Groundhog Day

Sunday, February 2, 2020 2:30 AM

Ok, in this article, we typically answer your gardening questions. However, I won’t even pretend that this installment sprang from one of your questions. Instead, it is the result of my getting curious about something, doing some investigating, and wanting to share what I learned with you. Who knows, it may even help you win a trivia completion someday.

What topic might cause us to stray from the mission-at-hand? Groundhog Day of course! So, here are some facts that you may or may not know about groundhogs and Groundhog Day.

Did you know the groundhog is also known at the woodchuck, or my new favorite name: whistle pig? That’s right…whistle pig.

These extra-large rodents are mainly brown with strong legs and curved claws, perfect for digging. An adult groundhog can weigh between 6 and 10 pounds and grow to be 16 to 20 inches in length. That is a fairly sizable rodent. Groundhogs are primarily vegetarians who like to look for their food during the day. Spring is mating season and an adult female can give birth to 4 or 5 offspring.

In Oklahoma, they can be found along the edges of forests or perhaps near rocky bluffs and ravines. They are primarily located in Eastern Oklahoma, but have been sighted in Pawnee, Payne, Lincoln, Logan, Okfuskee, Pittsburg, and Oklahoma counties.

They are a burrowing animal whose burrows can sometimes reach 30 feet in length.  Burrows can have several chambers including one used as a place to relieve themselves which helps them to keep their living chambers clean and free of disease. I’m all for that. It is believed that they hibernate here in Oklahoma for four to six months.

But, how did this tradition of Groundhog Day get started you might ask? Good question.

February 2nd is associated with a Christian tradition called Candlemas. There are deeper historical roots but suffice it to say that Feb 2nd became the day Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed. As far as we know there was no animal associated with this European tradition.

However, German folklore tells us that at some point a ceremony with an animal was introduced and if the animal saw its shadow, there would be 6 more weeks of winter.

In the original German tradition, a hedgehog was used. However, as Germans migrated to this part of the world, there were no hedgehogs to be found, so the groundhog (aka whistle pig) became the weather prognosticator and central character in one of our more whimsical traditions.

So now you know…

Happy Groundhog Day!

You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th Street, or by emailing us at mg@tulsamastergardeners.org.