Here in Nashville, we are having a very warm winter. So warm, in fact, that the thousands of daffodils I have planted over the years in my yard have all sprung up and begun blooming, at a time of year when the ground should be frozen and spring flowers should still be months away. Like, in the spring.
Daffodils are hardy, and can survive cold snaps, although if they are already blooming when it freezes the flowers will get pretty bedraggled looking. They have been coming out too early here for some years now, but this year is the earliest yet. I yell at them, “Go back! It’s not spring yet!” but they don’t listen.
So now, when spring actually does get here, I will be left with nothing but the drooping foliage of spent daffodils. What I’m really concerned about are my flowering shrubs like the azaleas. Last year they put out buds that got killed in a late freeze, and we had hardly any blooms from them. It looks likely that the same thing will happen this year.
It’s not just me that’s noticing this. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has revised its Plant Hardiness Zone Map to reflect the northward movement of colder temperatures, after the National Climatic Data Center released a study showing the average winter temperatures in two 30 year periods, from 1961 to 1990, and from 1971 to 2000. In nearly every part of the continental United States, winter lows were warmer during the second period. The new map reflecting these changes can be found at: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/.
Reclassifying a gardener’s yard into a warmer zone opens new options for planting flowers and shrubs that may not have survived winters back in the seventies or eighties. But it may also mean that some current species that have thrived in your area for hundreds or even thousands of years may die back as rainfall totals change and beetles and other pests that attack plants migrate along with the warming temperatures.
I’ve got some 50 year-old hardwood trees back in my woods that died after a prolonged drought here 3 years ago, and their places are being taken by trashy invaders like honeysuckle shrub. On the plus side, last year I planted a fig tree that I hope will thrive and supply me with bushels of succulent figs in coming years. (If the squirrels don’t get them first.)
So, even though scientists warn that we can’t make long-term inferences about global warming from relatively short-term trends, I think it is pretty clear to anyone who pays attention to the natural world that it is warmer than it used to be. It makes you wonder how conservatives can continue to deny or waffle on climate change, even as photos from space make it obvious to everyone that the polar ice caps are melting away, and the yearly number of tornados in the US has doubled since the 1950’s.
One thing is for sure. My daffodils know it is pretty dang warm for February.