Saturday, February 18, 2017
While walking on a woodland trail (or possibly a desert trail), have you ever encountered a solitary plant or flower that commands your attention? The plant appears to be thriving— possibly blooming— despite its harsh surroundings. So many plants require pampering (loose soil, rich in organic matter and nutrients, frequent watering) while other plants seem to thrive with little care in parched, gravely, compacted alkaline soil. Plants that tolerate infrequent rain and harsh conditions could easily die if they were planted in rich organic soil and pampered! Instead, they thrive on meager provisions… little moisture, few nutrients, intense heat and compacted soil.
These plants have tenacity!
Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana)
While in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) desert chicory doesn’t remind me of a sunflower at all. With layers of delicate white petals, fringed at each square tip, this delightful desert annual can grow to 20” tall.
(The specimen I encountered was only a few inches tall, but its bloom was fresh and white against the rocky terrain.)
Mexican Goldpoppy (Eschscholtzia mexicana)
From the poppy family (Papaveraceae) a delicate 3” tall annual, this golden poppy carpets the desert floor for a few days in early spring. Hot sun may dry its blooms quickly, but soon seed pods form; seeds spread easily when rains arrive.
NOTE: the California poppy shares the same genus and is named Eschscholtzia californica. Both plants have similar grey-green foliage, but the California poppy stands 6”-8” tall, with petals of apricot/orange—not yellow/gold. I have often grown California poppies in my home garden in Southeastern Wisconsin; they thrive in gravely soil, full sun.
Often a plant will adapt to its harsh environment by developing “protective apparel” for survival. Some plants develop a thick, waxy layer on their leaves which seals against moisture loss and can be difficult for insects to penetrate. Even cacti have spines rather than leaves to reduce the amount of plant surface exposed to the sun’s intense rays; those spines actually are a form of modified leaf tissue.
Each tenacious plant I encounter on life’s journey makes me pause. If plants can endure an extremely harsh environment and still be tenacious enough to bloom, then maybe we humans can take a lesson from them. Throughout our lives we might be touched by someone fighting cancer, arthritis, diabetes, depression or a host of other diseases. Doctors’ care, hospitals and medications can only resolve some of the issues associated with these diseases; the patient also must develop tenacity to accomplish a state of wellness.
Tenacity might be learned from our plant friends in the natural world— they don’t give up easily, despite a harsh environment!
M. Lynn Schmid, Certified Master Gardener