Mother Nature Running Late?

Wow, did Mother Nature ever check in late for Spring this year!

As the skiers enjoyed Old Man Winter’s extended stay, the rest of us became increasingly impatient, fed up, disgusted, restless, outraged, stressed, crazed (pick one or all) as we waited for warm weather, snow-free hiking trails, and green things that grow.

How Did We Know Spring Was Late?

I took this photo of a prairie crocus blooming on March 23. Did I take it this year? I think not! (It was taken in 2008).

This year, my first sighting was on April 25, a month later! The poor things were buried less than a week later under a foot of snow.

Well, for me personally, a big indicator was the prairie crocus, which is usually our first sign of Spring (see photos).

Now, onto the topic of snow, a word that is still haunting many of us.

Now, we Rocky Mountain dwellers are used to snow in its proper time and place – Winter!  And yes, we’ve lived here long enough to expect Winter’s last laugh in the form of a big Spring snowstorm or two, but we still don’t expect one every week. This is the first time most of us have seen the spring snow piled high enough that the local bunny population could actually climb up and prune our shrubs and trees…

So, what’s normal?

Yes, we all had that gut feeling that Spring was excruciatingly slow to arrive.  But how do we actually know what’s “normal” in terms of the seasons?  Obviously, one way is to follow the weather reports, and indeed, our temperatures were well below the seasonal average this Spring.

However, getting back to the crocuses, one of the big indicators for seasonal timing is the annual blooming times of native plants and flowers.  Plant phenology is the study of plant life cycles, and how these are influenced by seasonal variations in climate.  There is an ongoing nation-wide plant phenology study, the Alberta branch of which is the Plant Watch program, coordinated by Elizabeth Beaubien at the University of Alberta.

Such a program requires a lot of data, in a consistent format, and Plant Watch gathers that data from enthusiastic naturalists throughout the province.  A species count takes place annually on the last weekend in May, with teams of volunteers heading out to see which plants are in bloom.

There’s Nothing Like Counting Plants!

Do you want to get involved? Our very own Bow Valley Naturalists have been taking part in this species count since its inception, and are always glad to have new eyes in the field. To find out more about this or other terrific programs involving natural science in the Bow Valley, simply go to their website.

Here’s to hoping that our late spring will lead to an early, long and warm summer!

Marjory Gibney

Marjory Gibney is a Bow Valley “lifer,” born and raised in the now non-existent town of Seebe, with the Bow River and Mount Yamnuska in her front yard. Having emigrated the vast distance to Canmore, she has to admit that it’s extremely unlikely anything will ever pry her loose from the Valley. With strong Valley roots (her Dad was born and raised in Banff), Marj has absorbed a fair bit of the natural and human history of the area. She retired in 2008 from her career as a school librarian at Lawrence Grassi and Exshaw Schools, and with more time to focus on photography, music, travel and various other passions, she is enthusiastically pursuing her new career as a full time leisurologist.

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  1. Saw a Canmore Leader article saying the bears were out early due to global warming. However, if spring is a full month late this year then the bears are not out early due to warming resulting in an early spring? Bears do occasionally come out even in mid-winter only to return to their dens, or perhaps the bears are often out that early, someone just happened to notice it this year.

  2. Loved to see the crocuses at Middle Springs last weekend and fields of them in Waterton the week before.  Yes we sure had to wait for them this year.

  3. congratulations Marjory, love the photos of the wild crocus… we used to pick those and the yellow lady slippers out in the pasture…

    • Wonderful memories, Dkaus!  But can I ask you to turn over a new leaf, and promise not to pick any more?  With many of our wildflowers, the plant is killed when the flower is picked.  I know places in the valley where there used to be masses of flowers blooming, and now only a sparse few are left  after years of people picking them.  Enjoy them where you find them, and leave them for others to enjoy after you!  “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!” 

  4.  Elusive spring…we go on our “crocus hike” on the benchlands every year just to celebrate another winter over.   Congratulations, Marj.