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NatureSpeak Articles

Spring has sprung (Or has it?)

In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove; In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Not to contradict Alfred Lord Tennyson, but spring affects more than just young men — naturalists of all ages and both genders get a bit of a spring in their step this time of year. Unfortunately for impatient nature lovers in Whistler, spring is biding its time here. One day everyone’s sporting shorts and bicycles; the next there’s 20 cm’s of fresh snow.

While there’s been a huge increase in bird activity (including Canada geese flying in apparently random directions), Whistler’s plant world is still mostly dormant. In sunny Pemberton, meanwhile, skunk cabbages (Lysichiton americanum) have emerged beside One Mile Lake. Regardless of location, there are always pioneer plants like skunk cabbage which seem to get a jump on their neighbours, to the point of actually growing through the last remnants of snow.

But how do they know when to start growing?

Each plant has its own growth cycle which is tied to the annual cycle of daylight. Each passing spring day is slightly longer and plants await the wake-up call for their preferred day length. In the case of skunk cabbage, the alarm clock goes off early. Even then, a skunk cabbage won’t immediately become active. It also needs warm-enough soil (just slightly above freezing in its case) and light. Full snow melt isn’t necessary because photosynthesis can occur at least as deep as 30 cm below the snow. Growing under snow is one way such plants get a head start on spring, and why they are so big so soon after snow melt.

To report new sightings, e-mail Leigh Edwards.

Upcoming Events:

March 31 – Birds in watercolours. Isobel MacLaurin is offering another great introductory class in nature art. Supplies included. $2 for Naturalist Society members only. Please call Mitch Sulkers to register.

April 1 – Monthly Bird Walk. Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 7 a.m. (please note earlier time!). Contact Michael Thompson for more information.

Written by: Bob Brett


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