Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring is Here

March 20th marked the first calendar day of spring, and this year nature is willing to follow along. Temperatures have warmed from the cold, snowy February weather. The hills are starting to green and soon wildflowers will be blooming. The sun peaks through the clouds and warms the air.
Picking a calendar day seems an arbitrary way to start a season, and it is. We choose to set our seasons by the solstices and equinoxes as a convenient way to mark the changing of seasons. Luckily we live in an area that they happen to coincide fairly well. But if you head north or south of our latitude the seasons start to follow a different path. I doubt spring in Alaska has really started yet, nor is winter a measly three months long. Head south to the tropics and the overall temperatures rarely change. Seasons there may be more accurately described as wet/dry. Head far enough south into Australia or South America and the seasons are opposite of ours. As we head into spring they head into fall.
Yellow Bell
Spring around Wenatchee is an amazing time of year. The hills lose their brown or yellow color they sport much of the year and show off their lively green. Green represents growth in the shrub steppe environment, both annual and perennial. Spring is often the only time of year there’s enough moisture available for plants to grow and thrive in our climate. The combination of melted winter snow and spring rain provides enough moisture for plants to survive the rest of the year in this two to three month period.
Not only do plants use spring as a time to grow. They also use it as a time to flower. One of the easiest to spot is the balsamroot, which sports large yellow flowers that seems to blanket portions of the hillsides. Lupine is quite prominent as well, featuring tall stems covered in purple flowers. Look close enough at your feet while walking between the sagebrush and you might notice yellow bells, bluebells, lomatiums, and buttercups.
Besides the prominent flowers are a variety of grasses. Much of the bright green you see comes from their spring growth. Most people consider grass a staple of lawns, requiring constant moisture to survive and thrive. That’s not the case. Native grasses thrive in our environment with no watering by us necessary. Even when the grass has lost its fresh, green look come June and July it’s still alive. Simply waiting to sprout again come the following spring when there’s plenty of moisture.

I encourage you to go out and enjoy the shrub steppe during the spring. In my opinion it’s the only time to truly appreciate the great variety of life present. Come summer and fall all that will be left is a dry, brown hillside with little shade to get out of the sun. Enjoy it in the spring when it’s still cool and the hills are alive and colorful.

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