Another cold and dry week. The pair of red shouldered hawks sat quietly on low branches and watched the cardinals and other birds fuss over the feeders. Even the squirrels forgot the large birds of prey were there and bounced up for seeds. Not the goldfinches.

Another cold and dry week. The pair of red shouldered hawks sat quietly on low branches and watched the cardinals and other birds fuss over the feeders. Even the squirrels forgot the large birds of prey were there and bounced up for seeds. Not the goldfinches. They did not touch their thistle sock as long as the hawks were present. The raptors flew away, returned to the same branches, became bored and left again. Behind the feeders grow the small trees marked for the Japanese Peace Garden (JPG). For the third straight winter the soil has been too hard and dry to dig or move the plants. The water has been turned off at the JPG for the winter.

February is the month the JPG prairie gardens are mowed. The large container of wildflower seeds still waits by my front door for any rain event where I can get to the JPG before it actually rains and distribute the seeds. After hearing Al Sutherland, Assistant Extension Specialist and Mesonet guru, it might be June.

Saturday, February 3rd, the Oklahoma Native Plant Society (ONPS) Indoor Outing took place in George Lynn Cross Hall at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK. We plant people noshed on tasty tidbits set up in a lab/classroom before entering the auditorium. Patrick Bell, ONPS Central Chapter welcomed us to “Tools of the Trade.” Al stood behind the podium and exclaimed how he appreciated lichens. The bacteria and algae live in harmony together and are able to survive drought and high temperatures. This was his way of saying “be prepared.”

The National Weather Center has 550 people busily working on all aspects of weather and climate. The weather does not stop at state borders. A persistent drought currently grips the southwest. Our OK droughts are stronger and longer when the southwest is dry. Drought feeds drought. The Panhandle and western OK are in severe drought and most of the rest of us are in moderate drought. Remember Hurricane Ophelia last year? No? Ophelia entered Texas and evaporated in 2 days.

Forecasts are a combination of science and art and the Mesonet. Meteorologists look at multiple models and check Oklahoma records dating from1895. Their prediction: spring is forecast to be dry, but as we transition into summer we should fall into a more typical rain pattern, whatever that means. The Mesonet system records weather data at 120 sites across Oklahoma with reports every 5 minutes. This joint OU and OSU project was established in 1994. The Mesonet webpage offers long term averages (least used and most beneficial), current temperatures, rainfall amounts, wind speeds, soil moisture depths at 4”, 16” and 32” and so much more. Put the Mesonet App on your phone and be prepared.

Jona Tucker is the Director of several Nature Conservancy preserves at Pontotoc Ridge, Oka’Yanahli, Boehler Seeps and Sandhills in southern Oklahoma. In a lively conversational manner, she described her background and talked about The Nature Conservancy. What caught our attention most: sand quarries now operating 24/7 near the preserves. Wait for next week.

Ethnobotanist Steven Bond, who numbers among his ancestors the Chickasaws and Choctaws, is from the Eastern Oklahoma Region of Intertribal Agriculture Council. With a background in science and agriculture, he described his love of gardening developed while living with his great grandparents in Wister. We had something in common. I am from Wister and my dad was a demon tomato gardener. Can’t argue with his observation that the healthiest part of gardening is doing it! How true.

The study of relationships between people and plants using cultural knowledge and connection with the environment is ethnobotany. Steven’s first picture was an engraving of Timucua ceremony of a circle of men drinking tea. The leaves of Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) were boiled and the concoction was consumed to excess, causing several to vomit. This action purified and cleansed the body. When toned down, the tea is similar to Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis.) Both plants are hollies, have caffeine and are from the Americas. Often ecology and botany have been tied to functionality, religion and spirituality. I looked up Timucua to learn about these Native Americans who lived in the region of northern Florida. They are now extinct; their population of 200,000 dropped to zero by the early 19th century due to warfare and Eurasian diseases. A tremendous loss of valuable knowledge and culture.

The colonists did find benefits in commercializing certain native plants such as the aromatic sassafras and tobacco. Ancestors of modern corn (Maize sp.) were richer in protein. The Pawnee corn was16-18% protein compared to the average of 5% in today’s crops. A wealth of diversity exists in ancestral seeds.

Steven was wearing an “Anchi” (Chickasaw for poncho.) He quipped the Chickasaw word for sweat lodge is “Mississippi.” Yes, the hot and humid state! “Chowaala” is red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), “Tish homma” is Sassafras and “Foshiyyi” is Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria.) “American Indian Medicine” by Virgil Vogel (1970) offers Vogel’s views on diseases and the use of effective plants by Native Americans.

Lunch and time to visit the vendors.

“How Will Climate Change Affect Native Plants on Oklahoma Prairies?” Rebecca Sherry, OU Environment Studies Department, posed this question. She noted that since the 1950’s, heavier bouts of rainfall have fallen across the US. OK has experienced a 20% increase, most in the summer. Northeast OK has seen more days of extreme heat since 2006. The times have lengthened between rainfalls which presents more opportunities for flooding and droughts. By the end of the century, if things do not change, the temperature is predicted to rise 8 degrees F. Oklahoma is in the transition zone. Is this good or bad?

Her team conducted two separate experiments. Experiment #1 (2002-2004) was a 3 year study to determine the effects of higher temps and rainfall in10 field plots. The Big 4 grasses (Switchgrass, Big and Little Bluestem and Indian grass) did well regardless, but flowering time was reduced in the warm plots. Experiment #2 (8+ year duration) was in a prairie with wildflowers and grasses. Ragweed and Illinois Bundleflower increased in the warm plots. More wildflower pollen was produced. The first 7 years saw no overall community change, but the 8th year brought an increase in warm season grasses. Indian grass and King Ranch bluestem, an Eurasian invasive, became dominant. Switchgrass was more sensitive to drought and predicted to decline with other vulnerable lowland species such as winter annuals.

Sherry confirmed that climate change does favor invasive plants over natives, depending on the species. All changes are affected by carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels. Other pressures are extreme weather events, short term (fire, grazing and soil disturbances) vs long term, density of plant, community populations and speed of migration.

The outing ended in the afternoon with a dissecting microscopy workshop and rotating tours of the Robert Bebb Herbarium and greenhouse. It was a splendid, informative day.