Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Finally! Spring, Wildflowers And The Easter Bunny(s)

IMG_9175 Finally! This weekend really felt like Spring. Saturday was cool but sunny, a good day for a nice road ride. I headed up Emigration Canyon and on past the gate up Big Mountain Pass till the snow stopped me (pic below, right).

BMP Roadblock Tangent For Salt Lake Road Bikers: Seriously, is there anything nicer than a really smooth road that’s closed to cars? I know they need to open the road over Big Mountain Pass, but what about upper Mill Creek? Wouldn’t it be awesome if instead of opening it July 1, they just left the gate closed all summer? How cool would that be??

Sunday was even nicer- mid 60’s, sunny, and for the first time this season, I was able to ride the Bonneville Shoreline Trail from the zoo to City Creek. What a perfect Easter.

All About The Easter Bunny(s)

Tangent: Wait a minute, wasn’t Easter last weekend? Nope. Only for you heathens. Greek Easter was this past Sunday; Orthodox Easter is usually later than “American” Easter because they have the added date requirement that it fall after Passover.

When my siblings and I were kids, our parents of course wanted to celebrate Greek Easter, but didn’t want us to feel “different” or “left out.” So we had- get this- two Easters: “American Easter” and “Greek Easter”. This was of course way cool, but what was even cooler is that my parents developed a whole supporting Dual Easter Mythology, featuring- I am not making this up- two Easter Bunnies.

Nested Tangent: I’ve always been dismayed by the incredibly weak support-mythology for the Easter Bunny. Think about it. For Christmas, we have Santa Claus, and a whole supporting Santa-Mythology. We know where he lives (North Pole), we know what he does the rest of the year (make toys, keep lists.) We know how he does it (elves help him out) and how he delivers the toys (sleigh, flying reindeer, dropping down chimney.) We even know a bit about his family life (Mrs. Claus.)

easter-bunny-motorcycle But for the Easter Bunny, we got nothing. Who- or rather what- is this creature? Is it an actual rabbit? I always assumed it was more of a man-sized bipedal rabbit/humanoid, with prehensile forepaws (to, you know, carry the baskets) but if you think that through, that’s kind of scary. Where does the candy come from? How does he get to all the houses in the world in one night? And how does he get into your house? And is it a “he” or a “she”?*

*I always assumed the Easter Bunny was male, because even when I was a kid, I kind of sensed that obsessive loners who dedicate inordinate amounts of time to strange pursuits (famous artists, inventors, serial killers, the Unabomber, half-assed-stream-of-consciousness- science-bloggers) tend to be male.

ebunny president So let’s assume that the Easter Bunny was supposed to be a man-sized, bipedal rabbitish-humanoid. Where is he supposed to have come from? Is he a freak mutant rabbit, or just one member of a secret race of rabbit-men who burrow in the ground far below us? Or is he the result of some mad science experiment- an escapee from the Island of Dr. Moreau? Can he speak? And what about his clothes? A lot of drawings show him wearing a vest, like a fly-fisherman or a CNN reporter. But that’s all he’s wearing. He wears a vest but no pants? Great, now he’s a pervert, too.

Anyway you think it through, the Easter Bunny Story falls apart with even a moment’s critical thinking. After this blog, my next project will be to author a series of sickeningly-cutesy and ridiculously-overpriced children’s books that define and flesh out a comprehensive Easter Bunny Mythology.

American EB cut Yeah so like I was saying, we had 2 Easters with 2 different Bunnies. For American Easter, it was the “American Easter Bunny.” My sister- let’s call her “Elizabeth”- and I always imagined this bunny as- I am embarrassed to admit- white. We imagined the American Easter Bunny as happy, friendly, generous and uncritical.

Pap EB cut But on Greek Easter, the candy was delivered by- I swear I am not making this up- The Papadopoulos Bunny. Yes, that’s what our parents named him. Elizabeth and I imagined the Papadopoulos Bunny as dark brown, gruff, impatient and a bit cross; in short, pretty much like all the middle-aged Greek guys at our church.

Not EB Usually by late April I’ve been regularly riding Shoreline for ~a month, but this crazy, Stalker-Ex winter has made for a late start. So when I rode it Sunday, there was a lot to notice.

Right behind of the U. of Utah hospital is a good place to look around. This is one of the lowest and sunniest parts of the Shoreline trail and so whatever’s happening down here is a good indicator of what will be happening up a bit higher over the next couple of weeks. IMG_9153 Here’s the first Arrowleaf Balsamroot (pic left)I’ve seen this season*; in a couple weeks these things will be covering the hillsides above. Balsamroots, and their close cousins, Mules Ears, can be a bit confusing to distinguish. Last June I did a pretty thorough post on them that might be a good primer if you’re curious about them over the coming weeks.

*I checked last April’s archives. I spotted the first one of these last year on 4/23. These guys run like clockwork.

Shoreline Map 4 19 09 Also down low, in a couple of the minor draws, the Bigtooth Maples are starting to leaf out (pic right). IMG_9191Just a few hundred feet higher they’re still bare, but that’ll be changing within a week or so, and as I mentioned last year, the BT Maples generally leaf out a good week+ before the Scrub Oak, so over the next couple of weeks you’ll be able to tell the 2 trees apart pretty easily from a distance, which is a lot harder to do (from a distance) during the summer. As you do, you’ll see that the Maples dominate in the wetter, shadier draws, while the Oaks do better on the dry, sunny hillsides. (But over time, the Maples will begin to invade the Oak stands, a process which I described in this post.)

New Stream!

IMG_9190 In lower Dry Creek right now, the understory is practically carpeted with Glacier Lilies (pic left). If you’re local, try to ride/run/hike Dry Creek this week; it’s really stunning. Further up the canyon, pools of water appear, and before long (well below the South Fork junction) a full-on stream is running (pic right). IMG_9186 There’s always some water in Spring in the bottom of Dry Creek, but this is only the 3rd Spring in 14 years in which I’ve seen a full-on, cascading stream running down the canyon. Streamside rides are a fairly uncommon in Utah, and very unusual in the Wasatch foothills, so enjoy it while you can.

New Flower!

IMG_9165 You’ll leave the stream behind when you switchback left and climb out of the canyon bottom; for the next mile you climb till your first view of the downtown Slat Lake. The trail turns right/North here, and about ~50 yards ahead, on the uphill/East side of the trail, is a new blossom- Utah Milkvetch, Astragalus utahensis. This is another great-looking and distinctive flower. Unlike most wildflowers in the foothills, Milkvetch is irregular, in that there’s only one line along which you can divide it symmetrically. It’s a pretty flower, early to bloom, and does well in dry, cold, sunny conditions. IMG_9167 It’s a popular xeriscaping shrub, and does well once established, but is a bit finicky to get started. It’s very intolerant of shade, and supposedly extremely sensitive to being transplanted/repotted. (In addition, some gardeners claim the seeds are allelopathic*, and so should only be planted one to a pot, but other gardeners say this isn’t so.) The flowers will turn into woolly pods in a month or so, from which you can shake the seeds, if you’re inclined to try growing it.

*See this post for explanation of allelopathy.

IMG_9164 A. utahensis seeds can remain dormant-but-viable for several years, and have been the subject of studies around germination triggers. Following wildfires, land managers often try to reseed burnt areas with native species. But invasive species, such as Cheatgrass, are often much more aggressive in colonizing such spaces, in part because they germinate quickly and reliably. So land managers are always interested in figuring out how to get native shrub-seeds to germinate more quickly. The seeds of Utah Milkvetch for example seem to be triggered to germinate more quickly by the presence of a couple of different types of fungal spores.

There are over 2,000 different species of Astragalus. Some, like Utah Milkvetch, are pretty common (though this is the only spot I’ve seen it along Shoreline trail. The other place I’ve seen it is out on Stansbury Island.) But others are quite rare. An extreme case is Deseret* Milkvetch, Astragalus desereticus, down in Utah County.

*Name corrected following Sally's comment.

A desereticus Deseret Milkvetch has a way cool story. It was discovered in the 1890’s, and then last spotted in 1909. For over 70 years it was thought to be extinct, until a botanist re-discovered it in 1981. Its entire range consists of just 5,000 – 10,000 plants spread across 300 acres along a sandstone outcrop in Utah County, on a mix of private and state land. And the whole 300 acres- get this- is within 1,000 feet of US89.

Mystery Flower2 4 19 09 There’s one other foothill flower poking out right now, just starting to bloom. This flower (pic left) is all over the place in the foothills, and in fact it surrounds the patch of Milkvetch along Shoreline. It’s another exotic, Alyssum sp., possibly Pale Madwort, Alyssum alyssoides, which is native to Eurasia and a member of the Mustard family.

Of course speaking of flowers, down on the valley floor thousands of trees are practically exploding with blossoms right now, and though virtually none of these are native, they’re the brightest, loudest indicator of Spring, and worth checking out for a moment.

Next Up: Suburban Extreme Makeover

Note: Special Thank You to Lorraine aka “The Collector” for the Alyssum ID. Thanks Lorraine!


KanyonKris said...

I'll be on the lookout for the Spring active plants you mentioned.

Nice Easter Bunny tangent. The Non-Easter Bunny should get you some more Selma Hayek type search hits.

Jodie said...

OMG! A tangent, nested tanget, and a boob shot. Im so proud of you...

Sally said...

Oh my! Even my desk calendar shows Greek Easter (aka Eastern Orthodox Easter)... you always learn something new when you visit The Watcher. But, this year, American Easter was after Passover, so is there more to the date story?

I think A. desereticus would translate to "Deseret Milkvetch;" USDA Plants Database lists two other species as "desert milkvetch."

Watcher said...

KKris- Glad you liked the Easter Bunny tangent, Writing it brought back many fond (but strange) childhood memories...

Jodie- Yeah the "boob shot", as you put, popped up when I was googling for Easter Bunny images and I just had to work it into the post...

Sally- You're right on the name but wrong on the date! Passover is 8 days long; it started April 8 and finished April 16, so Sunday 4/19 was the first Sunday after (the whole) Passover (not just the first day.)

But you are spot on re: the name, it is in fact DeserET Milkvetch. And I of all people should know better. In Utah's West Desert there are 2 great hiking peaks- 1 is DESERET PEAK, which is the high point of the Stansbury range, and an awesome, pretty easy hike- a better bang for the buck than pretty much any Wasatch Peak. The other is DESERT PEAK, which is the high point of the Newfoundland range, and gets climbed roughly once every 15 months, as I blogged about in this post. When I try to describe the latter, people around SLC often confuse it with the former.

"Deseret", by the way, was the original name for the Utah territory; in Mormon theology it was the word for "honeybee" in the language of a tribe/race of ancient pre-columbian inhabitants of the New World. (The Jaredites(?) I think, but I'm in a hotel w/out my BoM handy to confirm...)

Watcher said...

Cancel that- I'm staying in a Marriott, so I just opened the bedside drawer and looked it up! Yes, "deseret" was the Jaredite word for honeybee (Ether 2:3)

Sally said...

I just knew there'd be an explanation for the date! Thanks... (and Duh!)

And thanks, as well, for the definition of "deseret"—very cool, and I'd always wondered (but never bothered to look it up!). Mountains, too...neat!

Great post, all 'round. It was The Chemist, btw, who taught me "all I know" about Astragali, but it seems you have different species over there. Our A. shortianus looks and acts a lot like your A. utahensis.

"Elizabeth" said...

Also, the Papadopoulos Bunny is swarthy, and makes frequent hop-stops to mop his brow :)