Colorado’s “Holly”

Pyracantha berries@ColoSpgs LAH 131We’ve succumbed—an artificial tree, fake garlands, silk poinsettias. As I pull our Christmas bins out of storage, I wonder—how did a gardener stoop this low? Isn’t there something Christmas-y I can grow here in Colorado? It would be so nice to simply go outside and snip a few branches to grace our mantle.

While holly isn’t really adapted to our high and dry conditions, and the mistletoe growing in the Ponderosa pines differs from the pretty parasites of England, there is one plant that not only produces red berries in December, it’s one of the very few broad-leafed evergreens to survive in Zone 5!

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Ho, Ho, Holly

ilex_holly-berries“Deck the balls with boughs of holly” might work well in Merry Olde England, or even in the eastern U.S., but it’s not very practical at my house,  just north of Colorado Springs, Colorado. We have too much sunshine, the air and soil is too dry, and our soils are too lean and too alkaline. Holly won’t survive winter’s dessicating winds. At least, that’s what I learned when we moved here.

So imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I was out for a walk in a near-by subdivision, and there were two bushes, covered with green leaves and red berries, planted in the strip of soil between the sidewalk and the street. Could it be?

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Seeing Red

redcoats-painting-f-cotes-pxt-1764-by-francis-cotes-1726-1770

What do Minute Maid® or Ocean Spray® ruby red grapefruit juice, Revolutionary War British soldier uniforms, and Almay lipstick have in common? Yes, they’re all red. But there’s more to it than that. They, along with a myriad of other cosmetics, foods, and a few fabrics, all contain a red dye known as cochineal red or its derivative, carmine.

Almost everything these days contains some sort of artificial color. While some people avoid these dyes, most don’t think twice even if they do happen to read the label. Besides, cochineal isn’t artificial. It’s a natural product that has been used for hundreds of years.

So just what is it, and where does it come from?

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Red-Winged Blackbirds

As birders, we have a tendency to sneer at common species, even disparaging them as “trash birds.” One of my birding resolutions for 2011 is to learn to appreciate all species, no matter how mundane. Learning more about their lifestyles is a step in that direction.

red-winged-blackbird_fcnc-co_lah_1218-aEven before I was a birder, I could identify the male Red-winged Blackbird. Found in shallow marshes and other wetlands around the country, the black bird with the red and yellow shoulders is a familiar sight. Even the little drainage pond at the end of our street, with its sparse patch of cattails, is home to a few of these noisy blackbirds. Continue reading “Red-Winged Blackbirds”