Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Wednesday: 12 March 2014

Some Signs of Spring  -  @ 07:45:29

When it comes to our earliest spring flowering natives, there are some good indicators, and some not so good.

I gave up trying to peg flowering dates on coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, and yellow jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, both weak vines. As you might pick up from the specific epithet, these are "evergreen," and probably fall more in the category of flowering opportunistically anytime in the late winter.

But two species at this point in the spring have shown fairly well defined flowering times, and I've kept track of each for several years. They have a different habit from the above two vines. These plants are more along the lines of spring ephemerals - smallish forbs that emerge for a time, quickly flower, and then fade away before it gets too hot.

Here are our earliest natives. I've written about them too many times to link to, now. You should keep an eye out for these if you're in the northeast Georgia piedmont!

First up, Trout lilies, Erythronium umbilicatum. Just FYI, there are a number of species of Erythronium.

I've been observing these since I planted them in scattered areas within an acre or two, in 2009. Except for that year, I've noted flowering dates since, so n=5. They have an average flowering date of March 3, with a standard deviation of 13 days. This year I noted them first on March 10, certainly within that rather broad window. The earliest I've seen them in flower was February 17, 2013, and the latest was March 19, 2010. Of course these are plantings from a population a couple of miles away, so no telling how long it takes them to fully adapt to the new habitat.

Here's another common denizen on our wooded slopes, Bloodroot, Sanguineum canadense. Except for 2009, I have flowering dates going back to 2003, so n=11. I find an average flowering date of March 9, with a standard deviation of 5 days on either side. The earliest date I've found was March 2, 2012, and the latest was March 18, 2010. This year it was March 11, certainly within the window of normal flowering.

I haven't been good about noting the emergence times for leaves of what we call Painted Buckeye, Aesculus sylvatica. We have several populations in considerably different habitats, and they show widely different leaf emergence and flowering times (which I have not really kept track of - damn!). I suspect that we have a nearby population of yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) and that there is a gradient of hybridization from the higher, drier populations to the lower, wetter, creekside ones.

Still, it's nice to see the leaves emerge on the smaller plants along with the earliest spring flowers.

A lot of folks will first notice spring flowers in planted daffodils and crocuses.

Daffodils are not native, of course, and have been largely selected for horticultural variants. One of the variations that have been selected for is time of flowering, and I've never tried seriously to take note of that. We have quite a population of locals that show up every year as early as January, and I like them. Glenn and I brought in a number of plantings of old homesite daffodils that show interesting differences in flower shape and color. Last year I planted a new patch from bulbs I dug up near an old homesite just southwest of our property line on that side.

We've already had our first tick of the season - the last few days have been very warm. I'm still looking for the first box turtle, and thought surely I'd find some yesterday, but no, not yet. Pollen counts yesterday were high, apparently resulting from trees: maple, alder, elm, and possibly oak (although it seems a little early for that). So to be fair, those should also be counted among our earliest spring flowers, although of a different and otherwise less noticed sort.

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