Hole-in-the-sand-plant (what a name): Nicolletia Occidentalis, Asteraceae (sunflower family)
A couple weeks ago, I noticed a bright pink-orange bloom at my feet while my dogs were taking care of business during one of our evening walks near the sand to snow monument. Singled out among the ten or so tightly closed flower heads that also stemmed from the same root, this lone bloomer peeped up at me, its orange eyelashes widely spaced, unblinking, like some sort of omen or magical creature. I was really taken by it and took a photo, and was disappointed that I hadn't seen any others in the area. Until last week, or so I thought. All along the hellishly sandy road that I avoid unless I get bored of walking the same path near the monument, thin succulent-like stems are pushing their way out of the ground, sporting rainbows of ray flowers (what we typically refer to as "petals"). I got really excited when I saw what I thought was my mystery plant lining the road. Until I looked closer and realized their coloring and structure were a little off....and that's when I noticed the smell. No, I thought, this is definitely not my mystery plant*—this is something else entirely, a completely different beast that I MUST identify.
And oh my god, how these little stems emote through aroma! How to describe....divinely sweet, but with a nauseating putrid note, creating intense, conflicting impulses that makes one want to simultaneously eat the flower and vomit. It's really something special. I can't emphasize how much I love this plant, for nothing but its complicating odor that really produces some sort of manic sensations within my body that I cannot explain in writing. And it was the first time one of my senses besides sight acted as a trigger point in identifying a plant.
There's not a lot of info about hole-in-the-sand, but it's in the Marigold sub-family, and has nothing to do with nicotine (as one seed purveyor suggests.) Sometimes the stem growth is a sage-y green, other times it's borderline lavender. And although in the winter you won't find any part of this plant lingering above ground, it's actually a perennial with a deep taproot that thrives in soft, sandy washes. If you ask me, it's a pretty sexy specimen.
*it stinks too