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Eugene Weekly : It's About Time : 2.10.11

By David Wagner

buds of oregon ash, bigleaf maple and scouler's willow

February marks the quickening of spring in the Willamette Valley. Although Equinox doesn't occur until next month, buds are bursting and flowers appear on the osoberry and willows. Snow drops, violets and crocuses become plentiful in town gardens while grouse flower, goldthread, and spring beauty decorate the woodlands. The woodland floor in the valley gallery forests is erumpent with bright green leaves of snake root, meadow rue, nettle and larkspur. The most common wind-pollinated trees — hazelnut, alder and cottonwood — distribute their genes in yellow dust invisible to the eye, if not to the sinus membranes of the allergy prone.

Feb. 3 was Chinese New Year, the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit. There is only one native rabbit in the Willamette Valley, the brush rabbit. It is secretive and seldom seen except by those who walk quietly in recent clearcuts or brushy areas at the edge of forests. Its breeding season begins in mid-February, the young born naked and blind in nests four weeks after mating. The snowshoe hare (not a rabbit) tends to live in deeper, conifer forests. It also feeds mainly at night. Young hares are born with hair and with eyes open.

Walking down urban streets, the developing spears of moss capsules glisten orange on a sunny day. The young capsules of the largest mosses have more nutrients than any other part of the plants and are most digestible when spores are still immature. Mice will graze on them, leaving behind a miniature thicket of beheaded stalks.

David Wagner is a botanist and writer who lives in Eugene. The Canada geese drawing is from his 2011Willamette Valley Nature Calendar, available at Down to Earth Home and Garden Store and the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History.