Catnip flowers at different times as the climate changes – threatening their pollination and the wildlife that feed on them

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As the days get longer and the air gets warmer, nature is exploding again. Even before their leaves return, trees produce delicate fuzzy structures called catkins. These tiny, slender strands, often described as kitten tails (thanks to a playful translation from Dutch to English back in 1578), signal the arrival of spring.

In terms of timing, however, it’s a bit like a botanical ballet. Depending on the species and the environmental conditions of the year, cats dance to their own beat. Holly may begin the flower festivals between January and March, and the oaks will take their turn between mid-April and May.

The global climate has been changing since the industrial age. Summers are getting hotter, rainfall patterns are changing and extreme weather events will become more frequent. The seasons are starting to change.

Do the seasons feel weirder to you? You are not alone. Climate change is distorting nature’s calendar, causing plants to flower early and animals to emerge at the wrong time. This article is part of a series, Wild Seasons, on how the seasons are changing – and what they will eventually look like.

These changes in temperature and rainfall patterns can play a significant role in shaping the life cycle of trees and will affect the emergence of catkins. In the European Alps, scientists have found that even small temperature changes of just 2°C-3°C can have a big impact on the amount of pollen produced by catkins.

In regions with warmer temperatures, trees may start producing catkins earlier in the year. This premature flowering can throw a wrench into the synchronized dance between male and female kittens. Trees such as alder, hazel and birch are called “monoecious” – this means that both male and female flowers grow on the same tree. A change in temperature may result in a split in the timing of their development with male and female catkins blooming at different times.

If male catkins appear early or fashionably late compared to their female counterparts, it can throw off the entire pollination game, resulting in fewer seeds being produced. This can also cause trouble for creatures that rely on kittens as a vital food source, such as the common dormouse.

Rainfall patterns affect the development of kittens. Trees need just the right amount of water during critical stages of growth, including when they are making those fluffy catkins. Changes in rainfall, whether it’s drought or a sudden downpour, can throw things off course, affecting the yield and success of catnip flowers.

When kittens get soggy from too much rain, it puts a damper on the release of airborne spores, which can reduce their chances of successfully reproducing. So whether it’s a temperature twist or a rainfall ruckus, changing weather patterns can have far-reaching consequences.

These environmental changes affect a tree’s ability to produce healthy catkins at the right time. That’s really important because catkins aren’t just old fuzzy bits — they’re a vital part of the tree’s reproductive process with interesting biology.

Symbols of spring

Each catkin consists of clusters of tiny flowers tightly packed together on a central stem. You’ve probably seen them as the first signs of spring, decorating the trees with their unique song. These little beauties are essential players in the life cycle of many trees found in the colder regions of the world.

Trees such as alder, silver birch, hazel, oak and white willow are the stars of the cat show. Male cats steal the spotlight with their longer and sharper looks.

Hay fever is sometimes triggered by pollen producers, who release clouds of pollen into the air. Birch pollen, for example, can range from a thousand to ten thousand grains per cubic meter, making it an airborne irritant.

Female kittens are slightly less noticeable. They are the silent ones, containing the eggs that transform into seeds when they are fertilized with pollen. Although not as bright as their male counterparts, female catkins play a vital role in obtaining pollen for fertilization.

Apart from reproduction, cats make some of nature’s critters taste delicious. For example, moth larvae go to these flower festivals. Interestingly, male kittens pack a bigger nutritional punch, and male kittens eating moth larvae tend to have better body mass, survival rates and reproductive success compared to those eating female kittens.

Catkins play vital roles within ecosystems, both in terms of their importance in tree reproduction and as food for wildlife. As climate change progresses, the impact on cations goes beyond the direct effects, potentially setting off a chain reaction affecting other species.

It is vital to monitor the subtleties of these changes and you can record your sightings of local cats online on the Forest Trust’s nature calendar. This information helps scientists like me understand more about how the life cycles of trees, and the wildlife that depend on them, are changing over time.

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Sven Batke does not work for, consult with, or own shares or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article this, and did not disclose any relevant connections beyond their academic appointment.

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