|Sharp-Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)|
this morning after a cold night night in the hollow
People often assume freezing temperatures mean sudden death for wildflowers, but this is not the case. Most spring ephemerals are adapted to the drastic temperature swings of early spring. Of all the wildflowers now blooming, the Hepaticas looked the healthiest this morning after last night's freeze. The Toothworts and Spring Beauties carpeting the forest floor looked droopy, but they were perking up as soon as the sun hit them. The Hepaticas almost looked normal.
Freezing water is the death of plants. When water freezes in plant tissue, the precious, life-giving fluid becomes dagger-sharp ice crystals, puncturing cell walls, spilling cell contents, and breaking down the leaf's micro-architecture. This, as you can well imagine, is catastrophic for the plant.
|Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) surrounded by a carpet of|
Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) taken in early April last year.
Hepatica, on the other hand, has developed a completely different strategy for coping with the harsh weather. It uses last year's leaves to help with an early start. Rather than making its new leaves first, Hepatica relies on last year's leaves that overwinter in the leaf litter. Though worn and tattered, the old leaf takes in the sun on warm late winter days and are pretty much depleted and gone by bloom time. The plant then uses the root-stored food for the energy it needs for flowering in early spring. It is only after the plant has flowered and gone to seed that Hepatica then spends the additional energy to make new leaves that go into the full-time business of photosynthesis. These leaves are adapted to the dim light of the summer forest floor, and they persist through summer, fall, and winter until next spring.
Blooming Hepatica survives late cold snaps as a minimalist. With no leaves to worry about during bloom-time, the Hepatica's secret seems to lie in simplicity and a tendency to live in sheltered places.
Maybe there's a lesson here. Nature reminds us that there is usually more than one way to solve a problem, and sometimes being an oddball has advantages.
|Sharp-Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) greets the dawn after a cold night|