For Release December 10, 2002

The Changing Seasons

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I was visiting with someone last week and they were bemoaning the approach of cold weather. They just didnít understand why it couldnít be warm and nice all the time. The irony of it all was just the day before I had been traveling to a meeting and was marveling at the changing seasons and commenting about how much I enjoyed each new season.

Many people view the changing seasons as a nuisance. Itís going to get cold, itís going to snow, itís going to be icy and yucky. But instead of complaining about the potential negatives of each changing season, I prefer to focus on the good points of the changing seasons.

First of all, thereís the beauty. This fall was just extraordinary! The leaves of the trees were just so intense and they hung on so long because of the cool and wet October weather. If you could pull your eyes of the leaves of the trees and shrubs, the tall grass prairies were quite awesome themselves. Throughout the growing season, and into the fall, each and every grass species has its own special hues associated with it.

As the end of summer draws near, the Indiangrass, with itís bluish green leaves, shoots out a wonderful golden plume seed head. Then as cold weather approaches, the Indiangrass develops deep yellow leaves, Switchgrass develops bright yellow leaves and the bluestems take on a reddish purple look. Some of the bluestem seed stalks will also develop light and dark areas lending an almost zebra striped look to the stems. These colors stay on will into early winter. Even though the colors are starting to fade a little bit now, the deep autumnal hues are still out in the prairie for those taking the time to stop and look.

Then there are the biological benefits of the changing seasons. The crops and plants that we can and can not grow in our region are definitely dictated by those changing seasons. Sometimes we view it as a curse because of what we canít grow, but folks in other areas are jealous of us because of what we can grow. Quit focusing on the negative and look at the bright side!

Most everyone is familiar with the common milkweed. Big thick stalks holding thick oval leaves and bright pink blossoms. The Monarch butterfly feeds on the leaves as a caterpillar and drinks the nectar of the blooms as an adult. Every year the milkweed plant freezes back down to ground level, and then generates new shoots each spring from the extensive root system. Have you ever thought what this plant, and many others, would be like if it never froze?

I saw a very close relative to our milkweed in Senegal. The same thick oval leaves, the same milky sap, very similar pink blossoms. It never freezes in West Africa where you are only 15 degrees north of the equator. In fact temperatures below 60 degrees are quite uncommon. Their milkweed never froze off. I saw them 15 feet tall. They developed woody stems that were six to eight inches in diameter. In gardens they would keep cutting the stalks off at the ground. They developed shrub like crowns 18 inches across. Think about poison ivy and bindweed if they never froze!

Sure, weíll have to endure some cold weather with winter. Probably even some ice and snow. But those are the forces that shaped Kansas. Those are the forces that have created the ecosystem we live in. And those are the forces that give us four distinct seasons, and the blessings that each season provides!


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