Hope Springs Early, but Not Eternal, for the Deadnettle — or for Us

And it was the unassuming little deadnettle that stood out the most: its first flowering had been pushed back by a whopping 55 days. Since the 1990s, Lamium album has marked winter’s end, on average, by Jan. 23 — the day the plant looks up and declares its flower shop open for business.

Back in the 1950s, it did not bloom before March.

The long days of summer are the true theater of nature, its rising action having been blocked across eons of evolution. While both plants and animals awaken via distinct changes in metabolic functioning, most plants prefer to err on the side of caution, waiting for hints of full-on summer before they bloom.

Only a few, like the deadnettle, celebrate the end of winter with flowers, rising from the earth to observe their own private Groundhog Day. Unlike its rodent analog, however, Lamium album never, ever sees its shadow.


Ice-covered oranges in Florida in 2014. Global warming could leave plants vulnerable to frost damage following unstable weather.

Matthew Beck/The Citris County Chronicle, via Associated Press

It invariably proclaims spring, effective immediately, then sets about making itself irresistible to bumblebees — who haven’t even begun to think about pollen collection, by the way. The strategem makes a kind of desperate sense: After all, you might as well embrace the best case when you’ve absolutely no option to return underground.

This is just one way that plants differ from animals: After they go forward, there’s no going back. Plants are decisive to a fault. A stem produces a bud that flowers once and once only. It offers pollen that is either dispersed or goes nowhere. One pollen grain either enters a stigma or it falls upon stony ground. An ovum is either fertilized or the whole project stalls out.


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