Thursday, July 12, 2012

It's Looking Like a Drought

For the past eight weeks, Blue Jay Barrens has averaged less than one tenth of an inch of rain per week.  The evidence of drought conditions is easy to see.  The lawn is a widely accepted drought monitoring tool.  The traditional non-native lawn grasses require cool, wet conditions in which to thrive.  Taking away the water and adding heat causes the grass to indicate its stressed condition by changing from green to yellow to brown to gray as it shuts down all systems and enters dormancy for the duration of the inhospitable conditions.  My lawn has reached that last color stage.  The next step is for the dried grass blades to crumble and blow away.

You certainly can’t have a drought without a dried and cracked pond bottom.  There’s still some moisture being held down in the pond sediments, so plants growing there can remain green for a while yet.

Drought means death to many creatures and it’s the young that normally die first.  This young box turtle was baked by the sun as it tried to cross an open barren.  This is the second hatchling box turtle I’ve found this year.  I hope the first is faring better.

Despite the No Burn warnings, there’s always someone who insists on burning their accumulated rubbish in the middle of a drought.  Fortunately, I’ve never been the recipient of a runaway fire, although I know a few people who have.
It’s definitely a drought when native species begin to show the signs of moisture deprivation.  The prairie grasses should be putting on rapid growth now, but many look like they’ve given up trying.

In an effort to reduce moisture loss, the grass leaves curl to reduce the amount of leaf area exposed to the drying air.  This makes the grass clump look like a collection of pale green knitting needles.

It’s not just the grass that’s looking stressed.  The more shallow rooted plants are becoming severely wilted.  Many of these plants are adapted to growing in extremely dry conditions, but that doesn’t mean they come through a drought unscathed.  If conditions remain unchanged for a few more weeks, the top growth will die back on these plants.  The roots and rhizomes will remain alive, but even some of those will be lost if drought conditions persist for several more months.  Despite these losses, the population will benefit by the elimination of competing plants that have a lower tolerance to drought.  Next year’s growth may make up for all of the blooms that have been lost this year.

Larger plants with more extensive root systems are also suffering.  Wingstem usually presents a brilliant display of blooms in July.  These plants have only reached two-thirds of their normal growth and may not flower at all.

Some of the less drought tolerant shrubs are beginning to droop.  Flowering Dogwood is usually little affected by late season droughts because they have already produced their fruit crop for the year.  They are at a distinct disadvantage when the drought begins in May.  A prolonged early season drought can cause significant losses of top growth.  There may be a lot of bare branches showing next spring.

The Dogwood leaves have stopped curling and hang like leather strips from the branches.  They began the year with the promise of a bountiful season and now that is all gone.

Many other shrubs are aborting their attempts at fruit production.  The Smooth Sumac that earlier displayed massive flower clusters, now present bare stems.  Sumac growing in slightly wetter areas managed to produce fruit, but a rough estimate indicates 80 percent of the potential sumac fruit was lost.  The long range forecast gives a slight chance of rain over the next several days.  If rainfall patterns get back to normal, many plants will rebound.  If the rains continue to pass us by, it’s going to be a really depressing summer.


  1. There are really some wierd things going on globally. I'm finishing up on some posts here with pictures of native fruit bearing shrubs and domestic fruit trees which are not producing fruit. Graas is not growing and many things are simply stuck in neutral.

    However Steve, it has been raining intensely on and off for most of this spring and summer. I have only mowed the grass once and normally it's an every week affair. All of the deciduous trees and shrubs didn't leaf out till the end of may and it wasn't terribly cold either. Cherry trees are almost bare. All currant and gooseberry shubs have almost nothing when they are always loaded with abundant fruit everywhere in the wild or garden. And all of this incessant rain.

    My tomato plants did nothing but turn yellow for the first two months, now they are green but no buds and summer is over for good at the end of August and we head back to winter and short days. This is definitely the most bizarre year.

    I'm heading over to the Botanical Gardens tomorrow to see what they have observed here in Göteborg.



  2. Hi Kevin. When we had a record flood a few months ago, I wasn't expecting to head right into a record drought. It's going to take a lot of rain to get things back to anything near typical conditions.

  3. After such a beautiful, lush spring, this is so sad to see.

  4. Hi Pat. This isn't our first extreme drought. I expect we'll survive this just as we have the others. It's just not a pleasant experience.