Remember our spring 2012 when the weather reached the mid and upper 80’s in March? This was followed by severe drought and heat. This early spring caught us all off guard. I quickly hurried to get my yard ready for a controlled burn in mid-March since my prairie plants were already greening up. Also migrating birds which use photo-period instead of weather to travel, missed out on some of their spring food supply of plants and insects since plants and insects emerged so much earlier because of the weather. Not good.
So far spring 2013 year is quite different from last. We had winter in March instead of January and February, and cooler weather afterwards . I remember seeing the red-wing black birds and sandhill cranes migrating right before a March 2013 snowfall, and wondered if they had a spot to keep warm. I burned my prairie in early April and there were still patches of snow on the ground and the prairie smoke had not budded yet. Tom Skilling, my favorite weather person says we haven’t had a spring this cool since 1965. He indicates cool springs are often followed by hot summers. I hope not! The native plants in my garden are about a month or so late, so do not worry if you are experiencing the same delay.
On April 6, I hiked Black Partridge Woods in Lemont with my good friend Pat, ecologist and restorationist. We searched for Skunk Cabbage which normally blooms late January – early March near wetlands and water edges, and found only a few just starting to emerge in an area facing south which receives more sunlight this time of year. See photo. Skunk Cabbage is a neat plant. The plant raises its temperature to melt the surrounding snow so it can emerge, and the unique maroon flowers smell like dead carcass to attract early pollinators such as flies and gnats. Later in the season, its huge green leaves are quite noticeable near wetlands and river edges.
We also found a few sprinkles of Sharp-loped hepatica along slopes at Black Partridges Woods, and it is also blooming much later this year. Pat says the flowers can range from pink to white to blue, depending on soil acidity. The leaves, which remind me of trillium leaves, turn a beautiful maroon color over the winter. We figured the limestone resulted in blue flowers and the ground layer of oak leaves resulted in pink flowers. We found all 3 colors near each other on a slope, so the soil acidity must vary even over small areas. Amazing!
You can read more about their value to wildlife on the Illinois Wildflower website: Skunk Cabbage and Sharp-lobed Hepatica . Neither of these plants can be easily found at plant nurseries but they can still be enjoyed in a few select natural areas. DuPage Forest Preserve has a AWESOME website so you can find locations for these and other plants and animals at Observe your Preserve. Be careful where you step since their flowers are only 6″ in height or less.
Please let me know in your comments below if your native plant gardens are also late or where you’ve seen these plants this year.