Today should have been a happy day. I found a rare gem…for me, a first-time discovery. The occurrence had been documented before, but I have stood poised through winter, waiting for the moment that I would encounter the elusive and rare snow trillium (Trillium nivale). The plants are minute–about the same height as a Kennedy half dollar on its side, and similar in width to the same coin on its face (at least those encountered today). Their foliage is glaucous (with a bluish hue), and the flowers are white, giving double meaning to the name, “snow trillium,” as the plants also often bloom through the last fits of early spring snow. Anyone walking with eyes looking forward rather than to their feet would miss these plants. It’s almost as if snow trillium exists because one thinks there should be beauty at one’s feet or where one is, rather than in the forward view or future. The first plant I found was not in flower, but it was promising to reveal its beauty soon. The feeling I had at that moment is one that only searchers–birders, botanists, other similar types–understand.
However, I was immediately concerned by my setting. It was clear I was near the edge.
Standing next to my first snow trillium, it was clear I had little woods left to explore.
I stumbled out into the open, beneath the power lines, into an area within the greater realm of the snow trillium, carefully outlined in pale green colored pencil by my predecessor on the old aerial photo I carried with me. I was immediately sober, angry, and mourning.
The view at my feet.
The view forward.
I thought I had been desensitized long ago, perhaps even before I ever wore a cape and gown or even drove a car.
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.
I shed a tear today.
Finally, the bloom calendar may begin. Beth and I came across some skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, blooming at Stute Springs in Waukesha County, WI on April 6. These first blooms of spring may convey the death and decay of the muck from which they grow, but I’ll take it.
Skunk cabbage flower–The spadix (a spike of small flowers on a fleshy stem) peaks out from a rich, wine-colored and bulbous spathe (the bract, a modified leaf, that forms the hood here enclosing the spadix). This arrangement is typical of plants in the Family Araceae.
This is a brief post. The following figure in the most recent IPCC report underscores how important it is that we not ignore the impacts climate change will have on biodiversity as we plan and implement conservation and restoration (broad sense) projects. Note the median values for trees and herbaceous plants.
(p. 15) “Many species will be unable to track suitable climates under mid- and high-range rates of climate change during the 21st century (medium confidence). Lower rates of change will pose fewer problems. Some species will adapt to new climates. Those that cannot adapt sufficiently fast will decrease in abundance or go extinct in part or all of their ranges. Management actions, such as maintenance of genetic diversity, assisted species migration and dispersal, manipulation of disturbance regimes (e.g., fires, floods), and reduction of other stressors, can reduce, but not eliminate, risks of impacts to terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems due to climate change, as well as increase the inherent capacity of ecosystems and their species to adapt to a changing climate (high confidence).”
Figure SPM.5: Maximum speeds at which species can move across landscapes (based on observations and models; vertical axis on left), compared with speeds at which temperatures are projected to move across landscapes (climate velocities for temperature; vertical axis on right). Human interventions, such as transport or habitat fragmentation, can greatly increase or decrease speeds of movement. White boxes with black bars indicate ranges and medians of maximum movement speeds for trees, plants, mammals, plant-feeding insects (median not estimated), and freshwater mollusks. For RCP2.6, 4.5, 6.0, and 8.5 for 2050-2090, horizontal lines show climate velocity for the global-land-area average and for large flat regions. Species with maximum speeds below each line are expected to be unable to track warming in the absence of human intervention. [Figure 4-5]