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So, ponderosa pine is once again dumping pollen all over the place. I think this is kind of an exceptional year, though, perhaps because of all the winter moisture. The air has been quite hazy with pollen for over a week and will surely continue to be for another week or so.

The tips of so many branches have large clusters of male cones. Male cones are produced each year and are much smaller than the female seed cones, which take three years to produce seeds.

Recall that our ponderosa pine is kind of an ancient plant as a conifer and its pollen is carried from its male cones to its female cones on the wind. While wind pollination can be a bit risky, with the perfectly-timed winds of late, ponderosa pine is surely going to do quite well in the reproduction department this year. The junipers — also conifers with wind-dispersed pollen —release pollen in February and March.

This spring’s pollen onslaught continued since the deserts experienced a remarkable amount flowering, too. A lot of grasses, including mutton grass, also bloomed big-time around here this spring. And then on to ponderosa pine.

As nice as it is to be wrapped up in these larger, natural processes that remind us that we are pretty close to nature, I think this will be it pollen-wise for awhile!

GAMBEL OAK NAILED

So, gambel oak got nailed by a hard frost in May, and many of its earliest leaves were killed, turning brown and dry. I don’t recall seeing this before. I had written earlier about how savvy this plant is, as one of the last trees to leaf out in our area. Oh well.

The earlier column also referred to the fact that gambel oak is rather intolerant of frost, as it can cause its vascular system to collapse, which may be why it is so common in escarpments, or the walls of lava flows, in our area. They may keep it a little warmer.

I was recently in Boulder, Colorado, which was also hit by a very hard frost in late April, where even species like English ivy were badly damaged. Of course, this followed very warm temperatures starting in February. It makes me wonder if it’s the early warming that is setting up even “careful” plants for being damaged more by late frosts than they would be if they started growing later.

According to Gerald Rehfeldt, USFS plant geneticist, as long as late frosts — as weird climate events — are rather relatively rare, most plants will take the hit and recover. But if frosts increase in frequency and intensity, with wavy jet streams, such as a switch from arctic to subtropical air masses overnight, well, vegetation as we know it will be challenged. Nobody knows how it’s going to go.

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Gwendolyn Waring is a mother, artist and writer based in Flagstaff. She is wrapping up a book on the natural history of the San Francisco Peaks, and when you purchase her artwork—available at Zani’s and her studio—you are helping in the production her book.

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