Sunday, March 18, 2012

The First Signs

Jacob's Ladder trying to bloom early
As in many parts of the country, we haven’t had much of a winter.  I kept waiting for it to hit, but temperatures had moved into the 50’s during the day, even hit 75 one day.  Signs of spring (or maybe summer) are everywhere.  Do I take down the driveway markers that show where we can drive without running over the first native beds put in last year?  When I found a Jacob’s Ladder in the side yard trying to bloom last month, I was certain the weather would return to normal and frost and a foot of snow would kill the blooms for this year.  But that hasn’t happened and the little fellow looks raring to go.

This is my first spring with awareness of native plants.   As I walk around the yard I feel like a young kid who was promised a pony for his birthday.  Will I really get it?  I’m starting to see signs that the promise Mother Nature made is really going to come true.  The 4” sprout from the “dead” Eastern Wahooo last year’s fame, is budding up.  The floor of the back yard woodlands, well lit without any leaves yet on the trees, is starting to green up with small plants. 

The tiny little Blue Eyed Grass seedlings are starting to send up small green shoots.  The Prairie Smoke, last year looking so insignificant in its first year while it focused on drilling roots deep into the soil, is definitely showing some vigor.  Will it have built its foundation enough last year that it’ll bloom this season? 

Small Virginia Mountain Mint seedlings are making themselves known where last year’s first native bed went in.  In the same area, the Smooth Asters start to spread out leaves from the prior year’s base.  The mulch is all gone from this planting area now, and many, many weeds are starting to sprout.  I won’t use chemicals this year, so I spend some time trying to get as much of this chickweed, and small green onion like plants pulled up by their roots.  I have to be careful I don’t mistake the seedlings from last year’s native plants as weeds.  So I’ll error on the side of caution until I develop a discerning eye to tell the difference.

The Eastern Red Columbine seeds sowed and sprouted last year have turned into healthy looking, albeit small sirens of future flowers. 

Bloodroot emerging
Every day I’ve looked for the Bloodroot to start emerging.  And there it is.  Just last week, a small thumb sized protuberance poked above the ground.   Then the next day there were many.  And then they continued to reach up, now 2 inches tall.  The cloak protecting their flowers remained tightly wrapped around the prize inside.  On one morning, I carefully photographed the camouflaged stalk.  In the afternoon I carried some water to the tree removal crew.  They were diligently removing four more dead Ash trees, and the Norway Maple #2, the dreaded Norway Maple.  Hey, what’s that!  My gosh, one of the Bloodroot is blooming.  Can that be right?  Several hours earlier, it looked days away from show time, and now - Shazam.  Later in the afternoon, there were many blooms.  And now only two more days have gone by, and WOW! 
 In the backyard I find another surprise.  There are several clumps of Bloodroot blooming where I knew I didn’t plant any.  A little research on this stunning plant disclosed an interesting fact.  The Bloodroot seeds have a small fat-rich appendage.  Ants cherish this “eliasome” and eagerly transport this and the attached seed into their tunnels.  They don’t’ eat the seed, but feast on the fleshy attachment.   Here in the ants’ tunnel the seed is protected and eventually sprouts.   This is a terrific way for the plant to spread beyond its immediate parent.    That’s how we end up with free Bloodroot plants around the yard.   Nice job ants.

group of Bloodroot in full bloom
Later in the day I had a visit from my mentor who wanted to show her friend what a natural population of Bloodroot looked like.  She quickly noted that there were many native bees actively pollinating the Bloodroot flowers.  After they left, I went about trying to get a good photo of these bees.  Kneeling for a half hour trying to capture this activity on film, I noticed that there were some brilliantly colored daffodils immediately to my left.  (Yes, I know.  They aren’t native.  My better half says they are staying.  Hmmm.   I haven’t figured out how to get around this constraint yet.)  Anyway, these daffodils had absolutely no visitors.  Not one, Nada.  In fact, there was a small group of Bloodroot nestled into a small clearing in the daffodils.  The bees were eager to get the Bloodroot nectar but had no interest in even stopping to look at the daffodils.  What an excellent example of what we’ve been learning.  Native plants support wildlife and non-native plants don’t.
Bloodroot Flowers
So here we have stinger less native bees pollinating the flowers and ants farming the Bloodroot, making sure they spread.    I certainly am glad we stopped the bug service from spraying outside the house. 

These flowers will only last about a week before the leaves unfurl.  The leaves will then spread out to carpet the area.  (The banner on this entire blog is a picture of Bloodroot in the summer taken here last year.) 

My greatest joy now is understanding this is all entirely natural, adding to the biodiversity of our ecosystems, rather than constraining and diminishing them. 


Dan O said...

Awesome Hal, pictures and blog are great. Please keep this up.

the Native Plant Neophyte said...

Thanks Dan. This spring is a real eye opener for me. Each day brings new things to see.

Northwest Native Plants said...

Thanks for providing such valuable info worth recommending to our friends and followers. More power to you!

the Native Plant Neophyte said...

Thanks for your words of encouragement. I'm learning so much as I keep moving forward with this landscaping change.