What Happens When We Don’t Have Winter?

We’ve been getting lots of calls from people wondering how this unusually warm winter is going to affect their trees and plants.  Will we have sap for maple syrup? What if my trees bud and it gets cold again? I have spring flowers already coming up…what should I do?  Director Rich Patterson gives us his thoughts…

Many people have called the Nature Center asking how our long string of mild days and nights is impacting plants and wildlife.  It’s not easy to simply answer except that native plants and wildlife have lived here for thousands, hundreds of thousands, and….in some cases…..millions of years.  During that long history with Iowa’s climate, they’ve likely experienced severe cold, heat, dryness, wetness, wind, and anything else nature can hurl at them.  Anything vulnerable disappeared long ago.     So, the long-term impact of short bursts of unusual weather on natives is probably small.

Warm weather helps many animals, especially those that need to move around and forage on the ground.  Deer, pheasants, cottontail rabbits and many other species are likely helped by warm weather. 

The impact on plants is less clear.  Generally native trees come through a mild winter just fine.  Fruit and ornamental trees are another story.   They may be programmed by nature to break dormancy when warm weather comes and then suffer if the temperature plunges.   So, days of mild weather gets sap flowing and if a massive cold front roars through and the mercury drops to 20 below overnight tree deaths are possible.

Only time will tell the full impact of warm weather.

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