Friday, February 18, 2005

on the frontier of spring

February 13 would seem to be much too early to be thinking about spring, but here in the Chihuahuan Desert on the edge of the Guadalupe Mountains, spring is beginning. My friend Renee, a biologist with Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and I went for a walk in the foothills on Sunday afternoon the 13th. Our purpose was to look for Selaginella, what is known as a "fern ally," but we stopped and peered at anything of interest, especially small plants starting to bloom.

Desert anemones, Anemone tuberosa, had sent up bloom stalks with pink and white buds from the midst of their red-edged leaves. Wild onions, scattered here and there, were pushing up buds. The early-bird mustards, dainty white Drabas and bouquets of yellow Lesquerella, were already in bloom.

I wanted to share with Renee the Selaginella, creeping and forming mats all over the place around rocks and under shrubs. We have had an unusally wet year, so it is flourishing. Selaginella is a fern-like plant that resembles moss--its common name is spikemoss--with leaves so tiny that they can be seen well only under a dissecting microscope. That's what I used to identify the species we were seeing as Selaginella peruviana. The true mosses are also thriving this year, with many clumps of emerald-green tucked under the edges of rocks.

The surface of the desert is not barren; it is covered with plants soaking up the ample rainfall and preparing for reproduction in the spring.