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Letter to New York Times

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  • Peter Bernhardt
    Dear Colleagues: On Monday (2/27) the New York Times published an article (with nice color photos) of flowers in bloom in February at the New York Botanical
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2012
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      Dear Colleagues:

      On Monday (2/27) the New York Times published an article (with nice color photos) of flowers in bloom in February at the New York Botanical Gardens.  The writing suggested there was something "sinister" about plants in flower with foraging  honeybees at this time of year.  The following is my attempt to calm New York's flower lovers, gardeners and naturalists (see below).  Please do not think I'm some sort of disbeliever in Climate Change.  My only point is that winter has its flowers too and, every few years, New Yorkers are permitted to view them in their appropriate season.  

      People should receive a positive introduction to plant-insect Phenology, not worried into it.  Also, I could be very wrong but, if you see the photos on line, it looks like an Eranthis (winter aconite) has been mistaken for an Adonis (pheasant's eye).  Perhaps Drs Raven and Wyse jackson will correct me or make inquiries of the horticultural administration (Todd Forrest) at their sister garden in the Bronx. 

      Peter

      To The Editor:

      Gardeners and visitors to the New York Botanical Garden should stop feeling "conflicted" by the sight of plants in bloom this winter ("Amid Winter Blooms, Pondering What That Bodes For Spring," Monday, 2/27/12).  Most of the plants described or photographed in the article (crocuses, daffodils, hellebores, magnolias, snowdrops etc.) originated in southern China or the Mediterranean basin where winters are mild.  New Yorkers feel that winter is a season without garden flowers.  City folk in southern Europe and temperate Asia do not agree.  That is why some residents of southern England called their daffodils Lent lilies and knew their hellebores as Christmas roses.  That is why people in southern Japan once organized winter parties to view their beloved, ornamental apricots in full flower.  One crocus in Israel blooms so early in winter that locals call them Chanukah lights.  There are many more examples. 

      Let's not worry about the honeybees.  They aren't native to North America either and suffer far more from Colony Collapse Disorder than temperature fluctuations.  I caught them repeatedly as they visited mandrake flowers on sunny days in early January in northern Israel. Pollination of these garden flowers isn't an issue anyway.  No one eats daffodil pie and the ornamental cherries, apricots and peaches are never grown for their fruit.  We'd be far better off monitoring the appearance of such native pollinators as bumblebees, sweat bees and hover flies.  

      Now, no one likes a magnolia blossom killed by a freeze but I worked for the New York Botanical Garden in 1977 and know that the magnolia display is unpredictable.  Chinese species planted in the Bronx grow on the edge of their performance zones.  New York is not Nanking.  I do recall that we had such a balmy spring in '77 that tour guides at the New York Botanical Garden were instructed to take the tour buses past the best magnolia stands because the flowers lasted over two whole weeks.   

      Most plants now in bloom at the NYBG haven't been "fooled into flowering."  They are doing what comes naturally this time of year when the soil isn't frozen.  Let's think of this as the winter New Yorkers are privileged to enjoy much the same show  others enjoy in the parks of Barcelona, Rome, Haifa and Tokyo. 

      Sincerely,

      Peter Bernhardt
      Professor of Botany, St. louis University
      Research Associate, Missouri Botanical Garden..      
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