Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By John Davis

More rain brings more plants


May 2, 2017

Three weeks ago I wrote about all the rain we’ve been getting in Worland. Most of the rain fell in March, and I assumed that the unusually rainy March meant a drier April. It seemed that the season was just getting ahead of itself, that we were having April (normally our rainiest month) in March.

Recent events, however, have shown that despite all the rain in March, April is going to be as it usually is, very wet. From this weekend’s storm, Worland received .76 of an inch of precipitation. A very good rainstorm, indeed, representing a sizeable percentage of our normal yearly amount of rain, and it looks like there will be more rain in the coming week (.4 of an inch more just on Tuesday, April 24). We may be headed for one of those rare years in which so much rain falls that it changes the look of the country.

I remember a year, back in the ‘70s, I think, when we received good rainfalls right into June, and the landscape was transformed. It was very, very green, of course, with the badlands taking on a strange and beautiful, lush look. Besides being full of green, what I remember especially is that flowers — lots of flowers — started appearing that I’d never seen before. People were saying that we’d had so much rain that long dormant seeds, lying in the ground maybe 50 years, had sprouted.

All of us know that we live in a desert, but still sometimes forget what that means for our plant life. More than anything, it means that plants make special adjustments to assure continuation of life. Some plants, mostly weeds, it seems to me, produce large quantities of seeds that are spread widely, so that if only a few germinate, the species will still be perpetuated. My wife has commented that in Toronto, where she grew up, they didn’t have the difficulty with weeds that we have in Worland. She noted that in Worland if you just put a little water in a bare area, you will soon see a bunch of hale and hearty weeds. My guess (and it has to be a guess, because I’m in no part a botanist) is that our desert soils are full of seeds just waiting for enough moisture to sprout.

I did a little research on Wikipedia about dormancy in plants. I learned that the oldest documented germinating seed came from the Jewish fortress of Masada (where almost a thousand Jewish men, women and children committed suicide in 73 CE (AD) rather than surrender to the Romans). The seed was of a date palm and was nearly 2,000 years old when planted. As well, I recall reading, some years ago, of the germination of wheat seeds found in the ruins of ancient Middle Eastern civilizations and then planted.

I also learned that there is a specific botanical category called “desert ephemerals,” which consists of plants adapted to take advantage of short favorable seasons in deserts. Some perennial desert plants die back to their underground parts and become dormant when not enough water is available.

We may be having that rare year in which plants will grow that have not known sunlight for 50 or 100 years, producing flowers unseen in this area during the lifetimes of most of our citizens. I don’t have any idea, however, how much rain will be required to truly make the desert flower. But I do know that I’m going to watch our badlands very carefully this spring and see what strange blooms come up.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is retired. He is the author of several books.


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