I was certain the wildflowers would be a bust this summer, but Mother Nature proved me wrong. How is it possible that after four dry winters, with the Truckee River looking more like the Truckee Trickle, that High Sierra hiking is bursting with vibrant flowers? Every hike, from the lower elevation Sagehen Creek Trail to the upper trails at Donner Summit, has been full of color. But with no winter or water, why are plants going off?  

Individual plants have their own environmental prompts as to when they sprout buds, ranging from temperature-based cues to daylight to water availability. In other words, it’s hard to confirm how each plant determines its lifecycle every year, but botany specialist and instructor of biology at Lake Tahoe Community College, Sue Kloss, suggests that this year’s prolific wildflower season is most likely attributed to a combination of relatively warm average temperatures in March, April, and May followed by late rains in May, June, and July. Local weather guru Bryan Allegretto from OpenSnow.com confirms the above average precipitation this spring and summer.

“Reno is already at 233 percent of average precipitation for the month of July, and 200 percent of average for the last three months,” he said.

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Susan Urie, east zone botanist for the Tahoe National Forest, agrees that the big wildflower surge is a combination of “the high amount of late spring and early summer moisture and the fact that seeds are always lying dormant in the soil, waiting for that perfect condition to germinate.” A rainy May and then warm temperatures in June, Urie said, probably instigated the early and widespread blooms.

The flowers I usually see in small numbers in Truckee in the spring and early summer, such as penstemon, pennyroyal,and pinedrops, have been pervasive. The tobacco brush on U.S. Forest Service Road 04 was bursting this spring, and the often lonesome snow plant grew in big groups. The lupine fields at Lake Forest and near the Tahoe City Dam have been the talk of the summer, with locals and tourists making a point to capture the brilliant purple sea of shoulder height flowers. Flowers rarely seen in our area, like the Washington lily, have been popping out too.

Once again, nature has knocked us off our feet as we expect to see what we normally see each season. This year nothing has seemed normal, which proves again nature’s capriciousness and our boldness in believing we know what comes next.

Do you have a question about our region’s environment? Email editors@moonshineink.com.

Author

  • Eve Quesnel

    Eve Quesnel has lived in Truckee for 35 years with her husband Bill, once-upon-a-time daughter Kim-now on her own-and many dogs through the years, currently a Border Collie-Aussi mix. Her favorite pastimes include walking in her neighborhood and nearby woods, hiking in the high Sierra, and reading and writing. Quesnel is now retired from teaching English at Sierra College in Truckee but continues to pursue several writing projects. She is intrigued by the natural world of which she explores and writes about for the column "Nature's Corner" in Moonshine Ink.

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