Monday, January 25, 2010

January Prairie Greens

It really bothers me when I hear the winter prairies described as sleeping or dormant or dead. I admit that the volume of growing plant life is greatly reduced in winter, but there are plants that grow and some that even thrive in the winter season. A few, like this biennial Rose Pink, I talked about in December. This plant doesn’t seem to have been hurt or inhibited by the snow and cold we just experienced.

Some yellowing on the leaf margins isn’t slowing this Pasture Thistle. It’s ready to take advantage of any sunlight that becomes available.

Winter annuals wouldn’t survive without the cold, wet winter season. They're in a rush to put down a root system and develop enough leaves to produce energy for storage, so they can flower and produce seed before the conditions get too hot and dry for survival. These Draba reptans are less than two tenths of an inch across and won’t get much bigger before they flower. They’re normally found in the barren areas where they are not shaded by other plants.

Here are two more winter annuals common to the barrens. In the center, with the lobed leaves, is Leavenworthia uniflora which normally produces a rosette of leaves about an inch and a half across. Draba cuneifolia, seen in the lower left, is normally about three times the size of Draba reptans. One of the hazards these plants face is being pulled from the ground by frost heave as the soil anternately freezes and thaws. An amazingly long root system helps these little plants stay in place. I once saw a flowering Draba cuneifolia laying on its side at the end of fourteen inches of exposed root.

The tiny Fringed Houstonia is a perennial that takes advantage of the winter sunlight to begin storing the energy needed for flower production. Being a perennial, it has a more developed root system that helps to prevent frost heave.

Basal leaves of the Downy Wood Mint. This is an early June bloomer, but you can find actively growing basal leaves at any time of the year.

This is an aster, but I’m not sure of the species. I need to work on becoming more of an all season botanist.

This is Juniper Sedge, Carex juniperorum. It will flower in late spring and pretty much disappear by late summer. The clusters of leaves tend to grow horizontally from the root mass and give the plant the appearance of having been stepped on.

Don’t assume there’s nothing growing just because all you see it brown. Keep your joints flexible by crouching down and taking a closer look.

You never know what you’ll find by brushing back that layer of dead leaves.

1 comment:

  1. post. The Draba reptans looks like a tiny cactus. I'd like to see photos of its bloom this spring.