Sunday, March 23, 2014

Annual Grama Grass

Weather: On Friday, relative humidity was down to 3% in Los Alamos and 9% in Santa Fé. Last rain 3/16/14.

What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia flowers sparse; alfalfa emerging.

They’ve applied the color coat to the block wall and installed an ornate double gate.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo is open by noon most days, tansy mustard. Stick leaf and gypsum phacelia have emerged. Apache plume is leafing. Needle and rice grasses are greening. Crust has been active in one area of the prairie, and the moss is in the brown phase.

Tahoka daisy stems apparently get brittle when they dry. They’ve been breaking off in the winds. Seedlings are germinating in the cleared areas where they grew last year.

Russian thistle corpses are everywhere, filling gullies and covering shrubs and cacti.

In my yard: Privet and most roses leafing, peaches poised to bloom, tulips up.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: This past February I noticed the colors on the prairie had changed. It had snowed the week before. Now the flat areas I could see out the back window were lime green, rather the shade of aged mulch sprayed along the highway.

Friday, when I walked the prairie for the first time this year, I saw strings laying along the ground.

In mass, there are what I saw in February.

I didn’t recognize the grass from a distance because the ones in my driveway have not faded as much. Some are more upright and still retain parts of the their seed heads. They happen to have grown near the peach, which apparently protected the patch from blanketing snow.

It’s the annual form of grama grass that germinates soon after the monsoons have soaked the ground. Last year I noticed the grass blooming in my drive July 31, but it didn’t show much in the grasslands until the end of August. In 2012 it was July 27 when I noticed in, in 2011 it wasn’t until September 11.

When six-week grama germinated on the prairie last year in early August, the blades were short and bright green.

It was blooming in my drive by mid-August, but wasn’t in seed on the prairie until mid-September.

By then, the bright color had turned to bronze from a distance.

Bouteloua barbata isn’t considered good forage because the stalks remain low and don’t cure well. By late winter, it does contain small amounts of protein, calcium and phosphorous, perhaps too small to regenerate the soil.

Instead, the annual grama’s ecological importance may lie in its lying down. It only germinates where there is water. No water, no grass.

When the southwestern desert native goes prostrate in spring, it prevents the underlying soil, and its own seed, from blowing in the wind. It thus may help keep fertile soils that have become fertile, and protect ones that are healing from the drought.

1-3. Tahoka daisies in my yard, 23 March 2014.

4-5. Six-week grama on the prairie, 20 March 2014.

6. Six-week grama in my drive, 23 March 2014.

7. Six-week grama on the prairie, 3 August 2013.

8-10. Six-week grama on the prairie, 21 September 2013.

11. Six-week grama on the prairie, 20 March 2014.

12. Six-week grama in my drive, 18 August 2013.

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