Chickadee in Winter

Despite the bone gnawing temperatures, the Wrens, Warblers and Chickadees seem at ease, flitting here and there in the garden, darting between trees and chirping all the while.  They are tiny, compact birds whose weight barely bows the grassy stems of the spent Coneflower as they snatch tiny seeds from its head.  They are a source of great entertainment and intrigue.  And through years of evolution and adaptation, they are able to survive our Midwest winters, which got me to thinking.

Plants in Winter

How, then, do our trees and plants survive?  They are not mobile – unable to seek shelter or additional sustenance, like birds or other living creatures.  So how do they do it?  How do they endure such conditions and come out swinging in Spring?

Plant Dormancy

In early Fall when daylight begins to wane, plants begin early preparations for Winter, like leaf drop.  When the first frosts arrive, plants enter a form of dormancy called Endo Dormancy where all growth ceases.  This helps conserve energy and directs important nutrients to the root system or bulb.  But this is only part of it.  Because plants contain water, they must also battle the formation of ice in their cells, which is, most times, fatal.  Plants achieve this through “anti-freeze” proteins, much like salting an icy driveway or sidewalk.  The proteins combat water from freezing both in extra and intercellular spaces.  Plants also produce proteins called Dehydrins, which help combat dehydration and are released in response to cold and/or drought stress.  Evergreens are especially adept at fighting dehydration.  In addition to dropping needles, their thick, waxy coating helps reduce water loss.

Evergreen Needles with Snow

Through conservation and physiological changes, some not fully understood, plants and trees are able to withstand winter’s wrath, mostly unscathed, and amaze us come Spring as if nothing more had occurred than a simple, winter slumber.

“Winter is the slow-down.

Winter is the search for self.

Winter gives the silence you need to listen.

Winter goes gray, so you can see your own colors.”

-Terri Guillemets

Best wishes,

Kim Sweeney