Saturday, March 17, 2012

Early, early spring wildflowers

The mad dash is on to see the spring ephemerals before the successive weeks of 76 to 80 degree temperatures encourage the oaks and hickories to leaf out and the delicate early wildflowers to burn up completely. One Missouri Native Plant Society chapter has cancelled the spring wildflower walks in April, aware that the bloom cycles are tracking two to three weeks early....

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Little guys

Grand is the day walking through a recently burned high quality landscape knowing that I will return there shortly for long, long days of vegetation sampling! Little sprouts of stickery rattlesnake master poked up through the black ground, and I found one very early blooming hoary puccoon, partly smashed under a hunk of chert but blooming nonetheless. Sampling season begins in late May, giving the deep rooted perennial fall-blooming plants a chance to spring new vegetation. By late May, a suite of tiny little late winter blooming plants take on the appearance of a single blade of straw with, hopefully, a seedhead left behind to make keying easier.

Now is the time for the little late winter guys to come up and bloom for their very abbreviated flowering cycle. It's exciting to run into the first Cardamine pensylvanica in bloom, even if its found first in overgrown, abandoned city lots. But the winter annuals (so called because the seeds germinate the following autumn after flowering in the previous late winter and therefore overwinter as little basal rosettes) have begun to bloom on limestone and dolomite glades throughout the Ozark Highlands. These plants are adapted to remain small in size, some the height of an upright dime, in order that they may remain close to the warm ground during our typically cold late winter days.

The smallest Brassica in Missouri, Leavenworthia uniflora (CC value 7), sends up a tiny little white flower from a sweet dark green rosette that measures about the size of my thumb. Leavenworthia is not as common on the landscape as some of the other spring blooming Brassicas, but it is locally abundant in the White River Hills. You'll find Leavenworthia at home on burned glades and by the thousands in parking lots in Branson. It particularly thrives on balds, barrens, such as the glade systems in White River country. By late May, expect a threadlike piece of straw with a hint of a seedpod (but it's a 7 so it can jack up the Mean C of the quadrat).

Draba cuneifolia (CC value 5) is at home also on limestone and dolomite glades, but also on roadsides, what Steyermark called "waste places" and railroad rights of way. Steyermark remarked in the 1963 Flora in his customary conversational way, "this species is a good one for rock gardens if planted from seed..." and, I feel certain his wife Cora did just that. Draba is actually well recognizable by late May, what with the telltale Brassica seedhead blasted out and paper thin.

Arenaria patula (CC value 7) actually doesn't bloom until late March, early April in most of the Missouri Ozarks. A. patula can be found on limestone, dolomite, rare chert glades and even the last remaining overgrazed and totally beat up sandstone glades in the Ozarks. Unlike Arenaria stricta, which can grow in thick mats and bloom in May, A. patula sends thin hairlike stems upon which heavy white flowers bloom. In a late May sampling plot, imagine a tumbleweed stuck in among the thick, verdant green of grasses, sedges and forbs. I didn't know this plant until 5 years ago when I clipped the thin multibranching seedless stalk in my clipboard to bring back to my colleague who identified it immediately. And now I can, too.

Lovely line drawings of these sweet winter plants from USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 149.