Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Hope This Isn’t Too Repetitive

This might remind you of my post of March 19, 2009; it’s all about springtime in our yard. But I’m suspecting that you are like me, and that each time spring comes, you’re like, “Wey-hey!”

With me, it doesn’t matter if it’s the same ol’ stuff again and again. Spring is always so very welcome when it gets here.

Same ol’ crocuses. Do they bore you? I’ll bet not. These are our first to bloom, and they just started blooming today. Today!

Also, today was the first day we noticed the cute little wildflower (foreign-exotic weed) called bird’s eye, a.k.a. Veronica persica.

Here’s something substantial for you, beyond the purty pictures: This species—indeed its entire genus—has recently been placed in a new family of plants. If you have an older plant guidebook, it will probably list genus Veronica as being a member of the “figwort family,” the Scrophulariaceae, alongside snapdragons, mulleins, beardtongues, broomrapes, and plantains. (Repeat after me: Skroff-you-larry-ay-cee-ee.)

Every botany student had to study the Scrophulariaceae early on, because it was so big. It was right up there with the mustard family, or the roses, the mints, the beans, the mallows . . . you get the picture.

But plant taxonomists studying the family’s DNA sequences have completely dismembered the former Scrophulariaceae. They did violence to it. They blew it up. They drove it off the edge of a cliff. That family used to include about 275 genera, but now it probably holds less than a hundred. Why? Because the former scrophs really weren’t all that closely related; they represented several distinct lineages, each deserving of their own family.

Veronica, therefore, is now grouped with the plantains in the Plantaginaceae. Some botanists call this new family the Veronicaceae, but it looks like Plantaginaceae is the name that will stick. (For now, anyway. Those taxonomists are still at work.)

. . . There, wasn’t that cool information?

The Most Exciting Sign of Spring So Far

Even more interesting than the sight of squirrels copulating this week on our back fence (our “privacy” fence, though the squirrels turned it into a “public display of affection fence”), this is the most exciting sign of spring so far.

Just as the flowers emerge from the earth on these warm days, so do the garter snakes. We have one batch (what do you call garter snakes collectively? a tangle? a slither?) whose burrow is on our front, south-facing terrace.

It’s a lovely, sunny location for them, and there they were today. Some were snuggled together. (No, I don’t think they were mating, though they do mate, often in a slithery, mass orgy, soon after emerging from their dens. But I have yet to see that.) All five were within a square yard of each other.

I mean, here I just stepped outside to take pictures of the flowers for you, and there were five of these cute little fellas sunning in the grass, gazing mildly up at me.

I think I told you before that this time of year they seem really mellow, even gullible. Maybe they’re still groggy from their long winter’s sleep. Maybe it’s so cool their metabolisms and responses are slow. Maybe they’re weak from hunger. (We did notice some box elder bugs stirring around today, too. I bet the garter snakes love them!)

One of the snakey-snakes had some dried-up dirt stuck to his punkin’ head. It was the largest of the five. I wonder if it was the one that poked its head out of the ground, first. (They would have to dig their way out of their burrow with their heads, right? What else are they gonna use?)

Anyway, just like last spring, I could crouch down slowly, gently extend a pointed finger, and touch them. It’s fun to play “snake-charmer” with them. And you have to admit, they’re pretty cute, in a lot of ways.

Yes, they’re completely harmless, except that if you pick them up, they’ll get scared and might smear some icky-smelling juice on you from their nether parts.

I was able to get the camera just a few inches away from the little fellas. They seemed very curious about me.

Ours are the red-sided subspecies of the eastern garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis—or at least represent an intergrade between the two subspecies. See the zippy orange-red they have on their sides?

So that was the thrill of the day. We also spent much of the afternoon clearing out flower beds of last year’s dead foliage, and applying a fresh layer of mulch. But somehow I didn’t think that would make a very interesting blog post!

No comments: