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.