Mar 262010

Spring has come a little late to the Gila but is now emerging full force, right in step with the tumultuous pace of the San Francisco River flooding its muddy banks. Thanks to snowmelt and significant rains, southwest New Mexico is remarkably well watered at the moment which most likely means a wildflower rich Spring! While there are already many flowers blooming at lower elevations in the Gila, here at about 6,000 feet we’re still at the beginning of our season.

Every year, this diminutive but beautiful little flower commonly known as Mountain Candytuft (Noccaea fendleri subsp. glauca) is one of the very first noticeable wildflowers to bloom in the Canyon.

It’s colors range from bright white to lavender to purple, depending on exactly where it’s growing. It prefers middle mountain coniferous forest and is mostly found in this area growing at the feet of towering Ponderosa Pines among the leaf litter, pine needles and fallen tufts of Usnea lichen.

Candytuft is a Brassicaceae, a member of the ubiquitous Mustard Family. And like many other mustards, it is both edible and quite tasty. Sweet and spicy, somewhat reminiscent of a cross between Mustard greens and Broccoli, these abundant flowers make excellent additions to all sorts of salads and are also wonderful and beautiful garnishes for many soups and similar dishes.


Another tiny but gorgeous wildflower is the above Lomatium nevadense, sometimes called Desert Biscuitroot. The flowers are incredibly complex and lovely in a way that my camera is unable to capture without a stronger macro lens, but you can get a hint of its delicacy from the two pictures I’ve included here.

This small plant usually grows in lower elevations, primarily in rocky areas. It is uncommon in the Canyon and as of yet, I’ve only seen this single plant growing up here on the mesa along a rocky trail. It returns each year, tenaciously persisting in flowering among the rocks and sand.


Snow comes and goes in the Canyon and mountains just above us, feeding the already flooded river and adding to the drama and beauty of the flowers and green things as they emerge from the ground.


The Piñon Pines (Pinus edulis) are vibrant with new growth and their enticing, resiny scent is easily smelled each time I brush against their branches while climbing or hiking.

This slowly passing cold season has been one rich with hot tea brewed from the leaves and barks of evergreen trees, including the Piñon Pine, Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var glauca), White Fir (Abies concolor) as well as the nutty goodness of our local Acorns.


Even on stormy days, Rhiannon and I venture out to discover new lichens, watch the rambunctious javelina playing by the river and enjoy the wild land we live on.


Last year’s Penstemon flower stalks retains its beauty and grace, especially with the vivid colors unfurling all around them.


These are the leaves of some freshly gathered Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia repens), tucked in a basket also containing an abundance of White Fir (Abies concolor) branch tips.

Mahonia is a favorite medicinal of mine, and one that I use frequently in my practice. I’ve written about this plant previously, and you can read my monograph on it right here.


With the arrival of Spring, many exciting shifts are still happening here, and the newest offerings and opportunities here from the Anima Lifeways & Herbal School will soon be unveiled, especially my extensive 5 course distance program entitled From the Ground Up: Grassroots Training in Traditional Western Herbalism. Thanks so much to all of you who have written with your enthusiastic support and interest! It will be ready soon and I will announce it here and on the Anima School blog the moment it’s available.


  10 Responses to “Wild Water, Food and Flowers”

  1. Hi Kiva,
    Glad to see these signs of spring in Gila country. I’m hosting a little blog party in April about what our gardens, wild and domestic, teach us. Would love to hear your thoughts–could be as simple as linking to this lovely little post, if that’s okay with you. Here’s the whole story:
    Be well,

    • Hi Kyce,

      I’d be happy to participate, thanks for letting me know. I’ll write a post specifically for it and send you the link when it’s done.

  2. Beautiful – thank you for inviting us on this walk and viewing these lovely flowers and plants!

  3. I’ve been venturing out as well and notice we’ve gotten some extra water here as well. It’s really turning into a lovely spring. Thanks for the monograph. I read them over and over, savoring each word. They are as beautiful as the subject. I can’t wait for you to announce the new classes. I’m signing up!

  4. What a wonderful american spring! In Europe, specially in Paris, the nature is just awakening

  5. Spring is burgeoning here as well in the PNW. After 62 years of NYS weather it was odd to see crocuses in February and and dandelions in march as well as azaleas. A rhododendron was actually in full bloom during January.

    We have a lot of rain and wild along with domesticated waterfowl have taken to paddling around in my front yard. I began to give them corn in December when their pond froze over and I wondered how they would find food.

    I’m sure they will keep the insects and slugs at bay in the yard. Much better than using poison.

    The change of seasons is a spiritual event for me.

  6. Dear Kiva,

    Such beautiful photos, as always! I always come away feeling refreshed.



  7. I was just doing casual search for weather in New Mexico, particularly the SW region and came across your blog – I am a family nurse practitioner, currently working in the southern Appalachian mountains of North Georgia but have 2 job offers pending in NM, well actually one is in southwest NM (no details yet) and the other is actually IHS clinic on Navajo Reservation with living quarters provided in Gallup. I have never been to the southwest, only fly-overs coast to coast. This would be a big move in many ways and was just curious about the geography, climate, flora, etc. Your blog actually has provided nice information. Any comments, suggestions appreciated regarding a transition from Appalachian mountains to your area. Do not particularly like the smothering humid heat of summers in south – wondering about summers in SW? I thrive in rural areas, am trying to stay away from jobs in the city – been there, done that. Cheers, Cheryl

    • Hi Cheryl, glad you’re enjoying the site. The summer weather here varies a lot depending on what elevation you’re at. We have hot, dry summer days here but fairly cool evenings and nights. In the cities and lower elevations it is quite a bit hotter, although the desert nights still cool off quite a bit. We do usually have some humid days in late june, early july just before monsoon season starts but in general it is much less suffocating than the SE that way. It is obviously much more arid here, and so if you are accustomed to lush plant life it can be a bit of a shock here at first, especially if you living/spending time in the piñon/juniper areas not near water.

      Many people form their primary impression of NM from Albuquerque, which is a mistake, there’s a huge amount of diversity of habitat here, everything from green, wet mountains to riparian canyons (like this one) to grasslands to chihuahuan desert to many miles of rocky scrubland. Just depends on where you are.

      The Gila bioregion (where I am) down here in southwest new mexico is particularly floristically rich with an intersection of rocky mountain, sierra madre, chihuahuan desert and sky island type plants. Everything from gorgeous orchids in the mountains to the infamous chaparral in the deserts. I love it here, but it is quite the leap from the Appalachians.


  8. I have been doing research on wild edibles for a few years now and I always hope to learn even more then I already know when I find pages in the Book of Life such as these pages of yours.
    Thank you Very Much Cheryl
    At the age of 65 I realize that we can still learn as long as we hold the desire.
    Again, I say thank you.

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