must win! Nothing and no one can matter more. To compromise is losing. To take others and their position into consideration, is weakness….Whether there are other legitimate positions on something does not matter, once a position is taken, game on and there is no retreat, because this narrow idea of one’s honor matters far more than what might be best, or fair, or ethical, legal or moral. Making these choices is a personal selfish matter. There is no point in making an informed decision because being correct, or accurate, making the best decision based on our best scientific understanding of a problem or the most considered decision based on the consequences that will follow…doesn’t enter the ‘thought’ process at any point. What matters is being in control and showing others that you are the most powerful. To do this you are willing to use every tool at your disposal.
Today there are few examples of wealthy and powerful men and women with the strength of character to say no to their own desires and ambitions. The Koch brothers, er, brother, come to mind immediately, but their are others, many others, whose only goals seem to be centered on their continuing attempts to amass more wealth, more control, to wield more influence on the world and those around them, without ever attempting to consider what might be best for others, whether their fellow citizens or those of other countries, for the health of the planet that they and their predecessors have compromised and decimated or even the natural beauty that our constant expansion continues to lay waste to. Where are our leaders? All succumbed to the compromises they’ve committed to in their own Faustian bargains.
Today politics seems to concern itself only with what to do with the remnants and scraps that are left behind and who will benefit from them. We seem poised on the edge of a contraction while the powerful fortify their positions from the attacks that will surely come with it. The popular media, television, movies and ‘games’ seem’ a foreshadowing of what is to come. It is hard not to be negative or cynical, for we all seem so committed to our particular chosen paths today that the coming ‘apocalypse’ would seem to be almost certain….It needn’t be, but first we have to believe that!
At some level it doesn’t surprise me that so many people voted for this man, ’45’, Trump, the ‘shit-gibbon’ or whatever name you’ve affixed him with. He’s attracted such epithets like flies, his presence, character and demeanor, the least presidential of all of the presidents of my lifetime…yet he still has a ‘rabid’ following today, while opportunistic politicians, supportive or not, continue riding the wave of incredulity he has raised in Washington while they advance their own particular issues lost amidst all of the turmoil, outcry and public blood letting. Many of his followers remain steadfast and true, strident and outspoken, often publicly taking up the cause in their own outrage, reflecting Trumps own flaunting of the law, increasing in their boldness.
Trumps people are not those who necessarily occupy the lowest economic and social rungs of society, but they are the people who often believe themselves to be at immediate risk, who see themselves as those whom politicians and government have ‘forgotten’, whose lives are most precarious, who feel so little control that they are afraid of losing what they have…and they do not want to end up with or below, the blacks, the new immigrants, the ‘illegal hispanics’, or those individuals who comprise the coalition of LGBTQ, whom they’ve always seen themselves to be above of. They admire this man and they are standing with him as he reacts against the historically ‘undeserving’ poor. Trump has given them someone to ‘kick’ and even made it ‘fashionable’ or at least acceptable to do so. Whether you call it blaming the victim, divide and conquer or giving his supporters a ‘straw dog’ the effect is the same. It is further driving society apart while at the same time putting ‘blame’ where it does not belong.
While they may find him embarrassing and low class, a sizable portion of the wealthy elite, no doubt appreciate the work Trump has done for their cause. He is a tool, a horse they will ride as long as it suits them. But the bulk of his supporters see in him somebody with qualities that they themselves wish they had so that they could take and secure what they see as their’s. He speaks proudly and takes action ignoring those who should give him pause, cause him to doubt his actions. He cannot tolerate self-doubt and so acts boldly, brazenly and in so doing sparks something in those who feel small, who desperately want to believe that they too can get/take what they want. This is the world that they believe they are living in, a world without kindness, a world of meanness, a world of winners and losers and one in which they desperately want to come out, if not on top, at least at some more secure level above the bottom. When I look at this world today I can hardly blame it on these people, for the lessons they have learned are all around us at almost every level. But they have made the wrong conclusions.
They have accepted the path without a moral or ethical center, for expedience. They are willing to sacrifice others to attain their goal, the same logic of the predatory wealthy who have utilized this same strategy so well in taking from the masses below them…beneath them in their minds. Somehow these people with insecure futures, have convinced themselves that this will work for them. That if they are strong enough they too can take what the want and secure themselves against those whom they would deny a place at the table…That in a game of the divided and decimated weak, they can succeed against their brothers and sisters whom they refuse to recognize. That there is enough wealth at the bottom for them to take for themselves. But this is a strategy that promises only further division, further struggle, in an effort that defines itself on taking from ‘others’ and securing it for oneself. This will inevitably fail.
We may profess to be a Christian country but our behavior regarding one another is anything but. It is sad, depressing even, to me, that this is the world we live in, that our children are inheriting…so many of us accept and take this as a given. That is the most frightening aspect of all of this to me, that this is the world most of us seem to expect…We have set our sights on such a low standard that we will assure its realization. We have all but forgotten that if we want something better we must work for it and in order to do that we must first begin to see the value and goodness in ourselves and each other. We have forgotten the power of a positive vision. We have surrounded ourselves with leaders who have forgotten as well or simply have chosen this diminished and negative path out of their own greed and willingness to sell the rest of us short. If we do not turn this around this is surely the world we will be stuck with. We will be left with only the empty promises of the politicians we’ve been following all along. We are going to have to very quickly learn how to distinguish integrity and vision from political manipulation if we are to be able to better choose leaders who can help us lead ourselves out of this mess. The old pattern and politics will assure us failure. Trump has set a ridiculously low standard for leadership and public behavior, but there are all too many politicians out there just as destructive, selfish and blind as he is though they are dangerously, politically more savvy. The burden is on us the voters. It is up to us to reject this dead vision and short sighted politics and put in its place a positive vision which can inspire us to better ourselves and this world. There is no in-between. The margins have drastically narrowed. We and the world are now at a level of unprecedented risk. Do you accept this and the sad excuse of ‘greatness’ Trump has given us, as we all scramble for the last of the low lying fruit, or do you believe in something better for the world. That is it in a nutshell. We have followed the politics of compromise so far that it seems to make little difference in what or who we choose. Our only real choice is to reject it. The choice before us reads more like mutually assured destruction. The other one offers genuine hope, not the political package of promises we’ve seen before. One choice will inspire us and push us to create a world of possibility, the other will leave us in the trough as we devour what is left of the world and each other.
interest, their leaf color, substance and sculptural qualities, the margins of its broad, thick leaves, with their rhythmic rounded ripples, each tipped with a prominent ‘teat’ and spine. This is not a large plant, typically growing 23″- 47″ in diameter and my plan was always to keep it in a pot as it is from coastal areas of the Mexican state of Sonora, found sporadically in a narrow ‘band’ south into Sinaloa. Agave colorata is very rare and uncommon in nature and growing on steep slopes of the volcanic mountains in the coastal region in Sinaloan thornscrub. It often emerges from apparently solid rock cliffs sometimes clinging high above the water below.
Growing in Sonora and at Home
It is poorly adapted to our wet winter conditions though it is reputedly hardy into USDA zn 8, or as low as 10ºF. Its natural northern limit is thought not due to cold, but by excessive aridity in the northern parts of Sonora. I didn’t test it, leaving it outside under the porch roof, bringing it in when forecasts called for below 20ºF, as any plant is more susceptible to cold with its root zone subject to freezing. With perfect drainage and overhead protection, you might be able to get away with this in the ground, but the combination of significant wet with our cold is likely too much…still if someone wanted to try….At best I suspect this one would still suffer from fungal leaf diseases, disfiguring the foliage.
This is usually solitary, but it can be found occasionally in small clumps/colonies up to nearly 10′ across, pushing up against each other on their slowly growing and short ‘trunks’ to 4′ high. My plant produced just a few pups over the first third of its life.
Sonora has three distinct geographic areas all running along a ‘line’ from the northwest toward the southeast, the Gulf of California and its associated coastal landscape paralleling the Sierra Madre Occidental, sandwiching plains and rolling hills in the middle. The coast and plains/rolling hills are arid to semi-arid, desert and grasslands, while only the higher elevation of the easterly mountains receive enough rain to support more diverse and woody plant communities, scrub and Pine-Oak forests.
This region also varies north to south, the climate drying as you go north into the Sonoran Desert. Moving south on down into Sinaloa, and further, is the some what wetter ‘dry deciduous forest’ biome with an array of woody leugumes, including several Acacia. Agave colorata resides in the transition zone in between, in the portion of ‘thornscrub’ near the Sonoran/Sinaloan border. North and south the Thornscrub itself changes in composition. The Sinaloan Thornscrub serves as a transition zone between the desert and the slightly wetter, taller growing, Tropical Deciduous Forest that continues the south. All along this band running north on into Arizona’s Sonoran Desert are various columnar cactus a food source for Mexico’s migrating nectarivorous bat species. It is a unique flora community, containing species from bordering floral regions and other species unique or endemic to this transition zone itself. The area continues to be under threat, primarily by cattle ranching that moved into the region in the ’70’s and ’90’s bringing with it clearing and the introduction of non-native and invasive Bufflegrass, Pennisetum ciliare, also known under its syn. Cenchrus ciliaris, for pasture. Bufflegrass is also a serious problem north into Arizona. In Sonora many of the cleared woody species have since begun moving back in, while the smaller, more sensitive species have not. Climate change promises to further squeeze it. (The World Wildlife Fund maintains a website with good descriptions of many eco-regions I sometimes find it very helpful when trying to understand the conditions of a plant I’m less familiar with.)
When growing plants like this, one should keep in mind the concept of heat zones. The American Horticultural Society has created a map of the US delineating its ‘heat zones’. It is based on the average number of days an area experiences temperatures over 86ºF. At that temperature most plants begin to shut down their metabolic processes…they slow their growth. Check out the AHS map (AHS US Heat Zones pdf.) and keep in mind that we are warming up! The AHS map has us, Portland, OR, in zone 4, meaning we experience 14-30 days with highs over 86ºF each year. Last summer, ’18, we actually had a record 31 days over 90ºF! Now consider that the coastal/plains region of Sonora likely experiences between 180-210 such days! Agave colorata may not need this, but it is certainly adapted to such a level of heat stress. Something to think about, especially when you consider that we receive the bulk of our rain over the winter when our daily highs and lows average for Nov. 40º-53º, Dec. 35º-46º, Jan. 36º-47º, Feb. 36º-51º and Mar. 40º-57º…keeping in mind that we could freeze on most any of those dates. The Sonoran Desert receives its minimal rainfall in a summer/monsoonal pattern….This is why bringing such ‘low desert’ plants to the Pacific Northwest can add another degree or two of difficulty to your success!
Growing this in a pot made perfect sense to me, but every decision carries consequences, not all of which I anticipated. Most Agave don’t form a ‘trunk’ growing its leaves, in a tight spiral, crowded along a very abbreviated stem, which adds little to its length to separate each consecutive leaf., but Agave colorata adds a little ‘extra’ slightly separating its leaves, resulting in a weak and kind of puny stem. If you’ve ever shuffled pots containing Agave more than a few years old, you understand that their crown, their substantial top growth, is relatively heavy, A. colorata is no exception, in fact their leaves each seem more substantial than leaves on many other similarly sized Agave. This results in a plant that as it grows begins to lean over, eventually, laying flat across the ground. As a Monocot the stems of Agave don’t caliper up over the years as does wood. These have no cambial meristem which would add secondary growth, and diameter, to the stem and as I said, with its relatively massive and heavy crown, it leans. This is the same characteristic that gives their small colonies their height.
[This is the first in an extended series of three posts, this one on life within the cell, the second, on the evolution of plants, and the third on the New Phylogeny and Eudicots. Some time ago I began this ‘theme’ with an extensive post on Monocots. This first ‘installment’, concerning life within the cell, is divided into two parts, the first, with the ‘a’ in its title, covers the growth and function of the cell itself and, importantly, the role of water within it. The second, with the ‘b’ in its title,, will examine the concept of quantum biology and its explanative necessity for life beyond the ‘simple’ construct of cells, tissues and organisms. While trying to understand the ongoing reorganization and classification of plants, I found it necessary to better understand these other topics, what it is that we are ‘messing’ with! ]
I begin here with the cell, what I’ve learned about what makes the cell, its existence and life within it, so amazing, something which should give us all pause, when we consider our own lives and what we do. When scientists ‘split hairs’ in their arguments on which group to assign a species, when they attempt to link them to their ancestors, so many of which are now long extinct, to understand their relationships with other organisms, they have a purpose. They are often looking much deeper into what a plant is, what constitutes life and how it evolved. Phylogeny, the science that attempts to establish relationships between different organisms, different species, to link one to the other across time, is about both the history and the continuing journey of life on this planet. It promises to tell us much about our own place as well as that of the hundred’s of thousands of other species with which we share it. Ultimately, if we choose to understand this, it will change the way we garden and our relationship with the many landscapes that cover the Earth. Our gardens are our own personal expressions, works of ‘art’, and must live within the parameters life has set for them on our little pieces of ground. They reflect our understanding of the limits and possibilities at work here. The better that we understand this the ‘better’ our gardens will be, the more in synch they will be with life. Continue reading
Warning!!! This is a rant! It’s political, economic, ecological and, most definitely, covers all of the connections between with climate change, these things and our future as a species. I hope you choose to read it, but be forewarned!!
I woke up yesterday at 4:30am, unable to go back to sleep, so I got up and began writing this. The state of the world, the absolute idiocy, meanness and short sightedness of politics today, the undeniable enormity of climate change and its inevitable impacts for every organism on the planet, drives me from paralyzing frustration, to near rage, to profound sadness and despair. Most days all I can do is seek escape and I do this through gardening, reading eclectically, trying to follow some kind of routine, going for walks, a swim or a hike, sharing time with friends or delving into research on plants and the everyday miracles within them and their wondrously choreographed lives here on this planet….I spent my entire morning writing and rewriting this (and returned to it the following day, now today). It is me ‘sharing’. Yes, it’s a rant, it’s a bit of analysis, it’s a window into the world as I see it and it contains a hope I have…that I have to cling to most days, for this world and all that lives upon it, because what we have done, what we continue to do, is so profoundly destructive and disheartening to me. Continue reading
Clades and Cladograms: Helpful Concepts to Understanding Phylogeny and the Hereditary Links Between Plant Groups
Cladistics is a system of classification…of course it is…that relates species to one another based on heredity and lines of inheritance. Before you dismiss this as a totally boring topic, consider that these are tools, that with a little study, can go a long way in clearing up the murky waters of taxonomy and systematic botany. Cladograms are a diagrammatic, graphic devices to visually display the relationships of closely related organisms, like the one below, and can be helpful to us in our efforts to understand the phylogeny and evolution of plants. The ‘branches’ of a Cladogram represent clades, all of the descendants are of a chosen ‘root’ species. Each clade must be monophyletic, complete, including all of the descendants of the root or ‘stem’ ancestor. The APG demands precision.
While working on a blog posting over the spring of ’17, Palms, Bananas, All Monocots…Oh My! Their Similarities and the Differences that Distinguish Them From Dicots…and why this should matter to you! discussing Monocots, I necessarily said much about Dicots, those vascular, seed producing, Angiosperms (flowering plants) with two cotyledons or ‘seed leaves’. These were the two major groups of Angiosperms that I grew up with in the gardening world…but, while I was working in my career, this began to change, beginning some 25 years ago. I’d been aware of the term Eudicots, or ‘true’ dicots, and knew that all Eudicots also fit within the older category of Dicots, while a small portion of the latter, are left outside. I was unsure how these differentiated and so, ignorantly (not a bad word), blurred the two together as many have been doing since the concept of Eudicots was first put forward. The differences between these two for me seemed very ‘arcane’ and fussy, focusing on the tiny pores or furrows, colpi, on pollen grains. But it is more than just that. To really understand what is going on in the esoteric world of taxonomy, the naming and organizing of plants and their relationships to one another, you need to look at the genetics, the DNA ‘fingerprints’ of a plant which allows us to follow evolutionary paths back from the plants of today through their ancestors to the earliest forms of life on Earth. It is about the phylogeny, the ‘history’ and relationships that tie plants together. Continue reading