Pears blooming at Smurfit-Stone

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Jimmie Ketchum, above, at Smurfit-Stone asks how the Bradford pear trees in front of the plant can bloom now. Amy Potts at Lewisburg Garden Center says this week's weather change probably did it.

Half a dozen Bradford pear trees were blooming on Monday in front of the Smurfit-Stone factory here in Lewisburg where a couple of the plant's long-time employees took notice and asked the obvious question.

How could that be?

Jimmie Ketchum works in plant utility maintenance and says the trees have been there for decades and he's not seen it happen before. Plant Manager Jeff McKay agrees and estimated the trees' age at more than 23 years.

The closest and fastest answer to their question is from Amy Potts at Lewisburg Garden Center & Landscaping on Fifth Avenue.

"It can happen when there's a dramatic temperature change and if there's hurricane weather," she said.

"If there had been a hurricane, there's a stress factor and it puts trees into a survival mode.

"Sometimes Bradford pears will bloom at this time of year," Potts said. "We've had a cold snap and it's warmed up. If you'll notice, Bradford pears bloom in the spring when it's real cool."

Biology Professor Cindi Smith-Walters at MTSU provided a similar explanation and was pleased Ketchum is so observant.

As for the trees, Smith-Walters said, "To me it sounds like those Bradford pear trees are "confused" as to what time of the year it is."

Nevertheless, the professor continued, "Plants don't use a 12-month calendar and rely on other indicators, including their internal clocks, to tell them what season it is and what they should be doing. This normally works well in most seasons...

"In most cases, plants that flower out-of-season are under stress of some sort," she said. "Extended periods of drought during the summer followed by lots of rain, especially if accompanied by cooler temperatures, is the most common source of stress.

"Another indicator is that you are seeing only a few of these trees blooming and not all of them in an area," Smith Walters said. "I think these trees may be experiencing some kind of stress.

"The past few summers we've had moderately dry weather conditions and this year that was coupled with cooler summer temperatures and cooler temperatures going into fall. In fact, here in middle Tennessee we are something like 12 inches above our typical rainfall amount for this time of year, and October is traditionally our driest months.

"So," the professor concluded, "the bands of rain we've been having, in addition to the recent cool front having given rise to temperatures that are, to some pleasantly cool and to others ... cold ... this past weekend.

"This chain of events has been enough to confuse some plants, possibly those who are already experiencing stress, into 'thinking' it was spring and thus it must be time to bloom," Smith-Walters said.

She then asks rhetorically, "Will these plants bloom well next spring?

Probably not as much as they normally would," Smith-Walters said. "Since putting out a full flush of blooms draws down the energy reserves of the plant, so you will likely see fewer blooms on these trees next spring."