Sunday, January 06, 2013

Early bloomer

It was mid-December this year, just as Christmas Bird Counts were starting across Missouri and the rest of the country. Autumn's asters and goldenrods are dessicated little stalks with hardly even seedheads visible anymore, and winter botany games are well underway.

I received a call from a friend who had been hiking in the Potosi area around Lower Rock Creek in mid-December. It's beautiful country down there, a truly iconic Ozark landscape. "Ozark witch hazel is in bloom," he said. I knew it had been blooming earlier than ten years ago, but mid-December seems to be among the earliest dates I've heard. Ten years ago, this delicate yellow flower reliably bloomed in late February. On fieldtrips to catch it in bloom several years ago, I set out in late February and realized I had missed it. I set out three weeks earlier in 2010 and finally saw it in bloom in late January, but it was past peak. In some protected areas in the St. Francois Mountains, I've caught the blooms in early March. But mid-December seems early.

With the fluctuating temperatures last week, the snow is melting both naturally and because of rain events. The four inches of snow around Farmington quickly reduced to two inches and may exist only in patches now, but I can't be certain. The temperatures are conducive to hiking around streambanks these days, so if you'd like to catch Ozark witch hazel in bloom, I may suggest setting out soon, in early January, to see this harbinger of spring.

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