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Warm weather puts trees on fast forward


March 22, 2012
By Press release

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An example of the peach blossom stage in Michigan State on March 21, 2012.

March 22, 2012 – Unseasonably high temperatures is coaxing green tips and blossoms from apple, pear and peach trees.

Trees and many other plants are developing flowers and grasses are growing two to three weeks earlier than usual, raising concerns about what could happen to fruit crops if the budding fruit has to face a typical late spring frost.

“This warm weather might be really pleasant and some people might find it comforting,” said Dr. Donald J. Leopold, chair of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, N.Y. “But when the weather is really altered from typical conditions, there are always winners and losers among all types of both plants and animals. With the many plant and animal species in the East, some will benefit and some will be adversely impacted with these unusually warm conditions.”

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Leopold studies woody and herbaceous native and non-native plants; in his 27 years at ESF, he has never seen these species bloom before April 1. The consequences of this early blooming depend on the weather during the next month or so. More economically serious would be for apples and other fruit trees to bloom in mid- to late April then be subjected to a killing frost.

Leopold routinely collects twigs over ESF’s spring break to teach his students identification techniques during his fall dendrology course. He said he has never seen the buds as swollen as they are this year.

“Things are really going to pop this week,” he said.