Constable: Pussy willows about to fire first shot in war on winter

  • These fuzzy pussy willows typically are one of the first signs of spring in the suburbs. They are ready to burst on the scene as soon as winter takes off a few days.

    These fuzzy pussy willows typically are one of the first signs of spring in the suburbs. They are ready to burst on the scene as soon as winter takes off a few days. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

  • December snow covers any suburban ugliness with a blanket of pristine white. But the frozen drifts still hanging around in March belch forth a blight of cigarette butts, dog waste, garbage, salt stains and pollutants.

      December snow covers any suburban ugliness with a blanket of pristine white. But the frozen drifts still hanging around in March belch forth a blight of cigarette butts, dog waste, garbage, salt stains and pollutants. Burt Constable | Staff Photographer

  • It you are tired of waiting for spring, you can jump right into summer at Chicago Botanic Garden's The Orchid Show. It runs through March 24 with greenhouses promising "a lush oasis, with the luminous feel of an endless summer."

    It you are tired of waiting for spring, you can jump right into summer at Chicago Botanic Garden's The Orchid Show. It runs through March 24 with greenhouses promising "a lush oasis, with the luminous feel of an endless summer." Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

  • Daffodils often give us an early bloom of spring. Not this year. Freezing temperatures keep winter hanging around.

    Daffodils often give us an early bloom of spring. Not this year. Freezing temperatures keep winter hanging around. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 3/5/2019 6:35 AM

The email's subject line -- "Looking for Spring" -- warms my heart. Surely, Stacy L. Iwanicki, natural resources education coordinator with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, can show us signs of spring at the Volo Bog State Natural Area, Moraine Hills State Park and McHenry Dam Trails.

But the devil is in the fine print.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Trails are VERY icy -- please use caution." "Gates may open late when roads and parking lots are icy or need plowing." "Bog Tours 11 a.m. & 1 p.m. Saturday & Sunday -- CANCELED Due to Icy Trails."

This past weekend wasn't a total loss.

"The bird watch we did move to McHenry Dam," Iwanicki says, explaining how folks could see birds without leaving that parking lot, which is plowed. But moseying along the Volo Bog trails in search of flowering, carnivorous pitcher plants is not much fun when the windchill is below zero.

The typical temperature for March 4 is 42 degrees. But the thermometers Monday at the Volo Bog struggled to get out of the single digits. "That's why my icy trails aren't getting any better," Iwanicki says. "Walking on the trails, and even in the picnic area, is icy."

Even those days when the temperature is in the double-digits and people can be outside for 10 minutes without risking frostbite generally have been marred by ferocious winds or a cold sleet, Iwanicki says. "There have been fewer get-out-and-have-fun-in-the-snow days," Iwanicki says.

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We typically see our first 70-degree day in March, and we're still begging for 40. There is no clearer sign that winter has overstayed its welcome than the mounds of frozen crud bordering suburban parking lots. In December, snow seems like a gift from Mother Nature. It covers weedy lawns, litter and porch stairs that need painting with a glorious, white, pristine blanket. You can catch flakes on your tongue and pack them into clean little snowballs or even snowmen, who appear as if they were carved out of white marble.

Snow in March resembles a smoker's lung. Hard and gray, shrinking piles of snow reveal hidden horrors of dog waste, coffee stirrers, fast-food wrappers, salt stains, cigarette butts and losing lottery tickets. Shouldn't that snow be giving way to crocuses, daffodils and such?

"There are a few little things showing up. It's not much," says Sharon Yiesla, plant knowledge specialist with The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, who says the buds on some trees are getting close. "They are swelling."

But it's just too cold. "I saw daffodils trying to pop up in my yard," Yiesla says, noting those plants probably benefit from growing near her heated house,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We've seen some daffodil foliage but the flower had not popped above ground," adds Thomas Fritz, a plant health care specialist with the Chicago Botanic Garden. The flower pods on alder trees are getting long, which is a good sign.

"You might start to see pussy willow shrubs push their fuzzy flower buds," Fritz says. But with the cold weather, it's good that things are still dormant and "relatively safe," he says. Damage occurs when plants bloom thinking it's spring, and then below-freezing temperatures attack.

Instead of waiting for spring to arrive, you can jump right into summer with The Chicago Botanic Garden's The Orchid Show, which runs through March 24 with greenhouses promising "a lush oasis, with the luminous feel of an endless summer." Or you can enjoy that one sign of spring that, unlike subtle plant changes, is hard to miss.

"We're hearing a lot more bird activity, bird songs from cardinals and robins," Fritz says, promising that flowers will show up as soon as we get a nice stretch of warmer weather. "Then things will really start changing quickly."

Spring is the day when I'll return the snow shovel to the garage and bring out the porch screens.

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