March is the cruelest month…

by Greg Mayer

…breeding mulleins out of the dead land.

Mullein along railroad track, Arlington, Virginia, March 12, 2010.

During a visit to the Washington, DC, area last weekend I made a point of looking at how advanced the spring greening was. Despite  the east coast’s hard winter, and the mild winter in the midwest (and 2010 in general is starting off quite warm), things are much more alive (as I expected) in the east, but still pretty gray-brown. In addition to the mulleins above (the greenish ground rosettes, with last year’s meter high flowering stalks still standing in many), a number of flowers (all in cultivation) had also emerged.

Washington, DC, March 17, 2010.

Washington, DC, March 17, 2010.

Suitland, Maryland, March 16, 2010.

Early emergence is a key adaptation for many plants, especially those of the forest understory. Later in the season, the forest floor will be in deep shade from the trees, so many herbaceous and small woody plants take advantage of the photosynthetic opportunities provided by the early spring. The animals were also active– fish crows and mockingbirds on the Mall in DC–, but most noticeably large and loud choruses of spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer, a tree frog) in many places in Prince William and northern Stafford Counties, Virginia. I attempted to record a chorus in Dumfries, Virginia, and thought I had, but the file came up blank, so you’ll just have to imagine hundreds of little frogs, all saying “peep” at the same time (or listen here). When I lived in the DC area, peepers began calling around the same time redwinged blackbirds did, February 15, so they’ve probably been calling for around a month already. No frog calls yet in Wisconsin.

11 Comments

  1. Posted March 21, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Very nice pictures and comments. We are still under about 3 feet of snow here, but today it is thawing rapidly. i will put on some snowshoes tomorrow and walk up the creek and see if we have any early things along the banks (where it is slightly warmer than elsewhere).

  2. Thanny
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    The east did not really have a harsh winter at all. We had a couple big snowstorms, and that’s it. The temperatures were very mild throughout.

    Even during the last big snowstorm, which deposited about 18 inches of white stuff here, it was above freezing temperatures, which made it a real pain to remove that aforementioned white material from driveways and walkways.

  3. Ryan
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Kudos for the “The Waste Land” reference.

  4. gillt
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I live in DC! We had wonderful weather here this weekend. Tulip trees are already in bud. And soon the cherry blossoms!

    Also, the health care bill vote is tonight. Hope springs eternal.

  5. James
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Typically, the Swans start moving on Maryland’s Eastern Shore about the 15th of February and the Geese a couple of weeks later. This year it seems to be about 2 weeks later.

    Last Tuesday I went out to get the paper before first light and I could hear several large flocks of Geese overhead. As I was out and about during the day there were quite a number of large flocks–100 to 400 birds in each–all moving North. I would guess I saw 25 to 30 strings just in my area.

    My wife’s porch box lizards (actually, 5 line skinks) were out sunning themselves today for the first time. My wife put out the Hummingbird feeder, but I think that may be wishful thinking. The two pair of Red Shouldered Hawks that nest about a mile or mile and half apart have been back for about 2 weeks. They are out everyday flying loop-d-loops and screaming watch me, watch me. And, of course, the spring peepers have been out advertising their availability for a little amorous adventure for about a week and half or so.

  6. hempenstein
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    While there was still some snow to be seen from the PA Turnpike at the highest parts of the Alleghenies, snowdrops (Galanthus) and crocuses bloomed in Pittsburgh a few days ago. But for me it won’t really feel like spring is about to arrive till I see the Tussilago (coltsfoot) in bloom. Some daffodil buds are visible but none have broken yet, and even once they open there’s about an even chance they’ll get flattened by a wet snow.

    Meanwhile, mud season probably hasn’t started in VT yet.

  7. Posted March 22, 2010 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    The early spring flowers just amaze me as they seem to take such risks in sprouting and blooming so early. I guess as you say they’ve adapted to take that risky niche before the forest trees leaf out and take all the light.

  8. artikcat
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    On the other hand, orchids and other genera in the Pacific Northwest Cascades, flower much later under the rgreen canopy: they are really tiny.

  9. Posted March 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Here in Scotland everything is late this year. We had a very hard, long winter and the ski slopes are still doing a roaring trade, even as the ospreys appear at their eyries.

  10. Mike from Ottawa
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    March is indeed the cruelest month. Sixty-five teams head into The Tournament and all but one goes home having lost their last game.

  11. Grendels Dad
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in WV. Even after 20 years living in Colorado the woodlands of the southern Appalachians still feel more like home to me than forests in my own back yard. March may be the cruelest month, but making me homesick on top of it is an almost comic book villain style of mean. ;^)


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  1. […] March continued its cruelty, and less than two weeks after they emerged in Virginia, mulleins emerged from the dead land of Wisconsin as well. […]

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