As spring greening begins, trees move into a new life cycle

By | March 6, 2024

As winter disappears (quite quickly this year) and spring arrives, trees undergo a fascinating transformation, signaling a new life cycle.

During the winter, trees lie dormant, conserving energy and waiting for the warmer temperatures and longer days that spring brings. As the season changes, trees begin to awaken in a carefully orchestrated process, driven by nature’s cues.

Trees have an internal biological clock that starts counting down at the beginning of winter and indicates when they should resume their life in the spring. This internal mechanism, influenced by environmental factors such as temperature and daylight length, ensures that trees remain dormant until conditions are optimal for growth.

This advanced timing allows trees to maximize their growth period without risking damage from late frosts or insufficient resources.

The first sign of this awakening is the movement of water from the roots to the branches, an important step in hydrating the tree after the long winter. This upward flow of water, combined with the nutrients stored from the previous year, gives the tree energy for the coming months of rapid growth.

At the same time, trees prepare for the main pollination process. In anticipation, the buds – which are protected under scales to survive the winter cold – begin to swell and eventually blossom into flowers or develop into cones, depending on the species.

These flowers and cones are not just for your enjoyment, but are crucial for tree reproduction.

Pollination occurs when pollen from male flowers or cones makes its way to female counterparts, a journey facilitated by various agents, including wind, insects and birds. This transfer of pollen initiates the fertilization process, leading to the production of seeds.

For trees, pollination is not just about reproduction, but also about ensuring genetic diversity, which strengthens the overall health of the species.

The pollination process in spring results in trees releasing large amounts of pollen into the air, the yellow dust you might find on your car, patio furniture and everything else. This pollen dispersal is essential for plant fertilization, but can cause discomfort for many people.

The high level of pollen in the air is often responsible for seasonal allergies, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose as our bodies react to these small particles. The trees are not meant to harm you. They’re just trying to make new trees.

After pollination, trees concentrate on growth and expansion. Leaves open, capture sunlight and convert it into energy through photosynthesis. This activity not only stimulates the growth of the tree but also improves the ecosystem.

Trees become hubs of activity, providing shelter and food for countless species while contributing to air quality by releasing oxygen that you enjoy breathing.

While this is a well-orchestrated event that has been going on for millions of years, a rapidly warming climate has pushed some things out of sync. Trees have adapted to climate change and are showing a trend of opening earlier each year as global temperatures rise.

This shift in timing is part of their evolutionary response to warmer climates, ensuring their survival and continued reproductive ability. The earlier flowering period can have cascading effects on ecosystems, affecting pollination schedules and pollinator interactions.

The earlier awakening of trees can disrupt the delicate timetable of organisms that depend on their seasonal cycles.

This misalignment can affect pollinators, such as bees, which emerge based on historical flowering times, leading to mismatches in food availability and pollination services. Although less important, one plus of the warming climate is having more green days each year than what some experienced as children.

Enjoy the rush hour of nature. It’s going to be super busy!

Mike Szydlowski is a science teacher and zoo facilitator at Jefferson STEAM School.

TIME FOR A POP QUIZ

What signals trees to begin their awakening process in spring?

Why do trees need to hydrate after winter?

How do trees prepare for pollination?

What Causes Seasonal Allergies in People in the Spring?

How has climate change affected the timing of tree awakening and flowering?

QUIZ ANSWERS FROM THE LAST WEEK

What are microplastics and how do they end up in our water sources?

Microplastics are small plastic particles that come from degrading plastic objects. They enter water sources through runoff and affect both bottled and tap water.

Why has the discovery of microplastics in bottled water raised concerns?

The presence of microplastics in bottled water indicates that no water source is safe from contamination, highlighting the widespread problem of plastic pollution and its potential impact on human health.

How were microplastics detected in bottled water in the recent study?

Researchers used stimulated Raman scattering microscopy (SRS), a technology involving two lasers, and machine learning to identify microplastics in bottled water.

What potential health risks are associated with consuming microplastics?

Microplastics can contain toxins that pose health risks if ingested. The long-term effects of chronic exposure to microplastics are still unknown, especially for children who will be exposed to the microplastics throughout their lives.

What steps can individuals take to reduce their exposure to microplastics??

Choosing tap water over bottled water, reducing plastic use and supporting plastic waste reduction policies can minimize exposure to microplastics and protect the environment.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: As spring begins to turn green, trees enter a new life cycle

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