Friday, April 27, 2012

Mid-May in April

"It could be July out there," my colleague muttered yesterday from the driver's seat while speeding east out of the last forested block before the Great Plains. The tree canopy has completely leafed out, leaving only a memory of that early spring neon green and dogwood white of mixed white oak woodlands. Wildflowers that for the past 20 years have bloomed in the second week of May are in flower during the last week of April. I won't be adjusting my previously scheduled mid-May bird work, however, (since birds tend to be guided by day lengths rather than temperatures) but vegetation sampling dates will have to be changed.

Sedges are already fruiting, by gum, and if I wait until late June for woodland sampling, the sedge fruits will have shattered, leaving me unable to key them out. By now, I know a lot of the vegetative characteristics of a suite of woodland sedges (thanks solely to repetition, visiting the same area year after year and knowing which sedges are common in western Ozark woodland settings), but several stump me (like the Ovales tribe). It's impossible to calculate the conservatism value of a given area with a bunch of "Carex sp." and "unknown grass" on sampling pages. I haven't once entered "unknown dicot" "unknwon grass" or "Carex sp." into my analysis program, rather instead spending ample time in a hotel room with keys, Steyermark, handlens, advice...So, I've spent ample time in recent weeks in the herbarium preparing for field season with the Desmodiums, Panicums, other grasses, sedges, Lespedezas, all the while drawing little characteristic traits that will help make field identification easier when flowers and fruits are absent. Summer sampling in woodlands will be a mad, mad, frenzied dash. Glade flora in the western Ozarks, however, is pretty easy even in August when the early spring brassicas are by then reduced to wispy twigs of straw.

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