Marginal plants rapidly give up at below zero temperatures, the softer citrus, olives, guavas, pawpaws; the young tamarillo trees, nikau palms, other attempts at exotic palms. Various flowers, fruits and of course the tomatoes all give up the frosty struggle and melt away to withered sticks of mouldy fluff in no time. Some are never tried again: coffee, mango, rice, lychees. Some, like Cherimoya and tamarillo may scrape through under cover.
But there are others who welcome the bite of the alpine snow and the chilly night easterly. The nectarine trees and peaches are delighted, "just what we needed" they claim; and start showing eager signs of early winter buds ready to flower before any other orchard trees. The apples and pears are also happy, but they are going to stay sleeping until the worst of the late winter storms is over. You can see blossom buds forming in response to the frost, and to the change of day length as the shortest day is passed. Soon the scent of witch hazel will fill the air, and some citrus, well protected, are flowering through the coldest days, though the flowers turn to fungal blobs in a six day thunderstorm. Genoa Lemon, and Lemonade struggle on through the worst. The loquat tree thinks it's spring already, and the bellbirds are fighting over its flowers.
Oak trees and other autumn colour trees like Persimmon are dropping all their leaves bringing up deep soil nutrients and creating a carpet of organic humus soil under their bare branches. Sun shines into the oak woods encouraging all sorts of fungi.
Hazelnut trees, and alder trees are putting out catkins, those delightful dangly, sort of wooden flowers that throw pollen to the wind and create seeds and nuts next summer. Along with the happy bragging bellbirds, they are mating and reproducing on the shortest day at sunrise, seizing the fine cold sunny day to further their species. And the solstice signals longer sunshine hours to follow: some species pick up this information. Many tree seeds will start to sprout at this time despite the cold, signalled by the light of the sun and some mysterious internal clock they carry.
So winter is a relief for trees, it signals the end and the beginning, death and new offspring, the endless cycles of the planet. Shivering in five jumpers and waiting for the dry pine to heat the room... along with the nectarines, I welcome the cold days and the reassuring normality of a Proper Winter.
Red Oak leaves carpeting the ground in June
Nectarine buds thinking of spring
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