All rise: March waters, temps and hormones

Rest assured, large-flowered bellwort and trillium (background) will soon bloom again.

March is that month of the year that can’t decide if it is winter or spring. This is the month, after all, when we here in Minnesota have experienced both a high of 83?F (3/29/1986) and a low of -32°F (3/1/1962), a wondrous temperature range of 115?F within a single month. One thing for sure, this is a month of transitions. This is the time when we can really see and feel the increasing day length. In St. Paul, on March 1st the sun rose at 6:51 a.m. and set at 6:00 p.m., for a total of 11 hours and almost 9 minutes of daytime. On March 31st, the sun will rise at 6:56 a.m. and set at 7:39 p.m. (remember we spring ahead this month for day light savings time), for a total of over 12 hours and 43 minutes of day length.

This increasing day length is really the basis for all of the other phenological occurrences this month. Along with the increase in day length comes a general increase in temperature which itself puts in motion a whole other set of actions, probably the most important of which is the transformation of water from a solid to a liquid, making it available for use by plants and animals. This year the transformation of water from solid to liquid form promises to be a dramatic one.

The increase in day length stimulates hormone production in both plants and animals, setting the stage for the exciting, if all too brief, reproductive season. Migratory birds fly north, and along with the resident species, begin to establish territories and sing songs of love. Ephemeral herbaceous woodland plants begin to grow and quickly develop spring flowers to take advantage of the sun’s energy before the trees leaf out and block it. Insects emerge or hatch to take advantage of the plethora of pollen and nectar. Not to be left behind, frogs and toads become active searching for a bite to eat and a mate of their own.

It all starts fairly quietly, in an understated fashion, with a few hoots and drips of water, but March builds, throughout the spring, to a crescendo of chirps, buzzes, quacks, croaks, hoots, howls, whistles and trills. Life declaring it’s back and ready to party.

March

The March wind blows winter away
And sweeps the streets from day to day
March brings surprises, first the day’s hot
Then it starts snowing, likely as not
Hurry, March wind, hurry along
We like to hear you sing your song.
       - Author Unknown