Thursday, June 20, 2013

Monkeyshines in the Rockery

When a mystery plant pops up in the garden, it feels like a bonus Christmas day. True, sometimes the plant turns out to be the equivalent of coal in the stocking (like the time the seemingly delicate orchid in my garden turned out to be the highly invasive noxious exotic Himalayan balsam). More often the plant is a pleasant surprise, like a patch of feverfew or a tintinnabulation of Canterbury bells.

But sometimes it's definitely more like receiving an especially charming gift. That's how I felt when I saw this little wisp of yellow flowers growing out of a crevice in the rockery out front. I first noticed it last year and finally got a chance to look at it more closely when it sprouted again this year.

I hadn't planted it in this seemingly inauspicious spot. And usually the only wild plants that get a foothold in the rockery are ferns (welcome) and horsetails gone haywire (unwelcome). It looked so delicate it seemed improbable that it could muscle out a little space for itself in this rocky, sunbaked wall.

But Phinney Hill does have a multitude of underground springs trickling through it. They gurgle above ground in some places (a nearby street  has a channel down one side specifically to allow the spring to flow downhill into a storm drain). Many of the plants that appear to be growing in unlikely places are tapping into this hidden source of moisture, which is why lush ferns are able to grow at the base of our rockery.

A bit of research reveals that the little yellow blossoms appear to be a kind of monkey-flower, probably Yellow Monkey-Flower, Mimulus guttatus, and that it's not at all surprising that it thrives in the rockery: it is a plant that likes to grow in "wet ledges, crevices, weeping rock faces, seepage areas, along streams, near springs, on gravel bars, in wet ditches and clearings," according to the book Plants of the Pacific Northwest.

It got its odd name, according to this book, because apparently the flowers have "grinning, apelike faces" in the eyes of some beholders. The genus name, Mimulus, echoes this observation: it refers to a buffoon or "actor in a farce or mime."

Monkey-flowers have been introduced into European gardens, particularly one variety that exudes a musky scent. Some varieties thrive in such inhospitable settings as zones splashed by salty Pacific spray and the lips of steaming Yellowstone geysers. Because of the amazing array of forms this genus takes, yellow monkey-flowers serve as the equivalent of fruit flies in evolutionary studies, helping to tease out the intricacies of genetic variation and inheritance.

Native Americans used the plant's leaves to make teas and ate them, raw or cooked, in their meals. Explorers and "settlers" picked up on this use of the plant, too.

When Lewis and Clark encountered monkey-flowers in their western travels, they added them to their stash of samples to bring back East. Lewis specifically added yellow monkey-flowers he collected along the Clarks River, a tributary of the Blackfoot River, in Montana on July 4, 1806.

Today, that little flowers resides in the Lewis & Clark Herbarium at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. It is probably one of the world's most adventurous monkey-flowers: According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, "Lewis's collection of common monkeyflower traveled over Lewis & Clark Pass, down the Missouri River and eventually made its way to St. Louis and then to Philadelphia."

After reading that, I feel as if the monkey-flower growing in my rockery is puffing itself up and saying, like Pigpen in regard to the cloud of dust around him upon hearing it may be soil that was trod on by Nebuchadnezzar, "Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn't it?"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Because There Are Not Enough Cats on the Internet

Selling a home, scrambling to keep up with work, and other adventures have prevented me from enjoying the fun of blog writing. So today you will have to settle for some pictures of cats. Because God knows there simply aren't enough images of cats on the Kittennet...I mean, the Internet.

Django, indoor cat, contemplates the outdoors.

Django, indoor cat now indoors, contemplates most recent water-bowl artwork.

A kittycat's dilemma: Poor Pebble can only sit inside one box at a time!

Pebble likes peas. When bored, we sit and watch a cat eat peas.
My friend H's cat, who fears she has fallen into a vortex.

Pebble. Sunshine. Sleep.