The story below is an excerpt from our January/February 2017 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
This is the time of year when my yard and the perennials that line the edges look their absolute worst. My coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, daisies, daylilies and asters have been frostbitten into leafless stalks that rustle in the wind. In spite of appearances, they are still alive. The roots have protected themselves by moving most of the water that was in their cells out into the soil. Without water, the roots can withstand some freezing and thawing without too much damage.
Many plants also replace much of the water in their root cells with sugars and salts. Like adding antifreeze to the water in the radiator of your car in winter, this lowers the freezing point of the water left in the roots.
The plants aren’t the only living things outside my window. Many of the animals and insects that visited or inhabited my garden this summer have also found ways to survive the cold. Wood frogs hunker down under leaf litter. The spring peepers seek out cracks and crevices in the frozen clay. Both species freeze into frogsicles if the weather gets cold enough. Just like my plants, they push the water out of their cells and replace it with a strong solution of sugar. Both species of frog can cycle repeatedly through the freeze/thaw process until spring wakes them with a final warm kiss. In our mountains one of the first signs of the approaching spring is the sweet chorus of spring peepers trilling a wake-up song from the wetlands that line our property.