Issued from Rancho Regenesis
in the woods ±4kms west of Ek Balam Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

March 4, 2018


In the head-high wall of impenetrable weeds along the garden's perimeter, just as the dry season approaches its most stressful weeks of high temperatures and droughtiness, a wildflower, which some might call a weed, has begun flowering. It's a spindly plant that uses neighbors to lean upon as its weak, diffuse branches rise to head high, but if it's growing alone it sprawls on the ground not reaching knee high. You can see some flowering branches at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304bl.jpg

Other herbaceous plants are turning yellow or brown, and drying up, but somehow this plant keeps looking fresh and producing new flowers. The purplish blossoms appear to last only for a day or two, then fall off, with other blossoms in the stem-tip heads taking their places. Close up, each flower shows itself as emerging from behind a shieldlike bract, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304bm.jpg

If you look at the flowering head, or inflorescence, from directly above, you see a striking field mark for this species, which is that the inflorescence's bracts are so regularly arranged into four rows that the entire head takes on a box-within-boxes appearance, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304bp.jpg

We've seen this distinctive inflorescence configuration before, in the commonly occurring Hairy Fournwort, Tetramerium nervosum, of the big, mostly tropical Acanthus Family, the Acanthaceae. You might enjoy comparing our species with it, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/fournwrt.htm

The Hairy Fournwort's flowers are yellow and much less showy than our present species. Surely we have a second Tetramerium species. And it's true that three Tetramerium species are listed for the Yucatan. The problem is that none looks like our garden wildflower.

Eventually I noticed the feature that banishes our garden plant from the Hairy Fournwort's genus Tetramerium, plainly shown in the broken open blossom shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304bo.jpg

The detail to notice is that this flower produces four stamens. Species in the genus Tetramerium bear only two. To plant taxonomists, that's a big difference, at least in the Acanthus Family. Seeing that to figure out what our garden plant was I'd need to "do the botany," I also photographed the herb's handsome capsule-type fruits, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304bq.jpg

Our prettily flowering garden plant is BLECHUM PYRAMIDATUM, native to and generally distributed throughout the American tropics and subtropics, as well as occurring as an invasive weed in many tropical and subtropical parts of the Old World.

In certain unquestionably authoritative literature, such the Flora of China, the name Blechum pyramidatum is considered a synonym of Ruellia blechum, Ruellia being the genus of several species of commonly occurring wild petunia. However, the folks at CICY, the "Center for Scientific Investigation of the Yucatan," as well as other notable institutions, prefer Blechum pyramidatum. Who knows which is the best name? What's for sure is that there's no decent English name for it, and the name Blechum is an ugly name for a pleasing plant.

In Mexico our blue-flowered Blechum traditionally has been used medicinally for headaches, contusions and "bad air." In Panama a tea of its boiled leaves is used for cleaning skin wounds, ranging from scratches to gangrene. Internally it's taken for stomach problems, including acid stomach and diarrhea.


At http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/caesgaum.htm we show our endemic Yucatan Caesalpinia tree's leaves, fruits, and seeds, and we show the trees putting on flowers and their leaves turning yellow, but until now somehow I've neglected to provide a close-up look at its flowers. That's a shame, because the flowers are special, and not much represented on the Internet. The Yucatan Caesalpinias are starting to flower now, so finally you can see how the yellow blossoms arrange themselves in panicle-like racemes at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304sn.jpg

Blossoms viewed from the front show the interesting field marks seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304so.jpg

The bottom two petals are unusually narrow and held apart from another. Petal bases are covered with short, gland-tipped hairs. The calyx's lowest sepal is deeply scoop-shaped, and the sprinkling of redness on the top petal occurs on nearly every flower. From the side, the blossom's stamens are shown to be of different lengths, with anthers of different sizes, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304sp.jpg

So now our Yucatan Casalpinia page is more complete.


Just last month I was remarking how our super-abundant Sunflower Goldeneyes formed such spectacularly showy yellow walls along our roads. You can see the spectacular roadside floral walls on our Sunflower Goldeneye page at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/viguiera.htm

At this moment in the dry season when moisture from the rainy season finally has been reduced to the point that soil here no longer can support herbaceous annual plants, those yellow walls have turned into brown walls, as you can see on the road between the rancho and Ek Balam shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304vg.jpg

Most of the brownness is provided by dead leaves and stems, but at branchtips the flowering heads that once blossomed in such profusion now have become stiffly dry, brown fruiting heads, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304vh.jpg

Next season's show of Sunflower Goldeneyes are being sown by these heads right now. Wind shakes the stems and hard, little fruits tumble onto the soil. Gradually the parched-brittle stems deteriorate, crumbling to the ground, little by little allowing the similarly super-abundant Wild Tamarind or Uaxim trees reclaim the visual dominance they command for about nine months of the year. Our Wild Tamarind page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/leucaena.htm


Ever since I arrived at the rancho I've been hoping a certain planted ornamental bush would blossom so I could identify it. Now it finally has, and I think this must be its first year to do so. You can see the left side of the dense, eight-ft-tall (2.5m), prolifically branching and spreading plant at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304ps.jpg

One of its Its evergreen, compound leaves is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304pw.jpg

That leaf, a bit sunburned and thirsty looking, is simply pinnately compound, but I read that its blades can be tripinnate -- leaflets divided into leaflets which are further divided into leaflets.

The long-anticipated flowers are tiny things produced in gangly-looking, diffuse, bushel-basket-sized, panicle-type inflorescences such as the one barely evident amid all the visual clutter, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304pt.jpg

The big flowering head's terminal branches end with thumbnail-sized, star-shaped flower clusters like the one shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304pu.jpg

At the left in that image the flowers' stamens and corolla have fallen off, leaving just an inferior ovary (corolla and stamens arising atop the ovary instead of below it). The corolla falls off as a unit, leaving behind what appears to be a clean cut. A flower close-up is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/18/180304pv.jpg

To any northern wildflower lover who pays attention to plant families, this bush and its flowers and inflorescence display many features of the big Carrot or Queen-Ann's-lace Family, the Umbelliferae. However, our plant belongs to the much smaller but very closely related Ginseng or Aralia Family, the Araliaceae. About this family my old Bailey's Manual of Cultivated Plants says that it's "...much like Umbeliferae, but the styles are usually more than 2, the fr. is mostly baccate and lacking in special internal structure, and the species run more into woody subjects." The term baccate means "grouped like a cluster of grapes."

Our plant is POLYSCIAS FRUTICOSA, in English sometimes known as the Ming Aralia or Tea Tree, though other species share that name. It's native to Polynesia and the Malay Archipelago. Horticultural guides say that it prefers sunny to half-shady situations in somewhat moist, sandy loam soil, and can't tolerate frost. Our soil is too clayey and dry for this tree, so it's surprising that it's at least surviving, though you can see from the leaves that it's suffering here in the dry season.

In 2012 we encountered another species of the genus Polyscias, one with even larger flowering heads and leaves with fewer but much larger leaflets, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/polyscia.htm


This week Newsletter reader Henry, a horticulturalist in England, wrote commenting on the strange-smelling basil we considered recently, and ended with these words:

"We have had much winter, but now a bit of respite. A bit of ice rain this morning, but I see the first snowdrops out of my kitchen window among the Sedum ternatum that is greening up. No natives yet in bloom, but the little Hedyotis pusilla won’t be far behind."

Henry knew I'd like to hear about his snowdrops and greening Sedum ternatum (one of many stonecrop species), and that I'd be interested in knowing that in his part of the world the little Hedyotis pusilla is a native plant that announces the earliest hint of spring. I'm unfamiliar with Hedyotis pusilla, but back at Chichén Itzá we saw Hedyotis cllitrichoides, and I figure they must be similar, and it's a pleasure for me to visualize Henry waiting for his own little Hedyotis. The Chichén Itzá Hedyotis is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/hedyotis.htm

Well, that's how it works: People who pay attention to Nature and watch for seasonal signs not only enjoy knowing who the plants are around them signaling the changes, but also we like to share the good news.

In fact, news of Henry's harbingers of spring got me to wondering this week how I might better help others enter that sphere of enchantment populated by folks like Henry and me. I've decided that maybe the best thing I can do in this Newsletter spot is to bring attention to what I call "The Standard Blossom," which you can meet at http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_stand.htm

The Standard Blossom is another of those "thought tools" I like to talk about. Here's how it works:

In your mind firmly establish a concept of the most average, unspecialized, simple and downright boring {elegant} blossom imaginable. That's the Standard Blossom. Once you have it, get straight what the Standard Blossom's parts look like, how they're positioned relative to one another, and make sure you know what job each part does. Then, whenever you meet a flower that in some way differs from the Standard Blossom -- and every flower will differ in at least some tiny way -- then you'll know that that difference is part of what makes your new flower special...

Once you start noticing exactly how blossoms of different species differ from one another, identifying the various species becomes much easier. And once You have a name, you can look it up. Maybe you'll learn about the plant's medicinal value, its edibility, maybe how it uses camouflage and chemical weapons, what its ecological importance is, whether it's rare or not... on and on. The above Standard Blossom page goes into much more detail and offers examples of how the process works. Links at the top of that page lead to other parts of our BackyardNature.Net website, the whole point of which always has been to provide "thinking tools" to people everywhere who might benefit from becoming more intimate with Nature.

As spring arrives up north, try using the Standard Blossom to learn more about Nature in your own backyard, and see if it gladdens your heart. If it does, gradually expand your backyard concept outward into the planetary biosphere. Once you get the knack of using the concept, you might discover that the Standard Blossom tool even can be adapted to other spheres of thought and feeling, offering ever greater enchantment not only with flowers but the whole Universe.

For, everything in the whole Universe is natural, and therefore subject to the human mental process of settling an image in the mind, and then observing how reality artfully and infinitely poetizes variations on the theme of that mental image.

Everything is Nature of the same nature as outside Henry's kitchen window where he sees spring's earliest greenings, thinks of the little Hedyotis pusilla, and finds something worthy of sharing with a friend.


Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,