March is the cruelest month…

March 21, 2010 • 2:48 pm

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.