Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stratification, Germination And Climate Change

We are finally getting a bit of snow here in the Portland metro area. Snow levels are quite meager; it's as if someone decided to bake a cake and got very stingy in applying the frosting. Today our snow is melting as soon as it hits the ground. By Wednesday, there will be very little evidence that it snowed at all here.

Otherwise, the snow drought of 2011 seems to be continuing into 2012 throughout the Pacific Northwest. We probably won't see any more snow this winter. This same snow drought has also affected most of the United States and Europe. A mounting body of increasingly plain evidence continues to point to a deranging global climate, a climate that is being wrecked by human activity.

In response, someone recently wrote a somewhat denialist piece about weather in Maine. In his piece, he wrote that “a little global warming would be a gift for Mainers paying for heating oil. Somewhere in New England, the climate may actually improve because of greenhouse gases.” It seems odd that this guy's piece made it onto the Energy Bulletin website, but then they've done a few odd things over the last several months, such as publishing Tea Party propaganda and articles by shills praising Ron Paul.

Being the contrarian that I am, I thought I'd point out a few disadvantages of anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. I'd like to point out something else as well, namely, that while most mainstream media either does not acknowledge climate change at all, or relegates its worst effects to a time frame around 100 years from now, I think we can start looking for serious adverse effects right now.

One of the adverse effects I see – a phenomenon that is probably starting to affect us now – regards the effect of warmer weather on seed germination of valuable trees, shrubs and other plants. Right now I have in my refrigerator a packet of currant seeds. The planting instructions on the currants say that to prepare them for planting, I am supposed to stratify them by leaving them outdoors in pots all winter or by putting them in the fridge for at least 60 days prior to planting. Last winter or the winter before, I would probably have left the seeds outdoors. This winter I was not certain that the weather would be consistently cold enough for successful stratification. Hence, the fridge.

Cold stratification is necessary for a number of plants of economic, agricultural and medicinal interest. Echinacea, evening primrose, and a number of other medicinal perennial herbs and flowering plants all require a period of cold stratification to achieve a high degree of successful germination. Without this cold stratification, most of these seeds will not germinate. This also applies to fruit-bearing shrubs such as juneberry, pawpaw, quince, crabapple, and the shrubs of the hawthorn family. Some species of maple trees also require cold stratification for successful germination. Speaking of trees, there are several species of stratification dependent trees that, while not useful to humans for food, are useful for their wood. Interestingly, some of these trees and shrubs are native to the American South, and typically require a few months of temperatures averaging around 40 degrees Farenheit for successful germination of a large portion of their seeds.

This brings up a pertinent question, namely, how man-made climate change will affect the continued cultivation and survival of these plants. As I said earlier, it's something to worry about right now. Some other questions:

  • What non energy-intensive processes can be used in place of cold stratification where the climate is becoming too warm to guarantee successful germination of valuable cold-dependent seeds? (We can't rely on refrigerators forever.)

  • How will agricultural and horticultural climate zones evolve and shift over the next ten to fifteen years?

  • How will man-made climate change affect small farmers and urban gardeners over the next ten to fifteen years?

  • Is there any research being done, either by formal institutions or by talented, well-organized volunteers and amateurs, to formulate and document effective adaptive strategies for small farmers and urban gardeners to employ over the next ten to fifteen years?

These questions can serve as a homework assignment for some enterprising souls. I'd tackle them myself, but I am already teaching one class and preparing to teach two others, so I'm about as busy as a cat with a long tail in a room full of rocking chairs. Maybe I could threaten to interview an urban farmer to find out how he would answer these questions. That might provoke someone over at the Energy Bulletin website to try to beat me to the punch. If I were beaten to the punch, it wouldn't break my heart. (It might also make up for some of the er, recent er, lapses on that site.) These questions are too important for one person to sit on them. Failure to consider these questions might leave more than a few of us without much to eat for dinner over the next several years.


Jerry said...

No big deal. Just GMO up some new non-stratification requiring species.

By the way, I passed a little blog award your way, if you want to come over and see.

CHeers, friend!

TH in SoC said...

Thanks, Jerry! I'll take a look.

Aimee said...

Germination is only one of several temperature related problems with agriculture - and not the biggest. Many if
Most temperate fruit and
Nut trees such as apples, pears, almonds, walnuts, hazels, cherries etc all need a dormant period in the winter in order to fruit the following year. That dormancy is induced my below -frost temperatures. Various areas of the southwest and western united states are no longer reliably providing those lOw winter temps. I read several tees ago that California's imperial valley, one
Of the
Most productive orchard areas on the planet, was losing a great deal of productivity due to high winter temps.