Blind hogs and acorns

A few years ago, we had a section of our back yard graded. That created a bare and muddy slope crying out for stabilization. Having strained the household budget for the grading, we elected to seed the slope with a foolproof mixture of long fescues and perennial rye grasses. It probably would have worked but for a torrential rainfall that prompted our neighbor, Noah Anderson, to start in on an arc.

So, looking at a washed-out slope and a swath of seeds and mud that resembled caraway seeds on a bagel, we searched for alternatives. Exotic Asian ground covers were offered. When that was too pricey, we considered similarly expensive shrubs and small trees. I recall “styrax” because it was such an odd name for a snowball tree. Though I loved the name, the cost was not so loveable. The search continued.

At the shaded edge of the woods behind out house I discovered a neglected batch of wild day Lillies, overcrowded and almost yellow from neglect. Maybe they would recover if I transplanted them to the raw but sunny earth. What the heck. I might even fertilize them. I dug them all up and moved them to the ugly slope.

Early next spring, I tossed a few handfuls of a neighbor’s chicken manure on them. Green spikes appeared in March, reaching quickly skyward. Lush spires followed and, in early July, buds on tall stems opened. Not too many, but enough to get my attention. They were beautiful, large double orange day Lillies.

That was a few years ago. Now the Lillies thickly cover the former muddy slope, providing their annual lush green foliage and abundant flowers. However, they were never wild. They originated in China and Korea, where their buds have been roasted and eaten as part of the Asian diet for centuries. Nancy is skeptical about roasting their buds, so we just enjoy their blooms. Maybe next year will be the year for roasting.

There is a saying on the Texas Panhandle (where I used to go often on business) that “even a blind hog comes acrost a acorn ever onct in a while” I guess I’m a blind hog and the Lillies are my acorns.


Double day lilly


Miraculous Mystery?

2Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau copy

Prickly Pear Cactus

I may have stumbled on one of the natural world’s miraculous mysteries. Those are the categories of things that we understand happening, but can’t figure out how. For example, how is it that the fourth generation of monarch butterfly born in New Jersey can fly each fall to overwinter in the same group of evergreens in Mexico, a journey of almost three thousand miles? How does a week-old fawn know to withhold urine and feces (which might disclose its location to a predator) while its mother is away? How does a salmon, after swimming in the wide ocean for two years, find its way up a freshwater stream to the same place it was hatched—to lay its eggs and die? Why do gray whales leave the Bering Sea, navigate the west coast of Canada and the United States, and return each June to Scammon’s Cove on the Baja Peninsula to deliver their calves?

Sunlight, starlight, seasonal changes, even changes in atmospheric pressure all seem to play a role in these behaviors. At the moment, I am wondering whether plants can tell time.

A couple of years ago I discovered that that the Eastern prickly pear cactus (opuntia humifusa for gardening nerds) might grow in my northern New Jersey garden. That, I thought, would be cool. I might be the first one in the neighborhood to have a cactus in my garden. I bought four from a place in Arizona, planted them in the spring and nurtured them. No flowers, of course, but they did grow bigger.

The following spring, after a moderate winter with some snowfall, there were three cactuses (cacti?). Turns out that desperate mice burrow through the snow and will eat leathery cactus. One was a goner; the other three were nibbled upon, but thrived in spring.

Last June I noticed large new cactus ears supporting what looked suspiciously like flower buds. At the end of June, four of them opened—to disclose beautiful yellow flowers with orange centers hosting golden pistils. The ones from this year are above.

I take lots of pictures of flowers. I have a good camera (no smart phone, dammit!) that records the time and date a picture is taken in metadata. Early this month as promising growths appeared on the opuntia, I checked to see when the flowers bloomed last year. June 30.

Here’s the thing. A few days ago, on June 30, 2017, the blossoms on my cactus opened. The last two winters were wildly dissimilar. Winter before last we had thirty inches of snow in twenty-four hours and frigid weather through April. Last winter there was little snow and balmy weather in February. I don’t think the weather provided blooming signals to my cactus.

So, I’m wondering. Is this one of nature’s miraculous mysteries? Does opuntia tell time?

Check back next June 30. We’ll see.