Nature’s Seed Bank

We’ve gotten a great demonstration this year of Nature’s Seed Bank.

Not only have we had more rain recently, but it’s come at the right time. I track the rainfall at our house; for 2008 the total was 16.4 inches, for 2009, 36.7 inches, and for the first 4 months of 2010, 13.6 inches.

All the plants are much greener and thriving like we’ve never seen. For example, we’ve always had a little bit of deer pea vetch. This native plant is an annual and a legume. Like all legumes, it fixes nitrogen and improves the soil. It’s never been very pervasive, however. At one time I thought the seeds had been brought in the top soil that our builder used.

This year, however, it just exploded and grew in thick patches. It grows in long vine-like strands and can be difficult to walk through. And it’s everywhere, not just around the house, but out on the property where the builder did not work. Here’s a photo of a typical patch. If you look closely, you can see the tiny pea pods.

deer pea vetch

So where did it come from? The answer is Nature’s Seed Bank! The seeds have been in the ground all along, lying dormant, waiting for the right conditions to germinate.

I like to think of the seeds as the genes’ escape pods, ejected from the dying mothership, carrying the genes to safety, possibly for many years, until the conditions are right for them to express themselves.

I’m using the deer pea vetch as an example. The Seed Bank has been at work for all plant species, most of which I can’t identify except in broad categories: grasses, wildflowers, forbs.

At this point, in early May, with the days getting hotter, most of the vetch is turning brown and dying, but that’s ok, because the account in Nature’s Seed Bank has been replenished.

Mother and Child Reunion

I was working in my study yesterday, when it finally bubbled up to my consciousness that Beau, our Great Pyrenees, had been barking for about 15 or 20 minutes.

I looked out the window to try to see where he was and what he was so excited about. He was on the west side of the fenced area around our house, on the inside, since we keep the gates closed and he can’t get out. Our other two dogs were in the house. On the other side of the fence was a white-tailed doe. I was surprised. Beau has a deep, booming bark, and the deer don’t usually stick around. I wondered whether the deer was hurt or stuck there for some reason.

I walked out and as I got close, I saw what the barking was about. There was a fawn cowering in the grass, inside the fence! The poor thing was helpless and its only defense was to lie perfectly still. As I approached, the mother backed off a distance, but I could still see her and she didn’t run away. I hurried back to the house and grabbed my camera!

The fawn is hard to see in this photo, but Beau is looking right at it.

I called Mary and she came out to look. We wondered how the doe and fawn were separated. The adult deer can easily leap over our 4-foot-tall fence and we frequently see them inside, but how did the little one get in? The fence is a field fence, so maybe it crawled through an opening formed by the grid. Maybe the doe had birthed inside the fence, but the fawn didn’t look newborn.

In any case, that’s what caused the stand-off. Beau bravely guarding our house from the intruders and the mother deer not wanting to leave her baby.

We have a gate near the fawn’s location, so I opened it to give the doe and fawn a chance to reunite. We went insde, taking Beau with us.

We watched for a short while from our bedroom window and the doe approached, but did not go through the gate. The fawn got up and walked toward the gate and stopped for about a minute and then continued out the gate. Our view was partially obscured, but the doe spent a few seconds examining the fawn and then they left. In the photo above, you can see the fawn walking through the open gate. The doe is harder to see, but she’s visible to the left of the power pole.

A Snake In The Road

When I got home on Thursday, April 21, I saw a branch lying across the driveway. It’s been windy recently, so it’s not uncommon for branches to fall out of the trees. As I got closer and got a better look, I realized it was a snake.

He was about 3 feet long and lying still in the middle of the driveway. I figure he was just warming himself on the road, although the spot was in the shade at the time. I quickly got out of the car and took a few pictures with my Blackberry’s camera.

He didn’t move throughout the process and I actually approached fairly closely for one of the shots. I didn’t know exactly what species of snake he was, but I was sure he wasn’t a rattlesnake. Although he did have a diamond-like pattern, there was no rattle.

I finally grabbed a nearby stick and prodded him a bit. He doubled-back and quickly disappeared in the grass. At that point, Dixie, our Border Collie, came over to greet me and see what was happening, but he was long gone.

I mentioned to Mary that night, that I’d seen the snake and described it to her. She immediately identified it as a rat snake. I did further research and think she’s right.

According to Wikipedia, there are many species, both Old World and New World. They are a type of constrictor, feeding primarily on rodents and birds. Although some Old World species are venomous, they seldom bite and none are considered dangerous to humans.