It may finally be spring, with hydrangeas blooming and birds singing, but not too long ago all of Cornwall was painted white. We’ll certainly be talking about “The Beast from the East” for years to come!
In addition to making snowmen and admiring the beauty of the ice-covered trees, you may also have wondered about the health of Cornwall’s plants and flowers, which (like us) haven’t experienced this amount of snow in over seven years.
But fear not! Even plants as delicate and fragile-looking as primroses and daffodils are less disturbed by the snow than you might expect. This is because when it comes to plants, the real action is underground. The roots are the most important part of the plant, and so no matter how cold the air gets, it’s when the soil freezes that plants are in real trouble.
But counterintuitively, a few inches of snow can actually protect plants from the cold. A good layer of snow actually insulates the ground, preventing the soil temperature from dropping too drastically, even as the air turns chilly. Plus, when the snow melts, it provides plants with much-needed moisture. If there’s a lot of snow, the subsequent thaw can even leave behind reserves of melt water that sustain plant life for long after the snow is gone.
So it’s not the snow, but the wind that is the real problem – a strong winter wind can snap stems and dry out plants, and that’s where the true danger of a winter storm lies. The other danger is a sudden freeze post-spring thaw. An unexpected cold snap after plants have already sent up tender new growth that isn’t acclimated to freezing temperatures can be devastating, even to plants that have endured months of winter unscathed.
Yet for the most part, the once-in-a-decade snowfall like we experienced this year doesn’t harm plants much and even provides some benefits to them through freezing pesky bugs and insulating the ground. So don’t worry about the flowers – though they be but small, they are mighty!
Article by Caitlin Fikes, ERCCIS volunteer and University of Exeter student.