Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bloodroot's up. It's spring wildflower time!

Just last week I canvassed a series of really nice dolomite glades looking for a blooming Draba, D. cuneifolia, to be specific. I saw the green blades of false garlic, some basal leaves of Geum in the woods, but the rest of the world was a uniform khaki of post oak leaves and rank warm season grasses. The lawn weeds and little parking lot Brassicas started blooming recently, and just today, hiking up a steep slope on a protected hillside covered in the basal leaves of a rare shooting star, I stumbled onto my first-of-year anemones. Or false rue anemones. Every March I forget which is which.

And so, I return to my wonderful Paul Nelson-illustrated Spring Wildflowers book, used in many places as a coloring book but serving as a great refresher in not only scientific nomenclature--which has probably all changed lately--but in the location of spring wildflowers. Because the book is out of print, with permission of the illustrator, I have scanned all the plates and posted them here for a quick review session before spring wildflower season really ramps up. We're expecting snow this weekend, which is typical, though cruel.

Today's hike took me through really homogeneous Ozark woods of a black oak-red oak character, Roubidoux sandstone-Gasconade dolomite bedrock community, a prized though typical and widespread landscape for timber people. In the unburned condition, these kinds of woods are not very diverse or interesting from a ground flora perspective, but such is the joy of spring wildflower season! One can visit trashed out bottomlands along streams, areas that were once corn fields, and still find spring flora. Unburned, overgrazed, logged woods with some semblance of native diversity and not socked in with bush honeysuckle? You'll still find spring flora. Spring wildflowers are ubiquitous in the Ozarks in Missouri, found even in gravel parking lots where some "rare in Missouri" but widespread in the White River region grow. So, with these longer day lengths, chipping sparrows starting to call, timberdoodles probing for insects, hit up your local woods for some wildflower walks and a dose of long awaited Vitamin D.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Hints of Spring

I heard the first-of-year spring peeper and chorus frog chorus last week, tiny little secretive frogs just cranking out their breeding calls from an abandoned farm pond--no more stocked bass or cattle here, just an amphibian breeding pool these days. Timberdoodles are back in business in that gradient between old field and woodland, or, in more intact systems, glade edges. However, the spate of warm weather we've enjoyed for a few days has left us again, boding well for fire season. It's too early in much of the northern reaches of the Ozarks for even harbinger of spring to flower, that early spring wildflower that inhabits low-lying woodlands (some of the first landscapes to see green growth). Hopefully, we'll dry out again and be able to at least burn off a glade here and there before spring green up and before the snakes come out for basking.

Henbit--that sweet non-native purple mint flower common in agricultural fields-- is flowering throughout the region in fallow fields and yards, along with all the other fun lawn weeds like Veronica comosa and the early mustards. I canvassed a wide glade landscape on the Springfield Plateau yesterday and saw no blooming Drabas, just a few early leaves of false garlic and one basal leaf of a Delphinium. This week's cool and rainy conditions will keep all the fun spring flora underground for a few days more, potentially allowing for good fire conditions.

Spring vegetation (as in aquatic springs) is beginning to green up in our streams. Last year, I missed the flowering period of water willow, that lovely Justicia whose flowers resemble a grass pink orchid, just a pretty little thing that lines the banks of our nicer streams. And I won't miss bloodroot in flower this year, either. Friends in northwest Louisiana are already seeing yellow trout lilies in flower, three days before the equinox. We still have a couple of weeks of March weather in Missouri. Did you know that March is historically the snowiest month in Missouri?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

March Fire Season

This weekend's clement temperatures and bright sunlight sent thoughts of my spring garden coursing through my head. My starter pots of kale, cilantro, and arugula are now outside under a protective cage to protect them from squirrel and robin plundering. With the snowpack melting, the flashy fuels recovering from weeks of moisture, the first hint of daffodil greenery availing itself, this week is shaping up to be ideal conditions for prescribed fire in many parts of the Ozarks.

In a preferred situation, the weather will remain on the cool side with drying days to allow for light intensity fires to course through landscapes to allow light to the woodland floor. While there are certain practitioners implementing fire in a destructive pattern, there should be much appreciation for the conscientious fire managers who burn for ecological health, to emulate a natural disturbance process that gave rise to our heterogeneous landscapes in the Ozarks. Check in with the NOAA Fire Weather Spot Forecast here to see if your favorite places are burning this March.