Apache Plume — November 2010

Apache plume seedhead

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Apache plume plant

Apache plume flower

Apache plumes

One of our more distinctive native shrubs can be found scattered in canyons and lining parts of arroyos throughout the Preserve bearing seed heads adorned with fine silvery-pink twisted filaments throughout the summer months. Because these unusual and eye-catching structures are somewhat reminiscent of Apache war bonnets, this plant has come to be known as Apache plume. Its scientific name, Fallugia paradoxa, also alludes to those curious pompom-like formations; paradoxa is from the Latin word meaning strange, or contrary to expectation. The genus name honors a seventeenth century Italian abbot and botanical writer, Fillippo Vergilio Falugi. The genus Fallugia is monospecific (Apache plume is the only species in this genus), but it is a member of the large and well-known rose family, Rosaceae, represented by 25 genera and 79 different species in New Mexico. Members of the rose family typically have flowers with five sepals, five petals, and numerous stamens. A number of fruit trees and shrubs such as apples, cherries, plums, strawberries and raspberries belong to the Rosaceae.

Individual Apache plume plants commonly grow about five feet tall and five feet wide, but they usually are found clustered in groups that obscure the form of individual plants. The plants branch profusely; older branches are quite sturdy with light gray, peeling park and young branches are pale brown in color with white woolly hairs. The leaves arise from short lateral branches and are not much more than one-half inch long. Somewhat feathery in shape, leaves typically have three to five thin lobes with curled edges and dense yellow-white woolly hairs on their underside.

Apache plume plants bear flowers at the branch tips from May through September. The five white petals form a hemispheric floral cup about one inch in diameter. Many individual stamens are found within the cup, each consists of a thin white filament bearing a yellow anther at its tip where the pollen is produced and released. A number of pistils are located in the center of the flower and each pistil has an egg-containing ovary at its base. A thin style grows upward from each ovary to receive pollen and continues to elongate after pollination to form the feathery plume.

The tough wood branches of Apache plume proved useful to Native Americans. Straight flower-bearing branches were used to make arrows whereas non-flowering branches were collected and fashioned into stiff brooms. The long and wiry roots of Apache plume were also collected and made into cordage. Flower petals were eaten and thought to prevent stomach gas whereas leaves were steeped in water and used as a hair wash purported to promote hair growth. Today Apache plume is an excellent choice as a native ornamental shrub. It is a fairly fast grower, tolerates full sun, and can be grown in a range of soil types. If you are looking for a low maintenance small shrub that flowers profusely and is adorned with uniquely attractive fruits, Apache plume is for you. And for all of us that wander through arroyos and canyons on the Preserve to chance upon and appreciate its unique natural beauty.

© 2010 Jerry Melaragno

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