If you have been walking around cities this spring, your eyes have been in for an ocular delight. This year has been one of the most magnificent for fruit blossom in a very long time. Some fruit experts believe these have been the best blossoms for 5 years.
Fruit blossoms seem to be the biggest, fluffiest and most beautiful. Looking up under a tree groaning with white and pink beauties is pure visual therapy. Even looking up close at the individual blossoms, they seem to be the most perfect specimens, the biggest flowers, the most open flowers, florets crowding each other out on each branch tip – petals creating delicate coronas of exquisiteness.
But what has caused the spectacular this year?
There are two reasons that we have such great blossom. Firstly, 2014 was a very good growing season for trees with warm nights and little drought. This enabled the trees to extend their growth and set good quality blossom buds (fruit buds are formed the previous summer). If we had been able to compare the buds to other years, they would have been at least 10% bigger.
Secondly, we now have very good conditions for extending the life of the blossom. Cool nights have meant that blossom lasts longer on the trees. This is because the temperature affects how quickly pollen travels down the style to the ovaries. The cooler the temperature, the slower it takes, the plant thinks that the flowers haven’t been pollinated and maintains the blossom. (Thanks to Nick Dunn from Frank Mathews fruit tree nursery for this explanation).
One of the wonderful things about planting and looking after fruit trees is that you suddenly become very attuned to the seasons and the prevailing weather conditions. For me, it connects us back to an ancient awareness of the seasons and our interdependence on the natural world. This is something very hard to experience in an urban environment, but so important for our sense of well-being.
And of course, one of the main messages that lots of blossom should give us is that there will be lots of fruit. Or does it?
The last few years have been very temperamental for fruit harvests. In 2012, apple growers experienced the worst yield in 15 years. Even orchards that we can usually rely on to be groaning with fruit, such as this magnificent one at Bethlem Royal Hospital in South London were weirdly bare of fruit.
This was due to an unseasonal warm spell early in the year, which prompted the fruit trees to blossom early while the pollinators were still hibernating, so very few flowers were pollinated. This problem was exacerbated later in the year by strong winds, which whipped any remaining flowers, which might have been pollinated off the trees. And without blossoms, there is no fruit.
This blogger would point to climate change as one of the causes of these unusual weather patterns. Climate change is affecting agricultural production through its effects on rainfall, shifts in temperatures and weather conditions and it is difficult to predict what long term impact this will have on fruit production not just in our urban orchards, but for global food security. There is an interesting discussion on the affects of climate change on British heritage apples here at Fruit Forum
So, should we expect a colossal harvest later in the year?
If the winds keep down and we don’t have any frosts, which can damage the developing fruitlets, we might be lucky. And just to be on the safe side, if you have fruit trees, which are small enough to reach easily, you might want to consider giving them a helping hand from frosts with some insulation. There is not much more we can do to help our trees to help preserve the flowers for fruit, so for now, get outside and bike the blossoms like these folk in Vancouver or simply find a nice spot, lie back and savour the blossompalooza while it lasts.