Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Apache Plume

I write a column called "Plant of the Month" for Oaks Notes the newsletter for the volunteers at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. One of the pleasures I derive from writing these articles is that my research deepens my knowledge of the plants I pick for the column. Recently I was almost too ashamed to admit that I found out that what, for decades, I have taken to be the flower of Apache Plume is actually its fruit.

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa) belongs to ROSACEAE, the rose family. It is native to the arid habitats of the mountains of east San Bernardino County. It is also found in the desert woodlands and scrub of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and northern Mexico. It is the only member of its genus. Which is to say it is monotypic. 

The flower of the shrub is roselike, or to some a little like an apple blossom, with rounded white petals and a center filled with many thready stamens and pistils. The flowers are small, but not inconspicuous if one really looks at the bush when preparing to write about it.

However, the persistent fruits have distinctive feathery plumes that look a lot like pompoms. They are formed when the ovary of the flower remains after the petals fall away, leaving the styles, each 3 to 5 centimeters long. Each style is attached to a fruit, which is a small achene. The plant is covered with these clusters. They are greenish at first, turning pink or reddish tinged later on.

Apache Plume
Eventually the plumes turn white and when backlit are quite spectacular. The fruit finally disperses when wind catches the styles and blows them away.

Apache Plume

The plant grows three to eight feet tall, with straw-colored branches and spreads six to eight feet. The small leaves are green on top and rusty underneath. Apache Plume can look a little scruffy, but still be attractive in a drought tolerant garden.