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Wet summer, cold snaps stole tree colors

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By Sylvia Brockner

The last three weeks have been strange for October. It has been cold. We have had snowstorms about once a week that have kept it cold. Even when the storms have moved on and we have had blue skies and sunshine, the snow on the ground and he wind off the mountains have kept it cold — not at all the warm dry October weather that I consider normal.

The sun has been warm enough to melt the snow on the ground but not warm enough to melt it in the shade. October weather is usually blue and gold and warm — like the little girl that had a curl right in the middle of her forehead. “When it was good, it was very, very good, and when it was bad, it was horrid.” Today has been a very, very good day, with one of our bluest skies, warm and lovely.

The leaf color has been a bit disappointing this year. The wet summer kept the leaves green later than usual, and that increased the amount of black spot, so from a distance the color appeared a bit dingy. Then, too, many of the aspen were still green when the first frost struck; they turned brown and black as if they had been seared by a flame. In protected places, a few turned yellow, but we did not have the big masses of gold that we usually have.

Today is also breezy, with a cold wind coming off the mountains, but if you are out of the wind and in the sun, it is quite pleasant. However, the wind has been just strong enough to take most of the remaining leaves, and a few clouds are forming to verify the weatherman’s warning of more snow tonight.

When I went to the library yesterday, I noticed a clump of blue-purple flowers in the garden near the front door. Of course, most flowers are finished blooming by now, so I had to stop and investigate to see what kind of flower it was that had the courage to challenge our snow.

It was a good-sized clump of our native harebells, Campanula rotundifolia, which the Evergreen Garden Club had wisely chosen for this garden. This flower is the last wildflower you can find blooming this late in this area, and I have seen it blooming later.

I have the habit of going for a walk on Thanksgiving Day, as soon as I get the turkey in the oven. I take a walk to see what’s going on in my Evergreen World and to work up an appetite for the coming feast. Many times it has been my pleasure to find the last harebell of summer in bloom on Thanksgiving Day.

In the past I have written many articles stating that our harebell was the same as the bluebells of Scotland; now it seems that this may not be true. There is a very similar plant that is circumpolar and which I have seen in Alaska. In the latest edition of Weber’s “Colorado Flora,” he describes our corolla base bowl shape. Abundant on the tundra, this plant is strikingly different from the low-altitude one, and appears not to intergraded. I find it hard to reconcile these as the same species. Other names are available, such as C. giesse kianna vest and C. groenlandica Berlin. Similar races occur circumboreally, but despite a great deal of research, no satisfactory taxonomic resolution has been reached.

This apparently means that no one had done DNA testing on these plants. Undoubtedly they soon will. Then it may be that they will find the circumpolar species is the harebell or bluebell of Scotland, and ours in this lower elevation is indeed a different plant, although they are very similar.

Another interesting fact about our species Campanula rotundifolia is that the scientific species name means round leaves are long and narrow and persist the rest of the year.

Another strange thing about this fall is that while snow and cold came early this year, the hummingbirds remained later than usual. The broad-tailed hummingbirds usually have left between Sept. 15 and now. However, this year they were still here at our feeders on Sept. 28, but they left the next day. The Toftes, who live in Kittredge, still had several at their feeders on the evening of Sept. 30; however, they too left early the next morning.