24" x 18"
New Mexico, United States
The striking contrast of the brilliant patch of Fireweed against the dark shadow of the Spruce drew me to this scene. Fireweed virtually sparkles because of the brilliant white flags that stick out from the center of each flower. These are the stamens, the male flower parts that contain pollen. By reaching so far out of the flower, their pollen is more likely to reach other flowers rather than their own, one of the objectives of sexual reproduction in plants. This is all very interesting to me because I love the story behind the scene, but from the artist’s point of view, the white flecks added sparkle to the brilliant pink.
Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) is brilliant in other ways too. Its network of underground runners (rhizomes) stabilizes the soil after a fire. Moreover, according to Janis Huggins, author of “Wild at Heart”, the shoots are eaten by indigenous people and the flowers produce so much nectar that Russian and Canadian honey industries depend upon it.
The trees in this scene are Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii). Engelmann are among the few trees that can survive the harsh conditions at the tree line in these mountains of New Mexico. It should be no surprise that a little further along the trail we encountered Bristle Cone Pines, the all-time champion of mountaintop survival. I cannot be absolutely sure that some of the smaller trees in the background are not Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) because the Blues also live at high altitudes and the bluish cast of the leaves is not a reliable discriminant. Both species have variations that are quite bluish.