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Autumn flowering across tree species suggests emergence of ‘false spring’

The Tree Council

October 21, 2022

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A blistering summer of record temperatures led to suggestions of a ‘false autumn’ as trees’ leaves browned early – now there appears to be evidence of a ‘false spring’ after The Tree Council team observed flowers emerging on seeding shrubs and trees.

Over the last few weeks, unusual flowering was recorded on apple, blackthorn, dogwood, hawthorn, horse chestnut and sweet chestnut trees, particularly in locations around the South of England.

It is not clear how geographically widespread this is, and we are calling on the Great British public to get out and about in your area, record your observations and send them in to The Tree Council, with details of location and date.

The budding and flowering could be born of the summer drought conditions, combined with unusually warm, early autumn weather. Effectively, the very dry summer was followed by warm, wet weather, which may have moved trees from stress into recovery growth.

Jon Stokes is The Tree Council’s Director of Trees, Science & Research​, he said: “Biologically, the flower buds of many trees are formed for almost a year, developing in late spring, and then forming during summer, autumn, winter, and early spring.

“The inherent consequence of unusual autumn flowering is that there is likely to be a partial loss of the next year’s flowers and fruit – if a tree flowers in the autumn, new flower buds will not have time to form during the winter period because conditions are unsuitable.

“Flowering also takes energy, so to flower – or put on new leaves – in the autumn, the tree diverts energy that would have been stored, potentially reducing its ability to cope with winter.

“This would be particularly true of newly planted trees.”

The activity this autumn follows reports last November of similarly strange seasonal occurrences.

Many organisations and individuals noted unusual happenings, from strawberries fruiting in Oxford, to buddleia blooming in Mansfield – but conditions were different in 2021, and experts suggested the activity may have resulted from an exceptionally warm spell earlier in October.

One of the only recorded examples of horse chestnut trees flowering in autumn comes from as far back as 1944 when correspondent, Julian Huxley suggested “the phenomenon would thus appear to be very similar to the new growth of leaves and sometimes of flowers observed in various trees in London after being wholly or largely defoliated by bomb-blast”.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][dt_media_gallery_carousel image_border_radius=”0px” slides_on_wide_desk=”2″ autoplay=”y” project_icon_color=”#ffffff” project_icon_border_width=”0px” arrow_bg_width=”40x” arrow_border_width=”0px” r_arrow_icon_paddings=”0px 0px 0px 0px” r_arrow_v_offset=”0px” l_arrow_icon_paddings=”0px 0px 0px 0px” l_arrow_v_offset=”0px” include=”8889,8890,8891,8892″ css_dt_gallery_carousel=”.vc_custom_1666353630984{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Jessica Allan is The Tree Council’s Science & Research Projects Manager, she said: “The impact of this on our treescape as a whole is uncertain, but we can speculate that individual trees and shrubs flowering now may struggle – or fail – to flower next spring.

“The flowering might affect fruit and seed crops next year for those individual trees.

“We know climate change is influencing seasonal patterns. We want to understand the impact so we can determine how to protect the long-term resilience of our trees, hedgerows and woods.”

To help The Tree Council further determine how widespread and significant this trend is – and its potential future impact – we want to collect evidence of similar observations this autumn, from as many corners of the country as possible.

So, please keep your eyes open and your camera ready as you gather seeds, walk the dog, trek through the countryside or stroll in the park, and send your images – including date and location – to comms@treecouncil.org.uk, marked Autumn Flowering.

The exceptional summer heat does not seem to have reduced seed production, with high volumes observed, particularly of acorns – almost entirely absent in 2021.

 

 

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