Sunday, February 24, 2013

spring 2013 at prairie basse

Alabama snow-wreath blooms. . .

February 24, 2013 dawned crisp and bright here on the southern end of Prairie Basse in upper Lafayette parish, Louisiana. From our backporch vantage, the early-morning sun had lit up the white blooms of the Alabama snow-wreath (Neviusia alabamensis) there about 15-feet to our east on the coulee bank. The plant shone like a beacon right through the old camelia that we were sitting behind, along the still-shady northeastern porch rail. Whoa! In-your-face spring wake-up call . . .

So I had to get some plant pictures; and while I was out there, ran across this “winter clan” of anole lizards, catching some sun and having a drink. Several such winter clans live around our house and barn – always directly adjacent to south-facing walls. The elders of each clan prospect for good sites, sites which offer good protection from predators (winter lizards are slow-moving and vulnerable) as well as from chilly temps; but also offer good basking surfaces for warmer sunny days. More often than not, the same clan returns to the same “wintering hole” each year.

let the basking begin . . .

This particular clan crowds into a crevice at the corner of the house; spreading out on the siding when the weather's right. Of course, once the chilly weather goes away for keeps, the clan will split up into each individuals' designated territories.

Anyway, back to Neviusia alabamenses. The Alabama snow-wreath is a rather rare stoloniferous (spreads via underground stems) shrub indigenous to parts of northern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee, and southeastern Missouri. It is officially listed as “Threatened” in Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas, where populations of it are scant.

In the wild, this rose family (Roseacea) shrub grows on thin, circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2) soils associated with shale or limestone cliffs, ridges, or slopes – the same sorts of places where oak-leaf hydrangeas really like to hang out.

much like its cousin, the blackberry, Alabama snow-wreath
gradually spreads into a loose, stoloniferous shrub . . .

Lydia and I got our start of this plant many years ago, from Margie Jenkins in Amite, LA. Our thick black clay happens to be circumneutral (pH ca. 6.85), and the plant took to it like a pig to slop. They say the plant is short-lived in the wild, but I know that our plant is at least 20 years old.

Ecologically, Alabama snow-wreaths seems to be a vestigial species – a sort of left-over from maybe the late-Pleistocene. You can tell by the disjunct/spotty nature of its wild distribution range through the southeastern U.S. Moreover, the genus Neviusia pretty much disappears from sight as one goes northward and westward through the continent . . . until, that is, you get to California and find the Shasta snow-wreath (Neviusia cliftonii) pretty much endemic to the Mount Shasta region only. I'd bet that once upon a time, the Alabama snow-wreath and the Shasta snow-wreath were one and the same species; and as climate changed the species suffered, causing a huge series of geographical gaps to develop between populations – until today, where it is a downright massive gap. 

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