All non-freshman will remember the abomination that was last year’s springtermnospring. This spring term has been far more comfortable, with temperatures over the last month averaging fifteen degrees warmer than during the same time period of 2011. Swimming in the Cannon, barbequing, disc golf, and half-heartedly doing homework on the bald spot are worthy fair weather pursuits, but if you want to have some real fun, go for a walk in the Arb and enjoy looking at some spring ephemerals.
Indeed, the greatest gift that this unusually warm spring has given us is that it has hastened the coming of our spring wildflowers. Last Friday, the Arb naturalists went looking for wildflowers in the Upper Arb and observed more than a dozen species in bloom. The earliest bloomers like bloodroot and hepatica were joined by mid-spring species like jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, and may apple, which were on the verge of blooming. The pasqueflower, a wooly resident of Lower Arb prairies had already stopped blooming for the year.
So what makes these species “spring ephemerals?” Actually, not all spring wildflowers are ephemeral. Spring ephemerals are usually woodland species that bloom before trees leaf out and the canopy closes. Once they’ve bloomed, they die back to their underground parts, retaining no leaves during the severely light limited summer. In prairies, the growth of tall grasses like big bluestem and Indian grass can obscure the pasqueflower, but it still retains its leaves through midsummer to continue gathering light. People who plant woodland ephemerals in gardens with lots of light sometimes report that they will retain leaves for much longer than expected. When light is available, ephemerals can alter their strategy of rapid blooming and prolonged dormancy in order to take advantage of the available nutrients. Don’t miss it! This wildflower display is, well, ephemeral. And if you don’t see me in class next week, you know where I’ll be: Stork Forest in the Upper Arb, the best place to see such a fabulous display of color.
Also, don’t miss Carrol Henderson, supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources non-game wildlife program, at the Alumni Guest House next Tuesday at 7pm. Carrol will be talking about restoration of the Minnesota Trumpeter Swan population over the last 30 years, a program that has been highly successful.
Owen McMurtrey, ’12, on behalf of the Cole student naturalists
Photo by Andrew Kleinhesselink '05