Sunday 17 December 2017

Bumblebees buzzing as daffodils bloom

BLOOMS: Amy Chen from Lucan pictured with some of the roses at the Botanic Gardens, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
BLOOMS: Amy Chen from Lucan pictured with some of the roses at the Botanic Gardens, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

Hosts of golden daffodils at midwinter, bumble bees forgetting to hibernate and last year's roses still in bloom.

The unseasonably mild winter is not only causing daffodils to flower weeks ahead of schedule, it's also playing havoc with the birds and the bees.

For the first time since he planted his initial acre of daffodils in 1995, flower farmer Brian Perrott from Bandon, Co Cork, harvested his first crop of the season back in November due to the exceptionally mild winter which saw temperatures soar to the mid-teens less than a fortnight before Christmas.

Although the early bloom won't cause any harm to the bulbs and flowers, it is having a negative impact on his wallet. The problem is no one wants to buy daffodils in the dead of winter.

"People are confused. They don't expect daffodils in the middle of winter," said Mr Perrott. Although he tried to flog his early blooms, they just sat on the shelf. "It's not great news," he told Sunday Independent.

"We had the first flower in November which is the first time they bloomed this early. We went to some stores and they were slow to sell. To have them before Christmas is mad," he added.

Although he hopes to make up the financial loss with an early Easter which falls on March 27 this year, the other problem is the second crop of flowers is blooming faster than they can be picked.

"We're now into our main crop and picking stuff now we wouldn't normally be doing for the next three or four weeks," he said.

His trusted crew of experienced pickers, many of whom come from eastern Europe, are still back home with their families for the Christmas break.

It was actually mid-April 1802 that Wordsworth walked in the barren beauty of Britain's Lake District "lonely as a cloud" among "a host of golden daffodils".

But it's not just daffodil farmers who see this weather as both a blessing and a curse. Matthew Jebb, Director of the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, said rose bushes are still in bloom at the garden and hazel shrubs are still covered in leaves while some spring flowers are still in bloom from last year.

"It's astonishing how many spring flowers are still in bloom. Daffodils are two months early and snowdrops have been out since November," he said.

Bumblebees, which normally hibernate during the winter, are buzzing around as if it's spring. But the nectar they feed off just isn't there, making it a "tough winter" for them to survive.

And if their numbers decline, these "peculiar years weather-wise" will have a knock-on effect for apple and food crops if there aren't enough bees around to pollinate, he said.

Mr Jebb said the wettest December on record is also bad news for trees. "One of the serious effects is that rainfall weakens the soil which could have a major impact on trees. The roots just tear out," he explained.

Birdwatch Ireland says the warm weather has caused behaviour to change among a number of bird species.

While the fiercely territorial robin sings all year round and is often tricked into singing at night by street lights, other birds usually stay quiet in the dark days of winter.

"It's been unusual to hear the song thrush and the blackbird so early. We have been getting reports from all over the country," says Niall Hatch of BirdWatch Ireland.

Sunday Independent

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