The plan originally was to be in Colorado right now visiting family that we haven’t seen in about eight months. That’s why there’s been a gap in this blog recently. However, events intervened and schedules got complicated, so the trip has been postponed for later in the month. There is an upside, though: we’ll be here on the Farm when the wild plums start blooming.
Last summer there was a blog post (you can find it here) about “mother trees” on the prairie that included a picture of this “family” with the mother and babies labeled. This spring the mom is in bloom and the little ones have new leaves. So the exclusion fence put up last year did help to protect them. The article posted last July speculated about age structure within the plum thickets and had pictures of the bigger, older trees in the middle and small young ones out at the margins. One of my friends, who had a long career in health care, raised a question about clusters of thickets being “related”. She suggested that some DNA testing would probably tell the story, but I don’t know how much that would cost.
However, maybe the blossoms would come out at different times and that might reflect “families”? So, last week I walked through the main complex of plum thickets and took some photos of blossoms in different individual clumps and in different parts of single thickets. As you can see from this pair of pictures, the differences seem pretty subtle, but they do look real. The post last year also generated some discussions with people involved in prairie restoration projects. That included comments about how plum thickets could be “regenerated” and encouraged to expand by using fire or trimming to boost new growth. However, there was also some discussion of limiting the spread of plum thickets or even eliminating them completely to allow native prairie grasses to expand.
Here’s another pair of pictures from different thickets. Maybe the differences are even more subtle than in the previous pair? The discussions with prairie “enthusiasts” (and yes, there really are people who get excited abut the prairie!) also raised an issue about why wild plums are important components of prairie landscapes. One person pointed out that their blossoms early in the season are significant for pollinators like bees and butterflies. Another wondered if the roots of plum trees pulled up moisture and nutrients from the deep subsoil that could assist other plants. The roots also help to stabilize eroding banks along a stream and the thickets provide food and cover for wildlife. And, then of course there are the things that are important for humans like wild plum jam or jelly and shade for livestock.
Margaret took these photos and the next pair, the day after we had 90-degree temperatures this past weekend. The blossom photos earlier in this post were from several days before that. The flowers really opened a lot in the heat and there are differences visible within and between thickets. The photo on the left shows a single thicket that’s fairly uniform. The photo on the right has some areas where the blossoms don’t show so thick and white. Do those areas separate different “family units” with different mother trees within the thicket?
Differences within a big thicket are shown even better in this photo on the left. And, the one on the right shows an isolated thicket that doesn’t have the extensive flowers that are in the very first of Margaret’s pictures. (She’s got a good eye for composition and her photo records are much better than my attempts were! It’s really hard to catch the subtle differences.) Of course, the differences in blossoming could be due to differences in moisture or topography or soil or access to sunshine. BUT, maybe the blossoms are marking or distinguishing unique family groups clustered around individual mother trees. This speculation about matriarchs and their broods does risk putting an anthropomorphic spin on the interpretations, but it also makes a pretty cool story. And, it could all be tested with specific observations, if there were any incentive to spend the money.
This morning there was the threat of a cold and wet wind that could damage the blossoms. The last several mornings, temperatures have been at or below freezing. It’s happened other years. A late frost or other wintery weather can mess up our plans to make plum jelly, but the thickets continue to survive. There are stories in our family about people coming out from town to pick plums back before the turn of the twentieth century. So, these wild plum thickets have lived here on the banks of Kanaranzi Creek for many generations. With or without the nurturing mother trees, hopefully the thickets will continue to survive and thrive.
I plan to continue sharing the link to this blog on Facebook, but I’m never clear on who sees it or when. Facebook’s protocols and priorities are mysterious (or scary?). So, if you want to get an email notice when there’s a new post about Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek, you can do that by clicking the “Follow” icon. The only trouble is: it’s really hard to find! There’s a bar menu that’s displayed in the lower right, but only when you scroll up toward the top of the page. AND, you have to click the three dots at the end of this bar in order to find the “Follow” option. Good luck if you really want to follow the blog, in spite of the confusion provided by Facebook and WordPress. As always, weekly posts will alternate between natural history/science and human history/archaeology.