On Sugar Snows and Mountain Butterfly Populations

lincoln in the snowFirst morning of spring!  I look out the window and … SNOW!  Oh my.   Time to breathe deep and remember how much I like maple syrup.  And butterflies.  And wild flowers.  Okay, that worked: I have gratitude for the snow pack.

Sugar Snows

Late spring snows are often known as sugar snows because they cause fluctuations in the already non-linear rising of the sap in sugar maple trees.  Technically, you can tap a whole host of trees for syrup, including other maples and sycamores, but the sugar maple has the fame and the flavor.

By stalling out the spring “sugaring” season, more sap can be collected and more syrup made.  In my world view, an over abundance of maple syrup isn’t possible.  That’d be like saying you had too many butterflies.

On Snow Packs and Butterfly Populations

Colorado wildflowers and climate change

Colorado wildflowers (from LifeBiteNews)

In the Rocky Mountains, the delay of the spring is also good for butterflies, mostly because it’s good for wildflowers.  The deeper snow pack, the longer it takes to melt.  The longer the snow pack takes to melt, the later the wildflowers underneath start growing and blooming.  If they wait long enough, the season will have progressed enough that all danger of a late frost is past.

Without a late frost, the wildflower populations thrive, blooming intensely all season and setting lots and lots of seed for next spring.

With a late frost, the baby flower buds get killed off.  The plants have to start over on their blooming, which reduces the number of flowers this year and the number of seeds for next year’s flowers too.

butterflies and moths on wildflowers

(image by Southwest Colorado Wildflowers.com)

Or, worst case scenario, there’s not enough snow pack and it melts too soon.  This puts the sunlight right on the surface of the soil, where heat builds and triggers the plants to start growing.  When they send their little buds up into the air, though, it’s too early: late frost after late frost clips off the ranks of flower buds.  That year’s bloom cycle is seriously diminished.

Who is impacted? The butterflies.  They are counting on those flowers for food.  So, yeah, I wasn’t looking forward to snow this morning, but if I lived in the mountains, this extra inch or two could mean a day or more’s delay of wildflowers germinating, which might make all the difference when the butterflies come to sup.   I can live with this.

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2 Responses to On Sugar Snows and Mountain Butterfly Populations

  1. Glad to see this this morning. I was all set to turn garden beds this weekend and now the weather channel is saying snow! I’ll just have to chant “butterflies” under my breath all weekend.

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