Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Ghost plants of Placitas

—Michael Crofoot

This is a story about some of the very rare, interesting, or extinct plants from the Placitas area. First there are the essential plant species lists we need to work with, taken from various plant surveys in our area.

The biggest and the best, of course, is Bill Dunmire’s list of 208 plant species found in the Placitas Open Space, which can be found at Then there is my plant list and herbarium taken at the Diamond Tail Community. This list includes 164 species and photos can be found at These two floras have about eighty-three plant species that are not common to both plant surveys. This adds up to around 291 different kinds of native plants growing in our area. But then there are an additional 225 plant species found in the so-called Ball Allotment, an area of ecological concern due north of Placitas. Also, there are eighty-seven species of plants found in a botanical survey for a past proposal for a gravel pit near Bernalillo. It can be well argued that there were as many as 350 to four hundred or more plant species once native to our Placitas area and even into the early history of the Spanish when they were first establishing their villages and communities in these wonderful Placitas landscapes.

Now let’s get on to our wonderful native plants… Here are some of my favorites, starting with the absolutely essential nitrogen-fixing plants called legumes, in the bean family. These plants are very often pioneer plants that help the other plants native here to grow where there is not much topsoil left. These plants are the ones, like our garden beans, that form nodules on their roots with symbiotic bacteria that take nitrogen right out of the air and give the nitrogen to their plant hosts. (These are known as ‘N-fixers.‘) The most widespread N-fixer hereabouts is the Feather Dalea, whose little woody half shrubs often form communities on dry hillsides and whose presence helps control erosion. Another bean family native is the surprising White Prairie Clover. Now and then, we can find this tough N-fixer mixed in with native grasses, and I have just found a big bunch of this native Clover off Camino de las Rosa Castilla. What a find!

Just last year, I found two very different legume plants, one herbaceous and the other woody, along the roadside, and they were the only ones of each that I have ever seen. I did not get to identify them, a big pity for me as they were hanging on by the barest of threads and may now have become extirpated, that is, no longer growing here but hopefully growing in other places.

There are at least three species of the N-fixing milk vetches around the Placitas landscape, but I have never gotten further than just admiring them, because they are so very few. Their various flowers are most beautiful and the milk vetches have the silvery look of leaves covered with dense, little hairs. Another N-fixing legume of great merit is the stately New Mexico Locust. Now and then, we can find a few of these isolated locusts, but they mostly grow in nice little clumps or along the Las Huertas. One last N-fixing plant is the Mountain Mahogany shrub, nodulated by the very, very small Frankia actinomycetes. Over the many years I have hiked these lands, I only found one or two here and there. But now I have gotten very familiar with a valley up the Las Huertas which has at least a hundred Mountain Mahogany—a simply great find!

Here are a few more of our amazing native plants, in no particular order. There are the two remarkable leafless Ephedra species, which are called Mormon Tea by the Mormons and Navajo Tea by the Navajo. Maybe we here can call them Good Tea—for they do make a nicely fragrant reddish tea, which has the effect of a decongestant, among its other medicinal qualities.

A relatively rare plant is called the Bigelow Sage. I have only found a few remnants of this distinctive Sage here and there on very rocky hillsides or on steep slopes. I didn’t understand why the Bigelow Sage was so sparse here and why I have never seen it down on the flatlands, but then I read that Bigelow Sage was the favorite food of pronghorn antelopes when they were here, and thus also a favorite food for the many goats which used to roam these lands. The Bigelow Sage that grows in very rocky or very steep landscapes was just left alone as even antelopes or goats would not want to go up very steep and rocky slopes. I have found one other Sage, this one called Fringed Sage, in a very steep ravine. I do mean that I found just one such relic, and I have not found another anywhere around Placitas.

Well, I could go on and on—and I will do so on the Signpost website. There is so much to praise these natives for, and also so much to learn from them. I will be writing next about our native Placitas Ponderosa Pines, the Great Fire of the early 1800s, and more.

Pizza Box

Why pizza and recycling don’t mix

The Placitas Recycling Center does not accept pizza boxes or other cardboard or paper containers with residual food and food stains. There are a couple reasons for this. The most obvious is that residual food can attract mice, rats, and other vermin and creates an unsanitary situation. A less well-known problem is that greases and oils in pizza, cheese, and other foods are incompatible with the paper recycling process.

Recycled paper products, including cardboard, are mixed with water to make a slurry. According to, grease from pizza boxes or other food-contaminated paper products causes oil to form at the top of the slurry, and paper fibers cannot separate from oils during the pulping process. This kind of contamination can cause an entire batch, including the uncontaminated cardboard and paper in the batch, to be ruined. The contaminated slurry must then be disposed of. Thus, recycling pizza boxes actually does more harm than good.

Paper products, by a large margin, account for the bulk of recycled materials brought to the Placitas Recycling Center. In 2008, the center collected more than thirty-seven tons of cardboard and nearly ninety-seven tons of office paper, newspaper, and mixed paper, together comprising ninety-two percent of the total tonnage collected. The center’s success is highly dependent on keeping the recycled paper and cardboard free of contaminants. In addition to grease and oil, egg cartons, plastic-lined sacks, tissue paper, toilet paper, facial tissues, waxed paper, laminated paper, and coated paper and cardboard are all considered contaminants.

While plastic and aluminum do not have the same constraints, the attractive nuisance issue still applies. Sugary liquid residues like soda are a particular problem, especially in the summer. A quick rinse of plastic containers and aluminum cans eliminates the risk and ensures that the center provides a safe recycling experience for everyone.

The Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway 165 one-half mile east of I-25. It is open Saturday mornings except the Saturdays before Easter, Labor Day, and Christmas and after Thanksgiving. Volunteers are always needed and are invited to sign up at the center during operating hours. More information about the center and the materials it accepts can be found at

Peak oil, climate change, and economic hard times: Compassion and community

The Earth Care Fellowship of Las Placitas Presbyterian Church will present a three-week discussion and learning opportunity about global energy depletion, economic crisis, and climate change, and building resiliency and compassion in our community.

Classes are held Monday evenings from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., May 4, 11, and 18 at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. The meetings are free and everyone is welcome.

Participants will view the video “Preparing for Post-Peak Living” (information at and work together to build a low water use twenty-five container vegetable garden.

For more information, contact Dan at 867-4801 or email

Las Placitas Assn trail building

Las Placitas Association trail building workshop

The Las Placitas Association (LPA) will be hosting an outdoor workshop on hiking trail system maintenance and construction on Saturday, May 9 on the Placitas Open Space. Our favorite trail specialists from the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division will join us and provide all necessary tools. This work is part of LPA’s continuing efforts to assist the City of Albuquerque in implementing the Management Plan for the Placitas Open Space.

Las Placitas will provide drinks and snacks for this morning workshop. Please wear sturdy clothes, and bring work gloves, a sun hat, extra water, and rain gear. We’ll meet at the Placitas Mercantile parking lot at 8:30 a.m., carpool to the site, and work until about noon. The Open Space is beautiful this time of year, and your participation helps to assure the viability of the Placitas Open Space.

For more information on the workshop and LPA, log on to our website at, or call Lolly Jones at 771-8020. We look forward to seeing you May 9.

Plant diagnostic clinic helps solve mystery of ‘what killed the plant’

No matter what form of horticulture a person is participating in—professional or homeowner hobbyist—no one likes to have the plants they are nurturing turn brown and die.

New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service and the plant diagnostic clinic in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences’ extension plant sciences department are here to help answer the questions of what’s causing it to die.

The clinic is designed to provide plant diagnostic services for the state. The services include analysis of plant material for plant pathogens and environmental stresses, as well as suggesting appropriate control measures when available. The clinic also facilitates insect and weed identification through referrals to other specialists.

Getting that help is as easy as visiting the clinic’s website or calling the county extension agriculture agent.

It is better to ask the experts while the plant is still alive than waiting until it is dead, said Natalie Goldberg, NMSU professor and extension plant pathologist.

“Successful plant disease diagnosis is a team effort. Proper diagnosis begins with the submission of a good-quality specimen accompanied by accurate and complete information,” she said. “It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the cause of death from a single leaf, dried or old specimen, or especially a dead plant. We’re plant pathologists, not plant coroners. We don’t do autopsies. We need live plant samples to determine what disease or pest is causing the problem.”

There are an array of publications on the plant diagnostic clinic website that provide descriptions of common diseases and conditions that affect everything from fruits and vegetables, including chile, ornamental plants, and turf. Through the written description and photographs, the grower might be able to find the information needed without further help.

The next step, if the web search does not produce the answer, is to contact the local county extension agricultural agent. To learn how to collect a sample to take to the extension office, visit for a publication on how to collect and send plant specimens for disease diagnosis.

“The extension agents are our first eyes,” Goldberg said. “County agents are well versed in the diseases that plague their area. If they have seen it before, they may be able to [make] a diagnosis without having to send the sample to the clinic.”

If the county agent is stumped by the disease’s symptoms, he or she will submit the plant sample to the clinic for further diagnosis by staff members Goldberg, Jason French, or Carol Sutherland.

NMSU’s plant diagnostic clinic receives around a thousand plant samples during the growing season of March through mid-October from state clients. Of those, ninety-five percent of the time, the disorder comes from a disease or environmental disorder.

If the disorder proves to be caused by an insect, state entomologist Carol Sutherland is called upon to help provide the solution to the problem. Besides the insect samples from the clinic, Sutherland receives an additional two thousand samples during the season directly from extension agents and individuals.

“We suggest people utilize their county agent to submit samples,” Goldberg said. “They are trained in how to submit an ideal sample, which has some portion of the plant that shows the margin between healthy tissue and damaged tissue.”

Visit the website for further information about the plant diagnostic clinic and fact sheets regarding plant pathology and common diseases.

For immediate help diagnosing a diseased plant, contact your county extension agent.

Visit to find contact information for each county extension office.

Developing to stop development

—Jonathan Thompson, High Country News

In 2001, Ted Harrison, working for the Trust for Public Land, acquired 1,400 acres of rabbitbrush and petroglyph-etched basalt boulders as open space for Santa Fe County, New Mexico.

Nice accomplishment, but Harrison was frustrated: It was just a sliver of the more than fourteen-thousand-acre Thornton Ranch, which lies right in the path of Santa Fe’s sprawl. And the Trust and the county couldn’t afford to buy the entire ranch.

They did their best “to preserve discrete parcels,” Harrison says, but “the real estate industry was washing away a lot of the effects.”

So Harrison left the Trust and started the nonprofit Commonweal Conservancy. His group is now buying the remaining 13,222 acres of the Thornton Ranch south of Santa Fe, where it plans to create the Galisteo Basin Preserve—about a thousand homes built on just 427 acres, with the rest set aside as open space.

Other developments in the West preserve more land, but typically they emphasize exclusivity and their open space becomes a “private refuge,” Harrison says. Galisteo Basin Preserve is inclusive: No gates allowed, no golf courses, and no country clubs—and ten thousand acres of the open space will be open to the general public.

Ninety-five percent of the houses will be clustered in a three-hundred-acre “village” that includes thirty percent county-approved affordable housing. There will be an environmentally-oriented charter school and a commercial area to reduce the need for driving. Outside the village, some of the largest, most expensive lots are off-the-grid; their sales will help fund the rest of the land purchase. The village plan includes community gardens and a centralized rainwater-catchment and graywater-recycling center. Construction is slated to begin in 2010; a hundred-tree orchard has already been planted.

Harrison had to appease the residents of nearby Galisteo, who worried that the development would impact their water supply. He also reached out to include other nonprofits, from the Earthworks Institute, which is restoring arroyos, to the Quivira Coalition, which is fashioning a sustainable grazing strategy.

“Coming at this from a nonprofit perspective, part of the fun and craziness here is to see how many things we can fit together and really push the envelope,” Harrison says. “If your goal is wealth maximization for a small group of investors, then these other social welfare ideas are not on the table.”

Those ideas include a “memorial landscape” or environmentally-friendly cemetery. “If we don’t accommodate that,” says Harrison, “well, of course, it’s not a whole community.”

Low-carb(on) brews

—Terray Sylvester, High Country News

New Belgium Brewing makes at least eighteen kinds of beer in Fort Collins, Colorado, ranging from its famous Fat Tire Ale to whimsical seasonals such as Skinny Dip (only 114 calories per glass). By conventional standards, the company is the nation’s third-largest craft brewer. It’s also one of the most environmentally conscious companies on the planet, a path it pioneered beginning eighteen years ago. New Belgium buys all of its electricity from renewable sources, chiefly windmills, except for what it makes by burning methane from its own wastewater.

The brewmaster boils his wort in an uber-efficient kettle imported from Germany, the first of its kind in this country. To trim the environmental costs of transporting and making cardboard, the company recently reduced the packaging material in each twelve-pack; that alone cut yearly cardboard demand by 150 tons and shaved 174 metric tons from the estimated annual greenhouse gas emissions caused by the brewery’s operations. New Belgium has lowered its rate of water use with a new, technologically advanced bottling plant.

To foster low-impact transportation, it gives bicycles to employees after they’ve been with the company for a year, and keeps a collection of loaner bikes on the property for lunch-break excursions. It also pays a bike courier to gather brown bottles from downtown bars and restaurants, because the city doesn’t offer commercial recycling. It then ships those bottles, along with its own stream of waste glass, to the nearby Rocky Mountain Glass plant, where Coors bottles are born.

The company is working to brew more of its beer from organic ingredients, but has had trouble finding high-quality organic ingredients in the local market. So it’s donated $20,000 to Colorado State University to spur research into Colorado’s organic growing conditions. Before bringing their first batch of beer to market in 1991, co-founders Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan hiked in the mountains to brainstorm a few basic sustainability principles for their company. They committed to “kindling social, environmental, and cultural change as a role model of a sustainable business.”

Ever since then, they and their staff have discarded the idea that profit-making conflicts with a commitment to the common good. New Belgium believes that its green image underpins its brand strength. “We don’t calculate the cost of doing something unsustainably and then more sustainably and figure out the difference,” says New Belgium’s sustainability director, Jenn Orgolini. “We’re always looking for the next thing.”






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