Significant rain in July is uncommon, and we picked up inches and inches–after the very dry spring and early summer, this was a relief to us and to everything that lives on the place.
The switchgrass was already tall, reaching deep moisture from last winter’s rains, but the July rains gave it a huge boost, and by July 27 it was easily a couple of feet taller than its maximum height last year (second year of drought; the rains of fall came too late last year. We introduced switchgrass (and other interventions) along a natural drainage line route suffering lots of erosion. Not any more.
I’ve been stuck inside with book deadline looming, so have made only brief forays outside, usually limited to 15 minutes around the house. Earlier this week managed a whole hour out in the near meadow and as far as the Bowl to take pictures. I was curious what would be blooming after a dry spring and then drenching rain in midsummer.
The near meadow had little clumps of Ruellia near the mowed maintenance path. Farther out in the near meadow, near the drainage across it, I found scattered green-antelope-horns milkweed in bloom, less than knee-high:
In dry years, this milkweed blooms only in spring, right after Antelope-horns, A. asperula (which blooms only in spring, period), but with summer rain it will pop up again, though buried in grass. In wet years, it may grow a foot higher. The only monarch larvae I’ve seen here are on this species. We see monarchs mostly spring and fall, on migration.
Our summer/fall milkweed, even in dry years, is Zizotes Milkweed, which one of the summer butterflies, the Queen, really seems to like.
This is a small plant, always low to the ground, with flowers on the main stem, between the layers of leaves. The leaves are wavy-edged.
Queen butterflies–abundant from midsummer into fall here–are also attracted by Frogfruit (or Fogfruit), Phyla incisa, which flowers even in midsummer heat if there’s been rain:
In the main grass beyond the secondary drainage, I found several flowers that had obviously given up in the dry…and then could not resist trying again after the heavy rains.
The Lemon Horsemint had finished its spring flowering in the dry, and the plants looked almost dead, but rain brought them back…a little.
Stiff-stem Prairie Flax, Linum rigidum–which is usually a spring-only bloomer–showed up again on the mowed trails.
Gaillardia, or Firewheel, is a drought-tolerant bloomer from late spring, but quits by mid-June if it’s dry, blooming through mid-to late July if it’s wet. Even in a dry year, it will flower again if there’s a big thunderstorm.
Most of the tallgrasses won’t display their flowers for another month, but Eastern Gama flowers earlier (to the delight of deer, which love the “popcorn” seeds.) It has an unusual and very beautiful floral display:
Here, this tallgrass grows only on damp sites and is rarely more than four feet tall even there, more often a little lower. It’s another of the natives we’ve restored to the place and it’s now spreading. (Behind it is a young cedar elm, Ulmus crassifolia.)
Midsummer rain also helped along the annual wild grape supply:
Wildlife start on the grapes before they’re even ripe, but in a good year some grapes will be on the vines for a couple of months. All are thick-skinned; some individual vines have better flavor (to humans) than others, but all are eaten by wildlife.
Roughleaf Dogwood berries are still green, but already they’re being taken by wildlife:
This shrub-to-small-tree is a common understory in riparian woods and a component of fencerows and edges; it’s disappearing with development because it’s not recognized as valuable, yet it’s a resource for the fall bird migration (and we start seeing songbird migrants in August.)
We start noticing the big black-and-yellow orb weavers in June, and they grow steadily bigger…in July, they’re the dominant large spider, with webs strung everywhere they can find a support.
This one’s web is over three feet in diameter. A spider this size can easily take a big dragonfly (I’ve seen one with a Common Green Darner.) Right after a thunderstorm, you can find the spider hiding under leaves or the undersides of branches it’s used for support, but soon they’re back out on the web, ready for prey.
Also responding to sudden heavy rain–some of the seedling oaks we’ve planted.
After a couple of weeks, the young red oak (from a local tree’s acorn) had put out new leaves and lengthened twigs, the “spring green” contrasting with the other, older leaves’ dark green.