Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Two Warming Stories

The Post today has two articles on warmth and what it means for the people, animals, and plants in certain communities. The first concerns a shift in the tree species that will thrive in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Apparently, the District of Columbia is now classified in the same hardiness zone as North Carolina and parts of Texas.

The foundation's findings provide a window into the local effects of climate change, scaled down to lawn level. Colorado blue spruce and hemlock, at home in the cold, might have a harder time. Crape myrtles and camellias will have it easier.

The findings also help give an unexpected answer to one of the region's oldest questions. If Washington wasn't the South before, then now -- at least from a gardener's perspective -- the South seems to be coming to Washington.

Camellias are certainly doing well at the National Arboretum. Here is one reaction:

But at the Botanic Garden, McLaughlin had mixed feelings. He was glad to find that such species as the needle palm or the yaupon, a holly native to areas farther south, could be raised more easily. But then, he said, he thought of the impact on the species that belong here: native plants that might find their growing seasons shifted, their life cycles out of sync with pollinating insects, if warming trends continued to affect them.

"It's exciting, in a way," he said. "It's alarming, when you look at native plant communities."

The new map can be found here, with an illustration of the changes here. The official USDA page on the subject is here, with the 1990 map. Note that the two organizations appear to use slightly different color schemes to illustrate the zones.

The second article is about a warm spell in Europe. Apparently residents of Moscow are still waiting for snow.

Scattered flurries teased Moscow on Tuesday afternoon with the promise of a real winter, the birthright of a city whose people take pride in trudging through snow and in ice fishing and cross-country skiing in white countryside beyond the outer beltway.

The winter of 2006 has yet to arrive, however, and Muscovites are deeply discombobulated. "I want snow. I want the New Year's feeling," said Viktoria Makhovskaya, a street vendor who sells gloves and mittens. "This is a disgusting winter. I don't like it at all."

The Swiss Alps also are in the midst of a snowless winter. It is difficult to tell where short-term fluctuations end and long-term changes begin, but it is hard to shake the feeling that deep climate changes are in the works.