No sooner were the last chimes resounding from Big Ben than the Curator downed his last glass of egg nog mixed with port and readied himself for than annual New Year’s Day flower count at Ventnor Botanic Garden.
The count this year is low, 203 different flowering taxa (different individual “sorts” or “types” of plant), compared to peak years of 250+. It has been many years since the count has been below 200. The extraordinarily mild winter to date (15oC at recording) would perhaps be expected to draw more plants into flower; however, December’s light quality and quantity has been poor due to overcast conditions. Without the usual temperature drops associated with winter, a flowering requirement for many, spring blooms have remained tight in bud, so the flower count is largely late flowering plants rather than a mix of both early and late.
What conclusions can be drawn from the flower count this year is that Mediterranean native species have been more abundant than in most years, with Geranium maderense, Verbascum lydium and two species of Acanthus recorded for the first time. Less favoured have been the Far Eastern shrubs, most of which are strongly dormant.
Trends are hard to find in such a small sample, but compared against the data set of many years of recording, the plants are telling a story of climate change. It is becoming increasingly difficult to exact a time of flowering for so many plants, Magnolia that could flower anywhere from Christmas Eve until April and Camellias named for their spring blooms fully open before mid-winter.
Milder winters do not necessarily mean an increase in the numbers of flowers on any given day, but do allow growth of plants susceptible to frost. Analysis of our data shows that a count of 350 is possible in a plant collection whose strongest flowering season should be May onwards.
Written by Botanist Chris Kidd.
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