Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Golden Cloak of Autumn Arrives to Santa Fe

A few of the sign posts signaling the arrival of Autumn here in Santa Fe, New Mexico have been sighted. We begin with a flowering native commonly referred to as Rabbitbrush, Chamisa, and Rubber Rabbitbrush,  the latin is Ericameria nauseous and/or Chrysothamnus nauseous.


Above: Chamisa in June

I find Chamisa particularly interesting to watch through the seasons. In early Spring the little, elongated leaves begin to emerge with a gorgeous sage/teal color which stays through Monsoon season until late Summer when you start to see the golden yellow flower pods. In late August early September the flowers begin to open with the landscape around Santa Fe turning gold.

Above: Chamisa in August 2019

Above: Chamisa at the end of her bloom cycle September 2017

Chamisa is a drought tolerant, perennial with great value to the pollinators and animals that browse and forage. The leaves, flowers and seeds are all food sources as well as a source of shelter for small animals, hence the name rabbitbrush.

I've witnessed chamisa to be quite tolerant in the harsh desert climate where water can be scarce while the heat and wind intense. Another lovely feature of chamisa is that it provides us with a hydrosol and essential oil.


Above: Cholla, April 2019

Above: Cholla, September 2019

The cholla (pronounced "choy-ah") cactus, also called cane, jumping and walkingstick cactus (Cylindropuntia imbricata), is another one with variety through the seasons. From my observation, in general, the fruits begin to turn yellow gold in late Summer/early Autumn and maintain this hue almost right up until May when the cholla seems to awaken with a very short window of spectacular magenta flowers. There is some variation from plant to plant, as I have seen some of the stalks go to seed and some of the fruits dry up. This is one that I am still getting to know, and as you may recall helped in bringin forward the Perfumed Bestiary series.

I've been told that The Shed in downtown Santa Fe, cooks with the fruits of cholla.

Above: Cholla, May 2019

Above: Cholla, Late June 2019


Our other local cactus is the Opuntia, commonly known as Prickly Pear. The fruit is the part called the prickly pear as well as tuna, sabra, nopal (paddle, plural nopales) from the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads, or nostle, from the Nahuatl word nōchtli for the fruit; or paddle cactus.1

Above: Opuntia, June 2019

The fruit of the opuntia is edible, another feature of the plant is that the insect is extremely valuable in the plant dye industry. Although cactus plants exist in many parts of our Earth they native to the Americas.

This beauty comes in many colors and has a cycle which is not quite as striking through the four points of the season wheel. Below is the peach colored blossom from June with of photo of how it looks now in September.

Above: Peach Opuntia, September 2019

I've heard that besides the cochineal that live on the plant, the fruits can also be used for plant dye, thus I will be mindfully gather them and doing some tests.

Above: Juniper berries, September 2019

There are many other plants that thrive in this high desert landscape, like the pinon, juniper, asters, etc. which I will share as I continue to learn, study and communicate with them.

1 Wikipedia

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