As Light as a Snowflake

Originally published March 2012

Hello everyone! Well, predictably, the Spring madness evident in Janus’ month came to a temporary halt as the ardour of our fauna and flora was cooled by a seasonal white mantle quickly followed by temperatures that shortened the mercury column considerably. The busy Feathered Folk were silenced as they sought shelter and insects scurried back to their various over-wintering places of refuge.

lampBut for the absence of an incongruous Edwardian lamp-post, our very own Quarry Wood could easily have had people believing they had somehow strolled though the back of a large wardrobe into the Realm of Jadis! There can be no doubting that the transformation of our countryside in Winter is both magical and beautiful. However, the silence of the snow-laden woodland was not punctuated by cockney-sounding Beavers or flute-playing Fauns but by the more sinister sound of arborial destruction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASilver Birch, our Ladies of the Wood, magnificent as they are throughout the year, take on an exceptional, almost ethereal, quality when their slender branches are laced with snow. Unfortunately, like many fast-growing trees, they are prone to structural weakness, especially in the V-shaped areas where large branches fork away from the trunk. Given enough snow whole trees can bow and split. Snowfall, even as little as can fall in one day, is responsible for the loss of many trees across the country and our little reserve has not escaped unscathed. Casualties include Birch, Ash and Alder; we now have a (temporary) rudimentary bridge over the pond! Split branches forlonely hanging off stricken trees are likely to come crashing down as the March winds start to rip across the land like some ancient portent of doom. Once wounded in this manner, trees are susceptible to infection and many succumb to fungal infestation.

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Snow will have a similar effect on the slender new grow of many plants; the danger of Ma Nature getting carried away too early on in the year. Now that the snow and ice have vanished (for now!) our gardens, hedgerows and woodlands have a variety of rather bedraggled shrubs and flowers on display. Plants that have had the misfortune to freeze are left in a flaccid heap. Once the cellular fluid in their leaves and stems freezes, the cell membrane is very likely to rupture and, as everyone who has thrown themselves at the mercy of an emergency plumber knows, come the thaw the water gushes out.

CIMG4291Newly emerging plants fare better in the snow than their more mature relatives. The crystaline structure of each snowflake ensures that a considerable amount of air is trapped in a layer of snow and acts as an effective insulator against the minus figures. Our lovely Spotted Orchids appear to have survived the ordeal with just a few patches of ‘frost-bite’ on their leaves. Nevertheless, their early emergence will ensure a rather precarious existence for the next few weeks.

The thick layer of ice that topped the pond for a fortnight put paid to the spread of the floating plants such as Lemna sp. The surface is now covered with dark patches of dead vegetation waiting to sink and add their nutrients to the aquatic ecosystem prematurely. However, such is the tenacity of Jenny Greenteeth (see July 2010) that, if this mild weather continues, we can guarantee a fresh green carpet within the month!

These are a few brief thoughts on the the trials and tribulations that our fauna, especially the trees, have been through since my previous ramblings. If the Met Office and the Water Companies are to be believed they are likely to face an even greater threat in the foreseeable future: drought! It seems that Ma Nature will be loin-girding for a few more battles in the offing. So, do enjoy the snow-scape vistas, but consider the trees; do soak up the raw, elemental energy of the wind as it roars across the land, but think of the trees; and do relish the warmth of the sun on your face, but spare a thought for our woodland beauties!

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bears his teeth, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S.Lewis

As always, put me right at
pgcrow@yahoo.com

Paul Johnson

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