Temperature influences plant growth

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By Broccoli Billy

Many of us have traveled around the USA. Perhaps, some from Oregon to California, others from Maine to Florida, or even to Ohio or Texas. What we all see before us as we travel is climate change over long distances north to south. Our great country has a number of climates such as temperate, subtropical, tropical and even a temperate rain forest on the West Coast. For one country to have such a variation is truly wonderful

I would think there are some people that travel from climate to climate and give little thought as to what is growing before their eyes. Then there is that eternal plant nut that sees every little change in the plants that grow in different areas of our land. There are many factors that favor plant growth but for this discussion, let’s consider temperature.

I have never seen a hillside in Maine ablaze with hibiscus or an apple orchard in the Florida Keys. I would suspect the temperature difference is the culprit. This brings into question the origin of plants and that of plant temperature tolerance. Most “backyard” gardeners do not give this subject quite enough merit. I think this is a case that we do things because they work but really don’t know why. Most tomato varieties will drop their blossoms above 85 degrees or there about. Many seeds will not germinate in high soil temperatures and some varieties of lettuce need light! Bury lettuce seeds too deep and they will not germinate, as the seeds of crepe myrtle (lagerstroemia) do.

Another question is plant hardiness, which simply is how well a plant tolerates cold before damage and/or death. The US Government has established plant hardiness zones nation-wide based on maximum cold temperature for a certain area. Florida has three zones: 8, 9 and 10, which is rather amazing. Some zone maps list the lower Keys as zone 11. When you are leafing through that glorious plant and seed catalogue pay heed to the plant zones listed for that plant. The catalogues have a desire to widen the zone listing to appeal to more customers. By all means, try to assure success by putting plants in their proper zone listing.

Now let us think some about where our garden vegetables come from. I would guess most of us think our vegetables originated in the US. That thought couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our earth is renowned for plant hunters searching the globe for new plant discoveries. Most all of our garden vegetables were not known to North America. Many of them were brought here by explorers and early settlers. Let me list a few examples: beans-Brazil and Guatemala, beets-Asia minor and Near East, pepper-West Indies and Peru, radish-Middle Asia and China, mustard-Middle Asia and India, cucumber-Bay of Bengal and Himalayas. And we thought our vegetables were native to the USA!

In future columns I will discuss vegetable by vegetable its history and travels, along with the many strange and wonderful origins of our “common” worldly garden plants.

Mince your mustard,

Broccoli Billy