It will soon be time for the 2021 City Nature Challenge—just what we need to get out from in front of our computers and Netflix binges and into our neighborhoods, parks and downtowns. From April 30-May 3, people from around the world will join together to document their time out in nature using the iNaturalist app.
Just think for a moment beyond the numerous TV documentaries on how our planet is dying. Let it motivate you to get out and smell the flowers, and then document what find outside your front door. There are native trees like desert willow, mountain mahogany and bigtooth maple. None of these trees blew over in the hurricane winds of last Labor Day weekend!
Then there are all the wildflowers starting to poke their heads up, such as white sand, snowball sand and desert sand verbenas, common yarrow, desert rock peas, horsemint giant hyssop, northern water plantains and our state flower, the sego lily. Many of our local nurseries in the state have expanded their native plant selections, and it's fun to discover each year what will grow in our yards.
And lest we forget the evil garden weeds also vying for garden space—those that fool us with their flowers but take over the yard —there's common mallow, bindweed, henbit, morning glory, prickly lettuce and the scarlet pimpernel. And then there are dandelions and grasses such as the evil crabgrass, hare barley, junglerice and perennial ryegrass. I have a newer IPhone that has Google Lens on it, so I just click on the lens icon, point at the plant and voila! It tells me what I'm seeing.
The City Nature Challenge asks you to take photos of what you find and share with fellow nature lovers and tree huggers. The Natural History Museum of Utah and more than a dozen organizations throughout Northern Utah are in on this effort.
As a sidebar, I know there are Utah urban foresters who advise cities and counties on including more indigenous flora. I drove by a school recently where they were planting a long row of pines along a fence line. I gasped when I realized the fir is not a native plant. Not only does it have short roots—making it susceptible to being blown over in high winds but it requires much water. (If you weren't living along the Wasatch Mountains in September 2020, you missed hurricane-force winds that yanked out 100-year-old trees across our valleys.)
My all-time favorite local tree nicknamed "Thor" came out OK. This male Fremont Cottonwood located just north of The Bagel Project at 753 S. 500 East doesn't give off cotton. He was planted in 1857 by Peter Beck Hansen. History has it that Brigham Young told his followers to "forest the valley" when they got here, and thus Thor was planted and thrives to this day with deep, deep roots to the artesian well in the neighborhood (you can get water 24/7 at the park on the corner of 800 South and 500 East).