Is it too early in the season to begin talking about Draba cuneifolia? I didn’t think so. We are into the third growing season for Draba planted in one of my garden beds. Classified as a winter annual, this plant grows through the winter and produces flowers and seed the following spring. The plant then dies, leaving a scattering of seeds to produce the next generation.
Draba cuneifolia plants remained alive in this bed until mid-June 2016. Seedlings began to appear in late July. The profusion of plants now growing in the bed points out the inefficiency of my seed collection methods. Plants cover the top and sides of the bed, are growing in the walkway between beds and have shown up in neighboring beds.
New plants emerged from the end of July through October. There are probably still new plants appearing, but they are hard to notice among the mass of plants that are already there.
In order to survive the winter, these plants must quickly get a root down below the frost line. Since they grow primarily in areas of bare soil, they are in danger of being pushed from the ground through the process of frost heave, which occurs when soil alternately freezes during cold nights and thaws during the day. Having their roots penetrate stable soil anchors the plant and keeps it in its proper place. These small plants can produce some extra long roots. I once saw some plants that had their roots exposed when heavy deer traffic caused part of a bank to break away. One plant had 15 inches of root showing.
Those plants that began growing in July have reached an impressive size. These are the plants that will produce masses of flower stalks next April.
Remnants of last year’s plants are still evident. These spindly stalks, along with the dried Draba leaves, did a good job of protecting the site from erosion through the summer. I once perceived the appearance of Draba cuneifolia to be an annual event that passed so quickly, it could easily be missed. Two decades of observation has caused me to alter my perceptions. I’ll admit that the blooming season can sometimes be short, but I have seen years where blooming plants could be found over a two month period. It seems that the living plants can be found during a ten month period each year, and their skeletal remains are around during that two month break. Now that I know what to look for, I can check on my little friends at any time of the year.