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Moment of Nature - April 29, 2016
Late bloomers and such
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Folk singer Pete Seeger wrote a song in the 1950s which was later performed in 1965 by the The Byrds. The lyrics, in part, go “To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under heaven.”

This spring season has indeed been that of its own doing and unusual timing, but I’m not sure to what purpose. As an arborist, part of my job is to observe and take note of the varied patterns and seasonal changes of the many different kinds of trees which comprise our community forest. Never before have I seen trees bloom and leaves flush out in such an odd sequence.

In “normal” years, the sequence of spring awakening usually happens in this order of tree groups: Bradford pears, dogwoods and redbuds; then cherries, maples and elms; then oaks, hickories and other trees; and lastly crepe myrtles and pecans. This is, of course, dependent on the day-length of sunlight, the consecutive number and actual temperature of days above 75 to 80 degrees and adequate moisture in the soil. 

If you haven’t noticed, there are dogwoods, maples, crepe myrtles and oaks still trying to emerge from their winter slumber. In speaking with other arborists in the Midlands, this trend is not unique to Camden and we are all scratching our heads a bit wondering why? The key, I believe, is two-fold and the result of our quirky weather during the past nine months. In June, we were hit with a double-whammy: several consecutive days above 100 degrees and 28 consecutive days of no rain. That’s pretty much an entire month of no moisture to replenish the soil and keep tree roots alive! July provided 5 inches of rain on four different days and in August it rained only two days of measurable rainfall for a total of 4 inches. When adequate soil moisture is lacking, fibrous tree roots begin to die. When roots die the entire balance of health and growth is affected. 

Then, we have just the opposite happening from October through February. We received approximately 36 inches of rain during those five months. This is 75 percent of our average annual rainfall for a 12-month period! This amount saturated the soil and drowned a lot of the fibrous tree roots. Again, when roots die it affects the entire balance of tree health and growth. Some tree species are more resilient than others and can adapt and adjust better to these types of environmental stresses. Others such as dogwoods and maples, are more sensitive and not able to tolerate extremes in growing conditions. 

So, if you have a tree which has been a late bloomer this season, hold on for another few weeks to see what it does. If, after mid-May, nothing’s happening, it’s likely the tree died during the winter months and its removal is justified. 

If, however, your trees are in full leaf, let’s take a moment to appreciate one of the miracles trees perform -- the miracle called photosynthesis. There would be no life on earth as we know it without the photosynthetic process. Photosynthesis means “putting together with light.” It is a manufacturing process which happens within the cells of all leafy plants and trees to trap the sun’s energy in the form of sugar. 

Photosynthesis represents a beautifully wonderful chemical process which takes water that has been absorbed by a tree’s roots and carries it to the leaves where it comes in contact with layers of the green pigment chlorophyll. At the same time, air, which contains carbon dioxide is taken into the leaves (via microscopic pores) and in the presence of sunlight a very import reaction occurs. Water is broken down and combines with carbon dioxide to form sugar. Leaves then store the resulting sugar in cells in the form of glucose for immediate and potential tree growth.

Another valuable byproduct of this chemical reaction is the leftover oxygen the leaf releases back into the atmosphere. That oxygen becomes a part of the very essential air we breathe. Also from this reaction comes 95 percent of what becomes the existing tree. Incredibly, out of thin air and water comes the vegetative biological organism called a tree.

Many processes occur in a leaf, but none more important than photosynthesis and the resulting food it manufactures. So, through the works of green plants, the radiant energy of the sun is captured in something as simple as a leaf and provides all terrestrial creatures with life-sustaining oxygen. Truly a miracle we should all be thankful for!