At the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, an experimental plot was in full flower on a recent February afternoon, as the thermometer edged toward 60.
|Scenes more like spring, including a Japanese flowering apricot tree, |
arrived early at the New York Botanical Garden.
The Japanese camellias, which typically bloom in early spring, have displayed their rose-hued flowers continuously since December. Honeybees, a rarity before late March, were nursing the tiny pink clusters on a Dawn viburnum, while the Adonis amurensis, a ground-hugging spring ephemeral, was a profusion of yellow. “This is the earliest I’ve seen all of these things in flower,” said Todd Forrest, the garden’s vice president for horticulture and living collections. “The ground isn’t even frozen. That’s shocking.” The horticulturalists in the Bronx call it the global-warming garden, and in a winter notable for its consistent mildness, it is hardly unusual. From the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park to the Chicago Botanic Garden, flowering bulbs and other plants are bursting out two to four weeks ahead of schedule. Snowdrops are up; daffodils, crocuses and hellebores are already in flower; trailing phlox has opened; and, farther afield, even magnolia trees are starting to bloom on the National Mall in Washington.
Complaining about balmy winter days and an early display of color might seem churlish, but the early run of warm weather is not without its downside. For one thing, if there is a cold snap, plants and trees are vulnerable to damaged blossoms and, potentially, a falloff in seed production. With the ground still soft in many places and no snow cover, squirrels — already suffering from the acorn shortage last fall — have been digging up bulbs. Populations of insect pests, normally kept in check by freezing temperatures, are expected to grow this year. And when spring finally does arrive a month from now — according to the calendar anyway — the show might be ho-hum. “You’ll see a long, gradual kind of spring,” said Maria Hernandez, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy. “But it won’t be the pizazz that we had last spring.”Then there is the unavoidable question of climate change.
It is hard to draw conclusions about the pace of warming from a single winter, and indeed, the last decade in New York City has been one of the snowiest on record. Still, Fred Gadomski, a meteorologist at Pennsylvania State University, said that temperatures were above normal in 80 percent of the days in the past three months in the city. Strong winds from the Pacific Ocean have blanketed most of the country with unusually mild air. “That’s the distinguishing item this winter — the consistency of the mildness,” Mr. Gadomski said. “If you took away that week in mid-January where it really was sort of cold, it would be the year without a winter.” Coincidentally, the federal Agriculture Department last month issued a new national map showing plant hardiness zones, which start with the coldest regions in the north and work their way south. In its first update since 1990, the map showed clear signs of things’ heating up. New York City, for instance, moved into a warmer zone, going from a “warm 6” to a “cold 7,” as Mr. Forrest put it. David W. Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University and an expert on climate change, said the temperatures this winter appeared to “represent an extreme,” even within the context of climate change. But, he said, the federal climate-zone guides from 1960, 1990 and this year reveal “an extremely fast pace” of change. “This winter, when they do the final analysis, will be close to an all-time record breaker,” Dr. Wolfe said. “It’s a rare event." - NY Times.