Climate change leads to record-breaking early blossoms.

Are you enjoying the shorter winter and the earlier blossoms? Unfortunately, it is bad news for nature and those beautiful flowers that herald springtime.

I always look out for two signs that herald the end of winter. It starts with the first morning in the year that I wake up with the sounds of birds. I always cherish this moment. But for me, the actual start of springtime is when I see the first flowers, which is usually many weeks later. In the past week, I looked for them during my morning walks and was a bit disappointed with how long it takes for Ottawa's flowers to appear. But this afternoon, they seemed to have coordinated their debut. At several places, I was happy to find them.

These crocuses were the first ones I found. And a bit further, I found these beautiful snowdrops. 

Last November, I moved to the other side of the Atlantic, and I had not expected to find precisely the same two first blooming plants as in the Netherlands. It made me wonder if snowdrops are European or North-American flowers. I learned that ancient Greek literature already mentions snowdrops, and the plant is a native of mainland Europe. It was probably introduced to England in the early 16th century, although other sources believe the snowdrops arrived about a century later. 

The world’s most expensive snowdrop

I am always charmed by this brave little beauty that pops up while the snow is still melting around it. But flowers often have a different meaning in other times or cultures. The Brits, for instance, mainly planted them on graveyards during the Victorian age and saw the cute plants therefore in a different light; it was seen as a harbinger of death and should therefore never be cut and brought into the house. Luckily for the snowdrops (or Galanthus for the affectionates), the tide has turned in their favor. In a twist of Tulip-mania, someone even paid £1,390 for one on eBay in 2015. I suppose the snowdrops that I saw today will not have that value; they must have been one of the 2,499 other snowdrop varieties. 

It is good to know that it is illegal in many countries to collect snowdrops in the wild. And you will also need a license to sell them or transport them over the border because CITES regulations cover snowdrops. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna considers the species not necessarily threatened with extinction. Still, governments must control trade to 'avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.' So treat those beautiful snowdrops with respect when you see them.

Last year, I daily made a digitally created sketch with some text and shared them on Twitter. Looking back now, it was a predecessor of The Planet newsletter. After a while, the initiative became a bit impractical since my writing increased each time, and it became impossible to read them in its small format of a tweet. The one below is about snowdrops. I made it in March last year when I still lived in Stockholm, Sweden, one day after the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic; I refer to that in the note. I hope it is readable; I am so new on Substack that I am not sure how this works out but let's try.

I remember snowdrops popping up in early February in the Netherlands, but in Ottawa's harsh winter, that wouldn't be possible. For Canadians, the last day of March may be an early appearance of the flower. I was coincidentally in Ottawa in early April two years ago, and I remember how much snow there still was. I won't generalize for one warm winter, but there is a long-term trend; I have noted that flowers bloom earlier in my lifetime.

I wonder how that is for you. Have you noticed that the first flowers are blooming earlier now than when you grew up? 

The impact of climate change

It turns out it is not just us asking ourselves this question. Scientists are also interested and have been studying the impact of climate change on the blooming of flowers. An exciting research technique is the analysis of 200 years of historical observations collected from dusty archives that confirms the earlier blooming of flowers.

Another interesting study into the impact of shorter winters and earlier springtime made use of thirty years of satellite, field-based, and modeled data. This research aimed to find out if the earlier blooming might have some positive effect on climate change. You would assume that early growing plants have a head start in capturing more carbon. However, that turned out not to be the case in many regions in the northern hemisphere. The early start requires so much water that the plant drains the soil that badly needs it to keep the plants growing in the summer. I was surprised to learn that early starting plants are growing less; they lack the water to keep growing in summer and even a bit in autumn.

That will likely be bad news for the many plant lovers in Britain because today, the UK recorded its warmest March day in 53 years with 24,5 C temperatures (about 76 F).

Kew Gardens

It was measured in the beautiful Kew Gardens just west of London, a place I loved to visit when I lived in London in the 1990s, and still go back once in a while. This picture was four years ago; this isn't even the biggest of the several Victorian age glasshouses of Kew.

The UK weather is not the only record-breaker. In Japan, the famous blossoming of the cherry trees has never been so early since record-keeping began in 1953. Measured over the same period, the average temperatures for March in Kyoto are now 2 degrees Celsius higher. And this year, the temperatures are nearly two degrees above the already higher average temperature. Like the 200-year old research in dusty archives that I mentioned, Japanese experts also studied old records. Although a few years got quite close to this year's early bloom, 1236 was, for instance, a warm spring; they found no records for such an early-blooming as this year. Quite possibly, it is a record. 

The beauty of the cherry blossoms disguises the worrying message that nature is sending us: climate change is here, and it will only worsen unless we act quickly and decisively. The positive news is that we know how to solve this problem. But do we have the will to make the necessary changes in time?

Do you know someone that might also like these newsletters? Please share this with them. I hope more people subscribe to the paid version, and I am also happy with everyone who subscribes to the free version. 

That's it for today. Enjoy the flowers of springtime. Every day you see nature now bursting into a higher gear. It is fascinating to follow, in the outdoors, city-parks, or by looking at the streets' trees. 


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