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Spring came early this year

April 11, 2012

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Spring came early this year — not only to our gardens and woods, but also to the green roof at Freedom Field. It was green by the end of March. It’s also pink, lavender, purple and blue, with dozens of bird’s foot violets and prairie smoke casting their hues across the garden.

This was an experimental roof garden. Most are planted with sedums; some bolder gardeners have trees and shrubs. But this is the only one we know of on a public building that is composed entirely of native prairie plants. Yet, it is not a prairie. Native plants adapted to the droughty grasslands of central North America were planted as an experiment: how would they survive on a rooftop with truly droughty conditions?

Now in its second growing year, the plants are displaying robust health. A wash of color covers the early rooftop landscape. Some weeds, including garlic mustard, wild cherry and dandelion, show evidence of the success of their wind-blown and bird-carried seeds.

David Smith of Simply Prairies, who planted the roof for Freedom Field, reports similar conditions on his own. Violet and prairie smoke are in bloom; golden alexander and prairie phlox threaten to open any day. He has been replacing those plants that suffered winter mortality. He estimates that between 33 and 44 plants of 1,100 die each year, an average of only 3 percent to 4 percent. He suggests that if a plant seems dead, pull on the stalk. If it resists, the plant is alive.

Just as prairies help to stabilize the atmosphere around them, roof gardens are an attempt to lessen the urban heat island effect and to contribute to slowing global warming. Their green plants absorb the sun’s heat and incorporate carbon dioxide into their roots, stems and leaves.

We hope our efforts and those of others will help to mitigate global warming. Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm alert us to expect the first bird’s foot violets around April 22; the first prairie smoke April 30. They are both a month ahead of their time. The only explanation many scientists suggest is that the early spring we have experienced is likely to be a symptom of global warming, caused by anthropogenic activity of burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide locked for millions of years into the atmosphere in a geological blink of an eye.

The question is no longer a political, liberal vs. conservative issue. Moderate Republican, fiscally conservative businessman and meteorologist Paul Douglas believes that “climate change is spiking our weather.” We have been experiencing “off-the-scale, freakishly warm weather.” His meteorological explanations are entirely understandable. He is concerned that some TV meteorologists are “still in denial” having “been burned by weather models.” Unfortunately, some meteorologists who do recognize the reality of global warming told us they were advised not to talk about it publicly.

Douglas is concerned over “spin” that has been placed on weather patterns. “Many Americans don’t know what to believe,” turning to “denial blogs for their climate information.”

Where do we get the truth? From peer-reviewed scientists, the greatest percentage of whom support the warming theory, and if that’s not enough, from our garden blooming a month too early, which suggests there is cause for concern.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the April 11-17, 2012, issue

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