Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Winter Annuals on the Barrens

I’m not sure that there is any single event that indicates to me that we’ve made the transition from winter into spring.  If forced to choose, I could easily imagine the opening of the first of the year Leavenworthia uniflora bloom to be the pivotal point between the two seasons.  These tiny winter annuals are the first of the barren plants to put forth a bloom. 
It’s easy to miss the blooming of the Leavenworthia.  The plant grows in areas of rocky, bare ground and doesn’t get tall enough to make itself noticeable.  To see a Leavenworthia, you probably have to be looking for one.

Leavenworthia can not push themselves up through a thick vegetative mat. They stick to the open areas and do their growing before any other plants are active enough to give them any competition.  Lack of bare ground would mean the end of these plants.

A few dead grass stalks or dried grass leaves don’t slow the plants progress, but a thick layer would have eliminated these plants.  The grass just makes it that much harder to see the plants.  A search for Leavenworthia usually requires the eyes to be close to the ground.

The four petaled flower of the Leavenworthia uniflora, typical of the mustard family to which it belongs, is a signal to me that a period of rapid change is about to begin.  During the next few weeks, all manner of plants and animals will become active.  In all of the excitement, the Leavenworthia will quietly ripen and spread its seed.  Then it will disappear as it is hidden by the real show-stoppers of the barren plant community.

Growing along in the same area are the Drabas, even smaller mustards that are dwarfed by the Leavenworthia.  A single Leavenworthia could easily cover a dozen Drabas and a quarter could cover the averaged sized Leavenworthia.  They are a little bit later to bloom, but their seeds generally ripen at the same time as their larger neighbors.

An examination of these plants is well worth the price of dirty knees.  They won’t be around for very long.  I spend considerable time each year seeking out and enjoying these species.

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