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Monday, April 4, 2016

Ice water in their veins

Years ago we replaced our front lawn with vinca (Vinca minor, also called periwinkle). That means I can plant spring bulbs under the evergreen leaves of the groundcover, something I couldn't do with the former grass lawn

     This winter’s changeable weather, with scarce snow and intermittent warm temperatures reportedly caused by El NiƱo, has given me an opportunity to admire the resilience of daffodils.

    One result of a warm February and March has been early emergence of spring blooms. For the past several weeks now the vinca has been sporting its five-petaled violet blue flowers. The bulbs I’ve planted have sent up their first sprouts between the vinca leaves, and flowers have opened in their sequence:

Snow crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus)
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii

Spring crocus (Crocus vernus)


This week the first daffodils bloomed:

Narcissus 'Jack Snipe'
 This weekend wet snow temporarily covered the flowers in the front yard. You’d think this treatment would spoil the blooms, but it doesn’t.

    Daffodils originated around the western Mediterranean and in North Africa, where they grew in much dryer, sunnier conditions than they find in my New England yard. They’ve succeeded adapting to life all over the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere, spread around since ancient times by the Greeks, Romans, and Ottoman Turks, to as far as China.

    European settlers brought daffodils to North America early on. They’re true perennials, living and reproducing indefinitely in places like the Ukraine, where 643 acres of daffodils bloom in the Narcissi Valley of the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve.

Valley of Narcissi near Hust, Ukraine

    The daffodils in my front yard are showed no sign of damage after the weekend's snow. I learn from Linda Chalker-Scott that when cold kills new leaves and buds, they’re dying not from ice damage but from dehydration. Ice forming in spaces between cells draws water out of the cells, which can dry them out fatally. Apparently it takes more than a few hours of snow with temperatures in the thirties for this process to affect daffodils.

The wet snow did weigh the stems down. The daffodil blooms were lying on the ground in the morning. 

By afternoon as the snow melted, they started to straighten back up. Monday more snow fell. We'll see if they're still pretty when it melts. My money's on them.

      Unfortunately what does limit the daffodils' flowering in my front yard is lack of sun. The bed faces east and is shaded both by the house and by street trees, when they leaf out. The plants keep sending up leaves, but they can’t store up enough energy during the summers to bloom after the first year or two. 

That’s OK with me. It’s worthwhile to plant new daffodil bulbs every fall in order to enjoy the spring show.

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