Winter along Lake Michigan is only for the hardiest. It did surprise me to come across a bicyclist on the path along the Lake’s shoreline. A young family chose throwing snowballs into the lake instead of the traditional pebbles.
Tough and strong are not the usual adjectives used to describe Daffodils, yet they perfectly describe their nature. Their bulbs are considered lasting in the garden because they are ignored by squirrels who prefer to dig up tulip bulbs. My focus on these spring beauties is on their stem and flowers’ resilience. Warm days followed by snow are typical of Chicago’s springtime weather. This can test both the heartiest Midwesterner as well as spring blooming plants who all seek the warmth and cheer of springtime sunshine.
Over the years I have learned to resist running outside to rescue daffodils lying on the ground frozen in a coat of white. It seemed a kindness to cut them, place them in a vase filled with warm water, and set them nearby to ensure their beauty would last a few more days. I underestimated their resilience.
These images show their falling blooms under the weight of fresh snow and ice followed by their return to upright stance and brilliance the following storm-free day. This analogy serves me well when I feel that trials are weighing me down. They may melt away in time if I stay strong. This spring these blooms have survived three consecutive rounds of sun and snow followed by more sun. Wow!
Submissively aggressive, the Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana), has several heavy-duty survival traits. This perennial is quick to spread in the garden, yearly claiming wider and wider territories. If that trait is not enough for its survival, each flower has the ability to move around its base stem when brushed. Passersby, accidently too close, will not harm the flower, ensuring the plants ability to be a prolific seed producer, ensuring future new plants. Try it, the next time you encounter Obedient Plant; see how easy it is to move the location of the flowers around its base!
Last night’s fresh layer of snow formed a condensed blanket on these Yews as the sun’s heat competed with the airs 14-degree temperature this afternoon.
Yews (Taxus) is the food of choice, sweet treat, when the deer cross border from the forest preserve into our garden. As the snow covers any remaining plant life, on the forest floor, it becomes more and more common place to have morning and afternoon visits with our neighbors. The result is tidy shrubs and contented deer.
For information on the preferred diet of deer, check out http://njaes.rutgers.edu/deerresistance/.
The forest floor offers many stories. It’s top layer is currently full of nuts, as yet uncovered soon to fall leaves. I do not recall such a nut proliferation in the twenty seven years I have witnessed these Preserves first-hand. My concern is real, knowing that when plants are stressed and in danger their defense is to make many seeds in an effort to ensure survival of their species. This knowledge also comforts me as I realize once again that nature’s abilities to endure are indeed amazing. This has been a year of extremes in the Chicago region. We have witnessed cycles of extreme heat and drought followed by extreme rains; each taking a toll on the plants’ root systems and wildlife. Trees seem to take longer to respond to weather extremes, but the abundance of acorn and other nuts tell me that their roots have been unable to provide enough water for stable health. A story of nature’s struggle to endure.
This patch of forest floor also tells the story of “native versus invasive” or rather “disturbed land”. These images are from the street’s edge where the Forest workers were asked by neighboring residences to control the “weeds” that were growing out into the street, scratching passing cars. The weeds are unwelcome by native forest species as well as the non-native suburban residents; these Eurasian immigrants (the plants!!) have learned to survive and thrive shading out potential growth of native oak and wildflowers while also “volunteering” their presence in adjacent gardens.
Finally there is one more story yet to unfold. Seeds will soon be covered with leaves providing conditions ripe for future growth into new perennial native plants and some may develop into majestic Oak trees as well as more “weeds”. Some will have additional help from the squirrels who are busy establishing their winter food rations; any seeds left uneaten can begin their new stage of life next spring. And the stories continue.
While my lawn is a dormant brown from the lack of rain, the native prairie plants are green and growing. We are not officially in a draught, but walking in the July Midwest prairie shows very thirsty plants. Normally the grasses would be approaching my 5′ 4″ height. This Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) would be visible for its bright sunny flower, while the leaves it’s named for would be completely hidden from view. A Compass Plant with its prairie survival skills can last for up to one hundred years.
Nature’s survival skills constantly amaze me. Visiting a prairie during a draught one will find shorter plants but they will be prolific in bloom. The show of flowers seems contrary behavior for a time of stress, but it is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of species. The first, most critical survival skill unique to prairie species is their deep reaching roots. Roots are often deeper than the above the ground height of plants. During a times of little rain when other plants go dormant or die, plants native to the prairie are still able to use the summer sun for photosynthesis since their roots are still able to reach water sources. Somehow the plants respond to the stress of draught by using this self-created energy to produce many flowers, yielding many more seeds than normal years. This seed productivity will ensure survival of the species if the draught continues and the plants’ water sources dry up killing the plants. Prairie plant seeds can then lie dormant for decades waiting quietly for conditions that once again allow them to germinate, grow, and thrive in the sun-filled prairie.
For more information on the Compass Plant see my blog post on 11/6/2011, “One Last Bloom”.