This morning I sat down with my coffee and, as I have done for 48 years, gosh, thought about what I might write about in this week’s column. After a few glasses, the uncharacteristically red morning sky prompted me to run outside (with my socks on) to take a photo to send to outside friends and relatives. They had read about the Big Snow Dump and wanted to know why we lived in Alaska.
However, two things caught my attention (besides the bitter cold of the morning). First, a significant amount of significant snow has already melted. surprising. Second, this thaw has exposed a large area of grass, which is still green.
As I quickly returned to the warmth of the house before I got frostbite, I wondered how the grass could still be green after 30 inches of snow, and now single-digit temperatures.
Well, I guess that’s how things work. Those green blades of grass are made up of working cells. Plants can sometimes produce an anti-freeze type state in these cells to delay freezing. These contain all kinds of proteins and stuff so they don’t freeze easily. This is what makes the plant very hardy.
Between plant cells, and surrounding them all, there is a space filled with water. This usually does not contain many impurities and so it freezes (unless the plant produces the necessary antifreeze to prevent it from doing so). However, the cells can remain viable even though they are surrounded by frost.
Some of the cell molecules are organelles known as chloroplasts. These are the cellular generators in which photosynthesis takes place. They use chlorophyll, which is green and gives the green color to the plant’s leaves. In the fall, non-hardy plants stop producing chlorophyll, so the leaves take on the remaining red-orange color.
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Listen to the podcast “Teaming with Microbes” with Jeff Lowenfels and Jonathan White
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If you still see green in your garden, you can be pretty sure that the leafy plant cells contain chlorophyll. This means that these plants are capable of photosynthesis and may even be photosynthesising. amazing. I never thought that green grass in the middle of winter could still be so effective.
I still maintain that it is relatively warm up there at the interface between the snow and the grass. I can understand better that photosynthesis can take place at 32 degrees. Obviously, our herbaceous plants are very difficult to survive.
I’m not sophisticated enough as an observer to know if any growth is happening. I highly doubt it. I know that if we have uncharacteristic thaw and even uncharacteristic sun, those blades, our meadows, will grow.
Photosynthesis means the production of sugars. To me, this would only make sense if they were somehow stored in the root systems of these plants. This may indicate that the green grass plants are working at full capacity. Hmm.
Eventually, it must be cold enough so that plant cells cannot produce new chlorophyll and will freeze. Or the cell could simply run out of nutrients necessary to produce chlorophyll. In both cases, the expected brown color of the grass appears.
Is it possible that photosynthesis actually occurs (or am I hallucinating because of cold toes)? I have to dig deeper. It is amazing enough that the underground parts of lawns remain alive and viable through the winter.
Jeff Alaska Park Calendar:
Alaska Botanical Garden: Lots of things going on. Go to www.alaskabg.org/. I could probably write a column about holiday gifts, but the first item to give is a membership (individual or family) to The Garden. Do it now. now.
Pelargoniums: Clean up any plants growing indoors. Consider starting a few seeds now. Obviously you’ll need lights.
Stored plants: Check the fuchsias and roses to make sure they are healthy.