Sunday, April 29, 2012

4-29-12 How Weird Can It Get (Spring, that is)?


This weird looking arrangement of daffodils was in a small garden in a doorway near Porter Square, Cambridge, MA. and the photo was taken late at night using light from a nearby street lamp. This spring, so far, has been strikingly weird. There were the two weeks of Florida-like weather in the middle of March with temps here in Northampton climbing into the 90s several days in a row, then a cold spell, followed by some warm temps again. There have been days when it's felt much more like summer than spring and now, this past week, temperatures were again sliding down below freezing.  When I was up at Lakes of the Clouds five weeks ago (3-18-12) the Mt. Washington Weather Observatory measured a record high of 40 degrees (F) for the date. Today, 4-29-12, the "Obs" measured a record low for the date of 8 degrees (F).

By the way, I've been getting angry letters from readers complaining that I'm not writing enough. They're implying that I'm slacking off, being lazy, too cavalier with my publishing responsibilities,  and neglecting the blog. I respond by ticking off a list of viable excuses for not venturing to the mountains to find fresh stories to publish: the flu, doing my taxes, a slight ankle sprain playing basketball, high gas prices, studying for yet another advanced certification exam, etc, etc. in addition to my volition to slack off and be deliciously lazy.
Red Trillium 

The impact of the weird spring has been startling in some ways. The hot temperatures lasting for several weeks in mid-March gave us the sense that spring had arrived several weeks early. There were dire prediction of loss of crops, global warming, and everything going amok generally that didn't pan out. Some plants flowered much earlier than normal. Among them garden the daffodils, spring beauties, and forsythia which are always some of the earliest to flower, or at least earlier than other flowering species. One of the more remarkable responses to the warm temperatures was that a lot of roseate species, ornamentals mostly, blossomed early but also blossomed more fully than I remember anytime in the past. It was as if each tree, and among them the cherry trees, crab apples,   etc, blossomed with intense blooms. Without green foliage and other flowering species to compete the blossoming trees produced a surreal wonderland of color that pervailed for weeks. Forsythia was in bloom, dense bright yellow blooms, for more than three weeks!

On Mt. Skinner (aka Mt. Holyoke) the beech leaves budded at almost the same day and time as last year. This is a photo taken on 4-14-12 and if you look back in the blog to last year you can see a similar terminal leaf bud on the same branch beginning to unfold. The red trillium above, too, was right on time in spite of the hot-warm weather.
Blood Root bloomed on schedule on 4-13-12.
Canada Mayflower 4-14-12 and still not in bloom. (They began to bloom on 4-20-12 right on schedule.)
These are cherry trees that bloomed right on the summit of Mt. Skinner in late March, a few weeks early, and that remained in bloom through 4-22-12 and with these brilliant tones, too.
A single cherry bloom that has weathered three weeks and still looks fresh. It could be that over the past two weeks and the cool nights with temperatures in the high 30s (near freezing) have somehow tampered with the clock regulating flowering. Generally, plants flower at the exact time each year based on light and not temperature. The length of the night, or "skotoperiod", is the deciding factor and some plants are sensitive enough to it that they can tell the difference between 2 or 3 minutes in the length of the night. We know that temperature obviously plays a part as well, but it's not considered as crucial as light.
Photo: Striped maple leaves an hour after unfolding. Translating all this to the alpine zone of Mt. Washington and the White Mountains of New Hampshire is a bit tricky. Flowers there have adapted to a much different schedule possibly based on temperature and light (as in the length of the night) due to arctic conditions that generally prevail. Success dtermined by survival would depend on the plants developing a strategy of avoiding late winter storms that are common and temperatures such as today's 8 degree (F) on the summit of Mt. Washington. One last thing about the warm temperatures and that is there has been very little moisture so far this spring in the form of precipitation so it may engender a dry spell in the near future.

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