Mesa Verde means “green table” in Spanish. Mesa Verde National Park is a tilted green table, heavily dissected by its canyons that also flow south.
Other than its famous prehistoric cliff dwellings and dizzying geology, the Mesa looks rather drab after the snows are gone and the deciduous vegetation has yet to leaf out.
Thus it has been interesting watching the progression of springtime through the various shrubs, forbs and grasses as they turn the brown and gray back to green.
The earlier leafing species such as Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) and Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) seem to be well adapted to the weather swings of early spring. They don’t sweat cold snaps, even the occasional late snow storm.
On the other hand the “Oakbrush”, the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambellii) that tough small tree that resprouts vigorously even after the major fires that occurred in the park about 15-20 years ago, is cold sensitive. It leafs out later, and cautiously. I was to find out why during this particular spring.
Things had been greening up nicely in the park. In fact, it was a very early spring, especially judging by how early the yucca plants were beginning to send up their flower stalks, at 7,000 feet in elevation.
However, things changed on May 18 when a late snow storm hit the area.
The early leafing shrubs showed why they have the confidence to take late cold snaps in stride. A little bit of cold damage to their newest shoots, but otherwise no sweat.
The Oaks, though, were stunned. Tender baby leaves, and flowering catkins, were zapped. The storm passed quickly, providing some gorgeous parting shots. But as far as the Oaks, you could almost hear them arguing (“I told you it was too early!”).
So the Oaks had to regroup, not that they are not splendidly built for that, too. (I told you they are tough). Their Plan B was to shift their energy to leafing out yet again, and the heck with the flowering this year. There’s always next year, you know.
Which means few acorns, that round fat nut that wildlife like deer, turkeys, and rodents feast on in the fall. But even more so the black bears, which chow down on the acorns for their high starch content, building up the layer of fat that their bodies will depend on during their winter hibernation. So we could see more bear incidents this fall, as they try to supplement their diet with human garbage and such.
But finally, the Oak shrubs/trees are almost fully leafed out. The Green Table is back to being almost at its height of green for the summer.
Photo location: Mesa Verde National Park, southwest Colorado.
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© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg