We’ve passed a few seasonal milestones this year, and already I find myself looking back to review if I best maximized my springtime ventures. The solstice has passed and summer has formally started, but traces of spring continue to push to the front of my memory.
I can admit in past years I’ve considered spring blooms to be dainty and fragile in quality ; their lightness or pastel color, smaller sizing of the flowers, shorter bloom-time than some of their summertime peers. Majority of our native springtime wildflowers remain low to the ground and short in stature. Visually, the appearance completes the notion of primavera.
In research I’ve come to better understand just what risks springtime blooms encounter and what mechanisms they’ve developed in response. Competition exists not only for adequate seed dispersal [as is the case for all flowering plants], but battle also exists with the oncoming growth of taller vegetation that will restrict sunlight to the local floor. To combat this countdown, vernal plants throw blooms against the risk of snow and frost to gain advantage over their neighbors. The hardiness of these flowers is no longer in question.
Throwing early blooms in Chicago also permits overlap to the short window of bird migration season. Whether or not this garners a larger number of possible seed-carriers or not, I could not speak to. But increased diversity in those birds that rely on early seeds, and the possibility of longer range distribution must play a role in scope of habitat somehow.
With all these factors culminating for just a brief time, spring blooming flowers should perhaps instill a sense of wild resilience. Those first bursts of color out of the cold winter ground are truthfully far from the dainty fleeting vegetation I once assumed.
What will become of our ephemeral wildflowers as the global climate shifts towards a hotter standard? I note this year's spring felt to be much shorter than those of my childhood - with scorching temperatures and sunburns as early as May. As we see temperatures gradually rise (ontop of supplementing factors such as the Urban Heat Island), I can only anticipate a natural shift towards those plants with preference for high heat and drought-like conditions.
How will a potential shortening of our vernal season change the biodiversity of our parks and prairies? What food will remain for those early rising bees and foragers, those birds on migration routes through our region? What delights of color will we be left to search for after months of mud and snow?
Written by OOFD Adult Overnight Director and Board President - Breanna Bertacchi
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