Wertheim column: Serviceberry surprise | PostIndependent.com

Wertheim column: Serviceberry surprise

Serviceberry blooms along Next Jen Trail.
Charlie Wertheim

Driving up Prince Creek Road last Sunday didn’t prepare me for what I would experience on Next Jen Trail.

But the trailhead gave an indication of what was to come.

The serviceberry trees were in full regalia, making a trail ride seem like a stroll through a Japanese cherry blossom festival.

Maybe it’s just a matter of timing. Maybe I haven’t been in the right place at the right time before.

“Probably some time around 2014 or 2015 it looked like a fresh blanket of snow on most of the hills in the valley,” said Matt Yamashita, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager, about an even more impressive serviceberry display.

No matter what recipe Mother Nature was following, I kept stopping to marvel at the sheer number of simple, white blooms.

It seemed that nearly every tree was in flower, making what for me was a somewhat surreal experience: I was in a familiar place yet it looked so different.

Actually, it was more than that: It felt different.

A return trip Wednesday showed that the blossoms were starting to wither and drop, the bittersweet taste of short-lived spring beauty.

But a 4.5-mile loop up Next Jen, down Skullbucket and back up Creekside was still worth it.

Next Jen still sported serviceberry blooms all the way to where it opens up onto a south-facing slope overlooking Mount Sopris. On this slope the bitterbrush flowers put on a pretty good show of their own.

On my way back down, Skullbucket had a stretch about halfway through, at about 8,000 feet, where it was like going through a tunnel of white.

All of this beauty has not gone unnoticed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“[Serviceberry] being one of the primary food sources for bears, we’re trying to keep tabs on it,” Yamashita said.

But a good flower year doesn’t predict a good food crop.

“Now we’re going through some dry periods where we’re not seeing a whole lot of annual precipitation, so we’re kind of waiting with bated breath. For those plants to start producing fruit they’re going to need some nutrients, and that’s going to have to come in the form of moisture. And if that does not happen even if these blossoms survive they may not produce as much fruit as we’re hoping,” Yamashita said.

Prince Creek did get a little moisture Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately for the flowers, it was in the form of a hail storm.

Mother Nature can have a cruel sense of humor.

Charlie Wertheim is a copy editor and reporter at the Post Independent. He can be reached at cwertheim@postindependent.com.

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