No, plants, it is not spring yet

Albury horticulturalist Paul Scannell says this Day Lilly should be burnt to ground level during winter. Instead it is in full foliage and sending up flower spikes. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL
Albury horticulturalist Paul Scannell says this Day Lilly should be burnt to ground level during winter. Instead it is in full foliage and sending up flower spikes. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL

FROST-free nights and mild winter days have sent the Border’s plants and insects into a spring-time frenzy.

The trend has some experts worried about possible disruptions to fruiting patterns.

Up to 40 species of plants and animals in the region have been behaving as if winter was already back in the cupboard for another year.

The findings have been put onto the climate impact database of Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH).

The group said night-time temperatures were two degrees higher than normal and the Border was yet to have a frost.

Albury horticulturalist Paul Scannell — a member of Botanic Gardens Australia and New Zealand — said the lack of frosts was worrying.

“Over the past 25 years I’ve noticed a serious lack of autumn and early winter frosts,” he said.

“All us people with grey hair talk about how we used to go to school and walk on top of the puddles because they were frozen solid.”

Mr Scannell said bottlebrushes and apple trees were now flowering “when they shouldn’t” and peaches and plums budding “when normally they’d be dormant”.

“I’m concerned if their buds burst early, they’ll be hit by the cold weather and those buds won’t produce fruit in summer.”

Mr Scannell’s observations count — he has been working in the field for more than 50 years.

Frosts, he said, usually developed when colder temperatures started to come through between 4pm and 5pm.

That was followed by low overnight temperatures that dropped to freezing by morning.

“That just doesn’t seem to happen now,” Mr Scannell said.

“It’s the same with the autumn foliage displays — there used to be a blaze of colour, an incredible amount of colour everywhere.

“Now it just seems to have got to the point where with a hot summer we lose a lot of the leaves before we get a chance for these to turn.”

Mr Scannell said there would normally be two or three frosts after Easter to “turn that colour on at full volume”.

“It’s pretty unfortunate,” he said.

He said plants were confused and added “in turn that will change the habits of the insects and the birds”.

“It’s all an unknown quantity with the more we impact on the climate, with plants being subjected to extremes we haven’t seen them adapt to yet.”

Mr Scannell said there was potential to seriously affect fruit production.

WATCH’s Lizette Salmon said other examples of out-of-season behaviour included roses, camellias, spring bulbs and native trees blooming and summer vegetables continuing to produce.

She also said some bird species were showing nesting behaviours.

“Even those of us without green thumbs would have noticed grass is leaping out of the ground as if it was spring.”

WATCH maintains a database of climate impacts, including impacts of heatwaves and warm spells as reported by citizen scientists, farmers and academics.

Email to report observations.

THINK climate change and the past summer’s scorching heatwaves spring to mind.

But the silent manipulator of the seasons is said to be “warm waves”, periods of balmy weather that have a more insidious impact.

Border environmental group WATCH said there wasn’t necessarily anything remarkable in recent temperature records — at least not at first glance.

WATCH spokeswoman Lizette Salmon said while Albury-Wodonga’s daytime temperatures were average in April-May, overnight the average was two degrees higher.

“For more than two weeks in May, Australia experienced a warm spell which broke temperature records in many places,” she said.

To illustrate her point, Ms Salmon noted University of NSW analysis that showed heatwaves and warm spells between 1950 and 2011 became longer, more frequent and more intense.

But the changes were bigger and faster for winter warm spells and night-time temperatures.

“Warm waves are not as widely appreciated as heatwaves, partly because their impacts on humans, animals and infrastructure appear minimal,” she said.

“They feel quite pleasant and people may not even associate them with climate change.

“Yet they, together with rising sea levels and mega fires, are yet another example of what to expect as our planet continues to warm due to human activity.”

Ms Salmon said that meant stronger action must be taken on climate change, such as moving to renewable energy quicker.

Albury horticulturalist Paul Scannell said some plant varieties needed “chilling hours” to ensure germination or the production of fruit or seeds.

“Apples, blueberries, pearsand plums are amongst the foods with threatened yields if we get further warming of winter weather,” he said.Pleasant 'warm waves