Record highs in February can be welcome sign of spring, but they could spell bad news for plants — and the food chain
Warm temperatures before the spring season can be a welcome sign of better days ahead.
However, record highs — like those experienced in Hampton Roads this week — followed by steep drops could have a detrimental effect on blooming trees.
Some plants tie their yearly cycles to the availability of light and water — but others like magnolias and cherry blossoms respond to warming temperatures, said Les Parks, director of horticulture at Norfolk Botanical Garden.
This in itself might not be a problem and it could just mean a tree has an irregular blooming schedule for the year. But it becomes dangerous for the tree when frost returns after a period of warmth, damaging the fragile buds.
“If you’re a fruit tree farmer and your fruit trees bloom too early, then you’ve lost your crop for the year,” Parks said.
Parks said peach trees in northern North Carolina and apple orchards in the mountains of Virginia could be affected by recent warm temps.
“I would say the biggest problem is with global warming,” Parks said. “All the insects tie their reproductive cycles to the availability of food, which a lot of times is plants.”
If the availability of plants is out of sync with insect life cycles due to irregular weather patterns that cause plants to bloom too early or too late, then fewer insects survive. In turn, birds and other animals that eat insects have a more limited food source.
“If it all gets out of whack, then some of our native species could have a more difficult time feeding their young,” Parks said. “It’s going to have detrimental effects far down the food chain.”
The fluctuations in temperature that have become more frequent in the past few years also cause plants difficulty.
“When we have a cold winter and it stays cold, the plants get used to it and they sort of ease into it,” Parks said. “But if you go from the 60s and then all of a sudden you’re down into the teens, that causes a lot more damage. It’s the roller coaster effect that’s a problem instead of the steady decline or the steady increase.”
Cianna Morales, 757-957-1304, email@example.com