These blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum), growing next to my driveway, are the best I’ve seen them in my yard. Typically very drought tolerant, they also have a very long blooming season, March to November. The rains in August set them off, and they’ve been glorious since.
I did some work on the bed they’re in to remove some very overgrown agave and grasses that had died. I replaced those with little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and evening primrose I transplanted from other parts of the yard.
I learned something the hard way about agave (mine was Agave americana americana). Besides the nasty spikes and recurved thorns the plant uses to defend itself, it has a third defense mechanism that’s not apparent to the eye. In fact, it’s microscopic. The juice of the plant contains calcium oxalate raphides – microscopic needles – that cause acute contact dermatitis. In my case, the pulpy “leaves” of agave I was chopping slapped up against the insides of my knees. Within a minute or so my skin was on fire and itching simultaneously. I knew I’d come in contact with something, but not specifically what. I dropped everything and ran to the shower. It was too late, however. Benedryl cream and topical fluocininide (strong steroidal cream) didn’t do a whole lot, but the burning eventually subsided. The following day I had a rash that looked and felt a little like poison ivy. A week later it has not faded a bit. In fact, I read one source that said the rash can last a year.
I love learning new things about plants, but not in such a tactile, first-hand way. My friend Grog and I once joked we should start a TV show called The Tactile Botanist, with a Brit-accented buffoon of a host bumbling his way through a range of plant identifications based on their thorns, spines, brambles, tripping vines and rash-producing juices, and the severity of his injuries. Needless to say, the agave is now my main vote for the pilot episode.
I continued my work the next day in jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Lesson learned.