Plants of the Western Slope Oct. 5, 2016

By Evelyn Horn


Plants of the Western Slope Oct. 5, 2016 | Plants of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn,

Photos by All Schneider The leaves of Indian Hemp, or Dogbane, and its long seed pod.

Indian Hemp

Just past the Cory Store, Allen and I can look down on the fields along Tongue Creek. Big hay-rolls stand in the stubble fields contrasting with the gray-tan of the 'dobie badlands beyond. As we round the bend and begin to drive down Cory Grade, the little valley is filled with autumn colors.

The cottonwoods are getting their bright yellow of autumn garb, but some are a deeper shade, almost golden. The banks of Tongue Creek are orangish-red with tamarisk . . . such a pretty tree/shrub. It's too bad that it's invasive and detrimental to our water table. Now we pass the steep, barren road-cut on our left

. . . empty of its swallows now. They have gone to warmer climates.

Just before the intersection with Highway 92, along the adjacent damp area, Dogbane or Indian Hemp, traces the roadway with it brilliant yellow leaves. And, if I look quickly, I can make out some of the long seed pods. The little whitish flower, less than a quarter inch long, produces a very large seed pod -- over 6 inches long! This seed pod provided fiber for cordage to the Indians, particularly those of Utah. And the plant is considered to be poisonous. But the animals seem to avoid eating it (happy circumstance!).

Our Indian Hemp is over two feet tall and has tiny whitish flowers. In our high country there is a related plant, Spreading Dogbane, that grows about a foot tall and may have pinkish flowers. It often occurs along barren road cuts and, in the fall, it presents a flash of golden leaves. Both are in the Dogbane family, Apocynaceae. Our Indian Hemp is Apocynum cannabinum.

The Dogbane family, Apocynaceae, is composed of trees, shrubs and herbs and it's primarily tropical. In cooler climates we find our two plants as well as the oleanders of California and the periwinkles of our gardens.

Just behind us I can make out the fuzzy heads of our wild clematis, known also as Virgin's Bower. These climbing vines used to clamber over trees along the river bank, but now they have only smaller shrubs to support them. If you watch along fence lines and take note of small shrubs, you'll probably see clusters of these fuzzy seed heads.

Our little shopping trip into Delta has been filled with autumn color!