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The Whys of Winter?

posted Dec 4, 2016, 5:58 AM by Jessica Potter-Bowers
One of our Sprouts students asked us this week why the trees lost all their leaves. We answered with a question - why do you think? And she already had the answer. "Because it's so cold!" The cold, believe it or not, is actually another effect - not the cause. The true culprit is the decreasing sunlight, due to the Northern Hemisphere tilting away from the sun during the winter months. The shorter periods of sunlight each day and the decreasing intensity/directness of the light clues plants and animals to go dormant.

While only some animals (mostly mammals) truly hibernate, many species enter a dormancy period that slows down their metabolic processes and saves energy. Reptiles "brumate," which is similar to hibernation except that they wake up to drink water on occasion. Some animals, including insects, delay the attachment of embryos to the uterine wall, thereby ensuring that babies are born in spring - not winter! This is called diapause. 

Many plants also experience winter dormancy, dropping leaves or dying back until termperatures warm up again. Indoor plants can be tricked into staying green if given enough light and warmth but most temperate-climate plants will eventually go dormant, no matter the temperature. That's one reason why many house plants are tropical plants.

Humans are no exception to winter dormancy. We slow down our lives, cuddle by the fireplace and spend time reflecting on nature's wonders.