First Thaw

Glorious spring-like temperatures have melted most of the snow here at Lincoln Park Zoo over the past week. Some of the plants in warmer areas of the zoo are now breaking their winter dormancy.

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are pushing foliage out of the hard ground around the Kovler Sea Lion Pool. With cold weather coming next week it’s very unlikely these bulbs will send up flowers in February, but it is exciting to imagine an end to a hard winter. Emergent daffodil leaves are very tough and nothing less than extreme Arctic chills will result in cold damage.

Our common witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) at the entrance to Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House surprised us with a late winter re-bloom. Typically this eastern North American native tree flowers in late autumn and early winter. Persistent blooms that opened before the snows arrived are still on these trees, dried and brown. New blooms have unexpectedly appeared this week, however, sunny yellow and lightly fragrant at midday. No gardener we know of will argue with a repeat show, and we hope our witch hazels will keep up the performance for a couple weeks.

Out on Nature Boardwalk there are a few patches of green, but generally the plants breaking dormancy are not native to the area. Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a familiar weed from Eurasia. A biennial plant, its velvety leaves form a rosette during the first season of growth. The following year, it sends up a tall flower stalk with bright yellow blooms. Although it’s attractive, we plan on weeding out any common mullein we find so it doesn’t compete with our native plantings. Fortunately, by beginning its growth so early in the season, it’s easy to spot.

Mike Davenport

Mike Davenport is Lincoln Park Zoo’s volunteer gardening coordinator.

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