Thursday, January 14, 2016

Warm Temps, Ground hogs and Life (Star Wars Reference)


                                                 Blooms on the quince tree.

 When Star War VII's "Kylo Ren" chases Daisy Ridley's character into the snowy woods, he ignores the dark silhouettes of the surrounding trees. The trees stand perfectly still (why, wouldn't they, they're trees) in their dormant, powered down state, nature's smart way of protecting them against the bitter cold. But what about winters "without" all that cold and snow?  
    At a recent Master naturalists' meeting, Judy K. pointed out a tree of hers, a quince, was blooming weeks in advance, in late fall -- not in springtime, like it should. What the heck is going on here? When it's almost 70 degrees on the East coast for Christmas, a time when people normally are huddled inside and expect bitter cold wind and snow, it's pretty confusing. Imagine how confusing that can be for the trees themselves. Some trees in the New River Valley (VA.) that had dropped their fall leaves began growing new ones right away or blooming, like silver maple and Judy's quince tree with its reddish flowers. And after they bloom, folks, that's it for the season, no apples, no more  funny helicopter samara seeds (for the maple trees, at least). Thank you, El-Nino!
    I was lucky my daffodils were deep enough they didn't start pushing up their leaves. It's nice to have flowers in the spring, something to look forward to and ruminate upon after dealing with a cold, stark, dreary landscape for many months (January and February, specifically). Phenology is the study of the timing of recurring biological events, and lately, the timing has been somewhat off.
    But it's interesting that Virginia Tech physiology specialist John Seiler says trees native to the region have a mechanism in place that kicks in, even in this crazily warm weather. They have to have so many "chilling hours" before they break out into bloom in warming weather. My dogwood and cherry trees definitely stayed "put" without bursting into color this year. And now that the cold in January is back and dormant they should stay dormant.
    The ground hogs haven't come out yet; that tradition/legend is about whether the ground hog (called a "woodchuck" up north) sees his/her shadow or not. It's said the first prediction about how early spring would come was in the 1886 "Punxsutawney (PA.) Spirit" newspaper. It predicted that if the ground hog -- Punxsutawney Phil -- didn't see his shadow, there would be an early spring. Europeans had thought badgers and hedgehogs could foretell the future and brought that concept to America. (I really loved Bill Murray's movie "Ground hog Day," by the way. Sometimes I wish I could do over a day or experience, like bad hair days, when I accidentally walk into the men's room, when an editor isn't interested in my writing, etc.)
    Like the trees, not matter the weather, time marches on for them. Whether you're Kylo Ren or a stuck in one place tree, hopefully you can deal with unexpected changes and "weather" them well.

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