Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Never Believe a Groundhog

Bee Lady reported Spring Beauties in bloom down on the trail last week, but it took me a few days to get down and check it out! Not that I doubted her: spring wildflowers in February are no big surprise in Colorado, at least at this elevation, and especially not in this very dry winter we're having.

So here, for the record, is Claytonia rosea in full, if unenthusiastic, bloom on February 22nd. (I think the original report came in on the 18th from Bee Lady.)

A couple of weeks ago I got my state quarters* sorted out for just such an occasion, but naturally neglected to take one with me! My hiking companion, she with the neighborly fox alerts, just happened to have an appropriately sized object with her, so herewith we introduce the Scale Mint. (I think, though, it's just a little too reflective.)

We know, of course, that this sign is no lasting harbinger, and we still have hopes for a winter yet to come. We have no groundhogs in Colorado, only their close cousins, the marmots, and spring (as I've written elsewhere, in an essay that dates to 1995) is always a tricky business in Colorado, for us and for the plants! For more authoritative proof that this is not a new phenomenon, consider this account by Arthur Lakes, written in 1876:

In Colorado we never know when Spring is come, for one day we have a hot summer day, and the next we are toiling through snow a foot deep. Still there are signs that Spring is nigh at hand. About the first week in February we noticed the buds of the willow beginning to swell, and a rounder outline growing over the skeleton trees of Winter. Our Oregon grape, Berberis Aquifolium, like a little dwarf holly with its burnished leaves still retaining their autumnal hue, began to grow greener, and at the beginning of March to put forth catkin buds, soon to blossom in a cluster of gold. A party who had gone fossil-hunting to Green Mountain brought in triumphantly our first spring flowers, a cluster of large white daisies on a mat of flat leaves, looking up starlike and pure like resurrection beings from the dark soil, beautiful types of Easter. In a sheltered cranny of the rocks they had also found the modest pink blossoms of the Claytonia Virginica.

To update what "springlike" means in February, the thermometer hit 68F (20C) today. Absolutely lovely. Lakes' Berberis Aquifolium, Oregon grape holly, is now known as Mahonia repens or was last I checked; its "catkin buds" are there, waiting but not yet yellow. I did not check for Easter daisies (Townsendia spp.) on Green Mountain, but it's completely likely they too are out on the south slopes. My local patch is showing only buds. His Spring Beauty name, Claytonia Virginica, applies these days only to the eastern species; we have three species, of which C. rosea is the foothills version here.

*See the Lacy Lichens post below for appropriate botanical use of state quarters in a serendipitous discovery I made about 3 years ago. This one even recorded the date! Unfortunately this best example was my first and also my only use, to date, of this excellent aid.

1 comment:

Watcher said...

Wow. 68F. I miss those little breaks from winter you guys get on the Front Range. We're having a mild week here, but we never break 60 in February...