Spring Is Here – Bad News For Cool Season Plants

hairy vetch

Hairy vetch is producing tiny purple blooms announcing the end of winter. The copious seed produced will serve as heralds next year.

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

Spring 2016’s official start came earlier this week. The yo-yo thermometer readings will soon give way to consistently warm weather, and hopefully, ample and consistent rain showers.

The old saying “April showers grow May flowers” is true, but not for all plants. For cool season plants it might be accurate to say “The March bloom indicate imminent doom”.

While a bit grim, the statement is accurate for cool season annuals. They are in the last throws of producing and distributing seed next year’s crop.

For the bi-annual and perennial cool season plants, the warm season portends a dormant period. They too are readying seed for next autumn’s growing period.

The wild geranium (Geranium carolinianum) is a common cool season native plant currently blooming in Wakulla County. It grows randomly in a variety of soil types and is related to the popular herbaceous plant frequently seen in hanging baskets.

The small pink to purple blooms tip stalks up to six inches above the ground. It has a vigorous taproot which locks it securely into the soil.

While isolate specimens are seen, the wild geranium usually occurs in densely packed populations. The thick stands often crowd out competing weeds. This early spring bloomer tolerates some shade, but prefers full sun.

Under pine trees the common blue violets are currently blooming.  Viola sororia, the scientific name for this native plant, provides a stark color contrast to the leaf litter and pine needles it thrives in.

This delicate herbaceous plant is producing inch wide blooms which are commonly bluish-purple. These violets are self-pollinating perennials which flourish in the filtered light under tree canopies.

The heavy mulch layer in forest setting provide the consistently moist soil and ample organic matter for successful growth.  Seed heads form in the late summer and early autumn, and are scatted by birds, animals, and weather events.

Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) is the most common occurring, non-cultivated legume found in Wakulla County, though not a native plant. This native of Europe and western Asia is a low growing plant easily identified by its elongated dagger-shaped leaves which are half an inch in length.

This annual is currently producing diminutive purple flowers which quickly produce inch-long seed pods.  Most of the seed are scattered within a few yard, and over a few years can develop a dense tangle of plants which are attractive to foraging animals.

Honeybees and native pollinators can be seen visiting the blooms.  This legume is not a recommended forage for livestock.

Birds and animals can scatter seed to new areas where the hardy plant will aggressively colonize any suitable environment.  The primary deterrent to becoming established in the new site is the plant is eaten or killed before its seed are set.

Other current bloomers with which soon will fade from view include the wild radish. This non-native weed favors full sun and disturbed soil, and is commonly is found in fields and roadsides.

No doubt the early blooms of cool season plants are a treat for all the local pollinators and human residents of Wakulla County. Their short existence heralds the growing season to come.

 

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