The Red Shift 2

Palettes of colour can provide lenses with which to enter into the landscape. That was the story last week. To put on those glasses, click here.  The earth may be an art installation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have certain genres of its own that go beyond human interest in light, colour, and beauty. Today, an attempt to describe the red shift that is taking place in the western North American Grasslands, in less human terms. So, here’s one of the signature flowering plants of this formerly rich wildflower world, the pungent, lift-your-heart-to-the-sky yarrow …

Still Hanging in There After All These Years

Yarrow and Rabbitbrush hanging on among the new immigrant weeds.

I can’t give you the complex sagebrush and ashen scent of this flower, that lingers for decades in the back of your mind and describes all this land between the mountains, where the clouds float overhead and the screams of red-tailed hawks carry for miles above the bunchgrass, but I can get a bit closer …

Yarrow in Its Glory

Once one of over fifty varieties of flowers from which the bees of the grasslands collected honey, in many areas yarrow is now their only nectar source, for weeks at a time. Note the spiky cheatgrass trying to steal her water in the lower right hand corner of the image.

This is, however, a story of great hope, because after decades of cheatgrass, the yarrow is still here: one of the species that can survive its water-hoarding. Yarrow is, however, also a cultivated plant that with a bit of coaxing can be brought to flower in raging colour. Here is a plant that a landscaper forgot to load onto his truck while developing the golf course subdivision up the hill a few years back …

Red Yarrow Going Rogue

A prince among weeds.

For all the red shift the colour of this plant makes in the landscape, look what else it does …

Wild Bee Collecting Necar

I watched a variety of bee species on this yarrow community for fifteen minutes. Not once did any choose the native white yarrow to the right.

Here’s a closer view …


Just One of the Species Making Use of the Red Shift

Perhaps keeping the grasslands alive as a landscape is as simple as introducing the right weeds. If a bit of colour up on the hill brings the landscape back into balance by replacing lost, brightly-coloured flower species, which insects can easily find in that sea of brown and grey, with brightly-coloured variants of plants that have shown that they are a match for the worst of weeds, then I’m all for painting the hills red.

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