Saturday, February 21, 2015

Laramie Street Plants (in February???)

These don’t count.
On a cold dreary Sunday with snow and rain falling, I walked the sidewalks and alleys of downtown Laramie looking for street plants – feral waifs of the urban landscape.  They grow where cracks in concrete provide access to the earth below, or in crevices and crannies where dirt and debris accumulate, overlooked.

I’m not alone.  Others do this too, and every few months we report our findings.
Dreary day, dreary town.
Another Laramie alley.
Street plants thrive in downtown Laramie – we have a rich urban flora in summer.  Most are ruderals, the first plants to grow on disturbed or otherwise bare soil.  They’re tough survivors, and often surprisingly fecund for their size and situation.
Common Wyoming ruderals – cheatgrass, dandelions and kochia (left to right).
Our street plants are tough, but I didn’t expect to find any live ones in February.  How can small herbaceous plants grow when temperatures stay below freezing for days at a time? Even though I was skeptical, the botanical detective in me rose to the challenge.  Maybe the urban environment includes warmer microsites where plants can grow – steam pipes, kitchen vents, south-facing protected walls.  I went searching.

I found remains of the dead.  Some made interesting compositions ... or so it seemed at the time.  I guess was desperate for photos:
Then a flash of green stopped me in my tracks:
See it? … it's in the small white patch where the building meets the sidewalk.
Amazing!  A plant was growing in debris and snow at the base of a north-facing wall.  And of course it was … (can you guess?)
... a dandelion.  A block away I found another:
... and then another:
Dandelion habitat is where the low wall and sidewalk meet.

Dandelions are consummate ruderals, able productive pioneers.  A single head may bear 150 seeds, a single plant more than 5000, all without sex.  Offspring are cast to the wind, travel far, and germinate and grow in almost any kind of soil (or lie dormant for years in the seed bank).  If there’s enough habitat, dandelions soon become abundant (source, including photo).

Photo courtesy Dan Poelma.

Lots of people consider dandelions loathsome pests, but I love them.  They’re among the first flowers to bloom in spring and among the last in fall.  Their sunny heads seem so cheery on those dull gray and brown days.  Indeed, I smiled when I saw scrappy little dandelions growing amid debris, concrete and snow.

Is that a young flower head in the center?  Wow!
On the way home, my theory about warm microsites was finally validated, in the alley behind the brewery.
Grass thrives thanks to periodic warm showers.
Another favorable urban microsite.
It's true – the scenery was dull and the vegetation meager.  Yet it was a fascinating outing, and in fact hunting for street plants is always interesting.  Would you like to give it a try? Our adventures are kindly organized by Lucy of Loose and Leafy.  There's more information here and here.
“recognise in it a spirit of adventure usually lacking in a road of unexceptional suburban housing, along with a spirit of genuine scientific enquiry.”  — Lucy


  1. You done better than me. I didn't find very much at all today.

    1. Eileen, I looked at your post ... looks pretty similar to what I found ... a few hardy plant souls!

  2. I too love dandelions. There's a poem that describes them as golden pennies. (Can't remember the poem but the image stuck.) And it's fascinating to see Laramie. I specially like the picture with the caption 'Dreary day, dreary town.' It's very atmospheric. It might not be beautiful in the conventional sense but it is, none the less, a gripping image.

    1. Thanks, Lucy. I think I know what you mean ... that photo you mention quickly "told me" exactly what to put in the caption.

  3. What a great idea for a post and a theme. I will join in when I get back home. While I'm here in Florida, there are plants growing everywhere! The only place they don't grow is where there is pavement and buildings--and of course they grow up and over those, as well. I'm so surprised you found dandelions and grass growing during the winter in Laramie!

    1. Great to hear you will be joining us, PP. It's quite an interesting endeavor as I've discovered.

  4. Brilliant post! I was getting all sad about the dead plants until you spotted the dandelions. I'm afraid we do dig them out if they are in a lawn but elsewhere I quite love them, too. Especially when I spotted the only goldfinch I have ever seen hereabouts, eating the dandelion seeds in a neighbour's garden a year or two ago.
    Amazing how they are so keen to survive that they grow flower buds very close to the ground if they have to (as you have shown).
    Thank-you, too for introducing me to a couple of new words - rudental, cheatgrass and kochia!
    I will watch Laramie wake up to Spring with interest.
    All the best :)

    1. Good point, sb ... that bud so close to the ground. I will be keeping an eye on it, but right now we're having frigid temperatures again. I hope it survives.

  5. Thanks for the reminder: Life remains stronger than concrete. Even in winter.

    1. Great point, Richard! And I will likely quote you when I next report on Laramie Street Plants :-)