By Charlotte Owen
April is a month of ‘more’ - more daylight, more buds, more leaves and more flowers, with more pollen and more sneezing for us hayfever sufferers, but the natural world is springing back to life. Some say that April is named after the Latin aperere, meaning “to open”, in reference to the profusion of bursting buds, unfurling leaves and blooming blossom.
Plant buds are fascinating structures. They are destined to become either leaves, flowers or shoots and there is huge variety in their appearance. It might seem strange to start talking about cabbages at this point but cabbages are particularly big, leafy buds and, when cut in half lengthwise, provide a good demonstration of general bud anatomy: thick, leathery green leaves on the outside enclosing a dense crowd of pale, crinkly young leaves within.
Leafless trees can be identified by their buds, held tightly shut and biding their time until spring. The scaly outer leaves of tree buds are tough and frost-resistant, like a coat of armour for the delicate inner foliage, and some also have a sticky coating as an extra line of defence against hungry birds and insects. The leaves inside, which started developing last summer, are by now packed in so tightly that they really do burst out when the time is right, triggered by longer days and a spell of warm, sunny weather. With ready-made leaves primed to unfurl at a moment’s notice, the budding trees have guaranteed themselves a near-instant array of natural solar panels to maximise photosynthesis and kick-start the new season’s growth.
The timing of annual natural events like budburst and first flowering has been shifting gradually over the years, and decades of data show that spring is generally springing earlier than it used to. This is nature’s response to a warming world and while an early spring may seem beneficial, there’s a danger that species could fall out of sync if they’re adapting at different rates – so early-leafing beech trees could shade out the bluebells beneath them before they’ve had a chance to flower, with a knock-on effect felt along the food chain.
Find out more and log your seasonal ‘firsts’ at naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk