By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
There are those rare occasions when events do not meet expectations. Typically the observer has a list of questions which attempt to reconcile the validity of their suppositions with the unanticipated circumstances of the outcome.
Usually football games and elections are the cause for this scrutiny and self-examination. After all, it is exceptional anyone competes with absolute knowledge of a negative outcome.
The winter of 2016/17 has provided the residents of Wakulla County something more than an abstract collection of activities and reactions to ponder. Observations to the shortsleeve temperatures have ranged from joyous amazement to apocalyptic prognostications of environmental doom.
Theories, forecast and predictions aside, this has been warmer than average winters in recent memory. Very few frosty mornings have made the use of heavy coats an uncommon sight.
In January azaleas were blooming with the camellias, usually the most brilliant flower to brave the icy dead of winter in north Florida. European honeybees lucky enough to discover these blooms have collected the pollen, venturing out in the sunny days with moderate temperatures
The yellow blooms of Carolina jessamine have been showering down from their heights scaled to maximize their sun exposure. While this vine produces delicate trumpet shaped flowers it is toxic to most coming in contact with its nectar, including bees and people.
Japanese magnolias, though still leafless, are opening there showy purple flowers. If the weather holds, they will be in full bloom by the second week in February.
A curious feature of this uncharacteristically colorful winter is most of the shrubs and weeds blooming are non-natives. Almost all were originally imported for their bright flowers from latitudes far north of Wakulla County
Some of these are still valued for their polychromatic addition to the landscape. Others are now considered invasive nuisances.
This alteration in the cycle of nature is of interest to the students of phenology, this being an area of ecology which examines the seasonal rhythms of plants and animals.
This academic discipline has its origins in early East Asian cultures. Scribes in China were making written observations of nature’s seasonal occurrences 3,000 years ago and records of Japanese observations reach back over a millennia.
This rhythm of nature has been the basis for almost innumerable civic and cultural aspects of individual nations. The Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan, with religious and agronomic implications, is a good example of an annual occurrence initiating many societal activities.
Scattered records have been identified in western Europe for about the last 700 years. A byproduct of the Renaissance, more systematic records were chronicled in the last 400 years of European history.
Exotic plants aside, even some of the native plant and tree species are awakening in February from their winter dormancy. Dogwood trees and native azaleas are both budding in anticipation of blooming in the weeks to come.
Interestedly one traditionally harbinger of spring’s arrival is still in an inactive state. Redbuds are showing no sign of returning with their tiny blooms.
Maybe they have some inside information of the coming weeks in the second, and normally coldest, month of the year. Many observers will be watching and recording the information for posterity.
To learn more about Wakulla County’s plants and trees, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/