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Early wildflowers, tall grass a result of warm, wet weather

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By Sylvia Brockner

On a brief ride around the Evergreen area last week, I was surprised to see so many wildflowers blooming. Many seemed a bit earlier than usual. I believe this is due to the exceptionally warm weather and rain in early June.

Late June had very little rain, but the Fourth of July brought a late-afternoon torrential shower, so it is once more hot and humid. This is not my favorite weather as it leaves me feeling hot, sticky and short of breath.

One of the flowers I noticed blooming in late June was the cow parsnip. This is a huge plant that looks a bit like Queen Anne’s lace, but it is two or three times larger. It also needs more water, so it is not found in large quantities, but is usually found singly in marshy places and along streams. It has huge leaves that are in three parts. Each segment or leaflet is as large as a single leaf on most plants.

Another plant I see blooming now is a patch of pineapple weed along the road. This is another plant that has earned the classification of “noxious weed.” However, it is small, only about six to eight inches high. It prefers gravelly soil, so it is often found at the end of roads or in driveways.

I have had people ask me if it was chamomile, but it is not. True chamomile is a European plant and not found often in this area. Pineapple weed has a cluster of blooms that when still in bud look like a small pineapples. It also has a fresh crisp odor when crushed that may remind you of pineapple.

I have a patch of this in my gravel driveway that I love to step on after a rain so I can smell its wonderful fresh odor.

Probably the earliest shrub to flower here is the holly-leafed mahonia. This hardy shrub grows in large thickets in dry places. It spreads by underground roots, so it soon makes large patches. It has a bright yellow flower that blooms very early. The plant is seldom more than 18 inches to two feet high.

There is another mahonia that grows in Oregon and is planted often in Eastern gardens, and it grows three to four feet tall but is otherwise similar. It will grow here but is not native here.

It is, however, often the only mahonia at our nurseries. Mahonia leaves make fine Christmas decorations because the leaves look very much like holly. However, the berries are dark blue and do not keep as well, so for decorating, artificial red berries work best.

The ripe blue berries make a very good jelly, but I don’t enjoy picking them because I have often found rattlesnakes in mahonia thickets, so it’s best not to put your hands anywhere you can’t see. Mahonia grows best along the ridges at Red Rocks Park, but it is growing well in my yard at nearly 8,000 feet.

This warm spring and rain has brought unusually high grass growth. Soon the mid-summer flowers will be in bloom. If all this grass dries off, it may be a worrisome fire season this fall. We really need to education more people, especially visitors, about the hazard of fires.

Unfortunately, many visitors from rainy areas see no harm in tossing a cigarette out their car window. That can cause a catastrophic wildfire in this country. Summer is here and after the Fourth of July, the first fall migrants begin to appear.