Depauperate Spring

We got 4 inches of rain at the end of February/early March and this has changed the look of our trails. We no longer see barren wasteland where nothing grows, we now see scrub-land where very little grows.

MeadowComparison
Jesusita Meadow Comparison

We are still in a drought. We got .8 inches on the first day of March and essentially nothing since (March averages about 3 inches). But we have had enough recent rain that over the last month things have come back from the dead.

I keep track of when things are blooming over the entire front country, but that is too broad an expanse and my examination too haphazard to make good comparisons, However, there are two areas where I have good enough data for year to year and month to month comparisons. The first is Jesusita Trail (the 4 mile transect from Steven’s Park to Inspiration Point), which I generally run at least once a week. The second is the recovery area from the Cold Fire which I have tried to visit once a fortnight since the fire (Nov. 2012).

Counts of species I observed
blooming on Jesusita Trail
Counts of species I
observed blooming in
the Cold Fire area
2012 2013 2014 2013 2014
late Jan 18 20 17 ~3 5
late Feb 50 39 15 ~15 4
late Mar 77 60 53 ~25 5

There are very few species blooming in January on Jesusita, no matter what the year. February is different. In Feb of 2014 almost nothing was blooming, 2013 did much better and 2012 did best of all. This is in keeping with the amount of rain that had fallen that year. The rains came at the end of Feb 2014 and a month later we have a sudden burst of species blooming — at least on Jesusita; this is also happening in the Cold Fire area but isn’t as far along.

An even better metric is the number of plants blooming. But counting that involves a lot more work and I haven’t done that in the past (it’s essentially impossible on a normal year, there are just too many). I started doing it in the Cold Fire recently:

Late Jan 8
Late Feb 13
Late Mar ~125

Even though about the same number of species are blooming in Feb and Mar there are far more plants which are blooming.

Hillside Comparison
Cold Fire lower hillside

The hillside is much greener at the end of March than it was in Feb, even though nothing much is blooming there. Of course, at the end of March 2013 it was completely green and covered in blooms… but it’s better than it was a month ago.

Many of the larger plants have altered their blooming patterns to fit the drought, and now the presence of rain. Bigpod Ceanothus usually starts blooming in January, peaks in February (when it covers the mountains with white) and then blooms erratically into the summer. Last year it stopped blooming in mid-March (when the drought started to tell). This year only a few individuals bloomed and they stopped in early February — but it started up again toward the end of March and has now been blooming for about a week now (again, not many individuals though).

Bay Laurel also gave a very desultory bloom, starting about the normal time but with very few individuals, and each plant blooming for only about a week or two. But in the last week (about the time it finished blooming last year) more individuals are blooming than before.

Holly-Leaved Cherry simply did not bloom. Normally it starts in January and blooms into June, but this year I saw no blooms at all until early March and then only on 2 trees. I have seen 5 trees blooming this month, normally there are hundreds. Each blooms for about a week and gives up.

We have two common types of Manzanita here, Great-Berry and Eastwood. Great-Berry starts blooming in December and finishes about now, the other starts in January and finishes in May. Neither of them bloomed at all until last week, when 3 Eastwoods started to flower.

Castor bean is a non-native perennial which usually blooms all year long. And it has bloomed all this year too. But the large thicket of Castor Beans down near the concrete dam has almost all died (though a few still live and still bloom), but underneath them there is now a carpet of small forbs, about 2 inches high now which appear to be the next cohort. This death/rebirth did not happen last year.

Normally Milk Maids start blooming in January, or maybe December and they straggle on until May. This year there were none until the rains came.

Milk Maids in 2014
Jesusita Cold Spring West
Early March 0 0
Mid March 46 1
Late March 162 25

Normally plants in the Borage family are all over the place by now (Phacelias, Fiesta Flowers, Fiddlenecks, etc.) but very few are blooming (few species, few individuals) and those that are started late. In the Cold Fire area I watched small Phacelia leaves appear in December, only to see them die in January’s drought. Now at the end of March they are back — but only small shoots, by now they should be plants 3 feet tall.

Phacelia shoots growing around last years dead stems

Phacelia shoots growing around last years dead stems

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One Response to “Depauperate Spring”

  1. weedimageoftheday Says:

    I think it’s fascinating how the plants adjust year to year, and every year they present a different selection of plants. I see the effects of the drought quite dramatically when I compare the amount of good specimens available to photograph, this year to last.

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