Every time I start to write about wine cups, black widows get in the way.
Sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. From wine cups to black widows it's a short step, you know, to idle musing about injustice, fear and ignorance, but somehow then a long step back to wine cups. It's just that black widows get such a bad rap. Yes, they're venomous, if not to a lethal degree then certainly to a painful one. But just because they can hurt you doesn't mean they want to. They're so far from being aggressive, they're downright chicken-hearted. They are shrinking violets. Jumping spiders will return stare for stare as you observe them; orb weavers will ignore you magnificently until you finally get bored and leave. To daddy-long-legs, you're just so much geography to be traversed. But let a black widow—that dangerous, venomous, bulbous, patent-leather spider with the hot red markings—catch sight of you, and she will go running for shelter. She may even abandon her web altogether and find a safer place to start again. (The males aren't web-builders; nor are they as poisonous.) She won't bite unless she runs out of options.
|A black widow huddled up as small as small can be (which isn't|
very small in her case) to avoid me. The white sphere is her egg sac.
Once you know how terrified black widows really are of you, and how harmless they would very much prefer to be, and how good their thick, messy webs are at trapping the biggest pests, wholesale destruction starts to seem a little unfair. I tear down the webs now and then with a (long) stick to discourage them, and do destroy any egg sacs I find, but as long as the spiders stay off the Adirondack chair, I don't go out of my way to kill them. I wear jeans, shoes with toes, and gloves (among other things) to garden in, and the black widows (in theory) run away at the sight of me. Still, you never know when an unintentional act will leave a black widow feeling like she's run out of options. A little knowledge has me living dangerously. It's fair, though: we're not at peace, exactly, but we're all very non-aggressive.
Just like wine cups. Callirhoe involucrata occasionally gets a bad rap, too, but mostly from people who've never grown it, who judge its appearance but don't know what it's really like. I have come across people who take one look at its luxuriant growth and far-reaching stems and mark it down as a thug: bishop's weed with blooms, bindweed with bling.
|The leaves fill a geranium-shaped spot in my heart.|
A little knowledge, a little experience shows you just how little danger wine cups pose. The three-foot stems don't creep and twine and root themselves in inconvenient places; they just grow horizontally rather than vertically, no more a threat to your garden than a salvia or a daisy stem. They may thread their way up through taller supports, but they're not kudzu or ivy, overwhelming their hosts. They just...appreciate the support. They lean. They relax. They take it easy, in someone else's arms. Finding your rosemary and gaura sporting bright magenta blooms is really quite charming.
|Among the gaura. The flowers open during the day and close at night.|
Not only are wine cups not aggressive, but they die back to the crown in winter and (at least in my garden) the worst of summer heat. Leaves re-emerge when conditions improve, but they do leave blank spots where lush greenery used to reside. I find that growing them among the autumn sage (Salvia greggii) works well—the wine cups fill the space while the salvia grows back from its winter pruning, and then the salvia takes over as the wine cups fade. If wine cups were like bindweed, we wouldn't have to make these little plans.
|C. involucrata in strong, mid-day sun near a west-facing wall. The new growth|
is monsoonal; the brown is left over from the last heat wave. The wine cups
grown in more shade still have all their leaves and are blooming well.
My limited experience is that wine cups are borderline plants here in Albuquerque. They're native primarily to the Great Plains and, while their good, thick taproot makes them drought tolerant, drought and desert are different things; in my garden they look best with a little more moisture and a little less sun. They also prefer cooler temperatures and don't bloom for as long here as they do elsewhere, but six weeks in flower is still nothing to sneeze at. Otherwise, give them good drainage, and watch them go—in a vigorous but non-aggressive sort of way.
A little knowledge, a little experience: doors open, possibilities beckon... What a dangerous thing.
In the interests of full disclosure, though, wine cups do have one bad habit. While they don't self-seed with abandon or require dead-heading, they do shed dry blossoms wherever they feel like it. They're a little messy. You wouldn't think that reaching in to tidy them up would be a problem, and it wouldn't be.
If the black widows weren't in the way.