Brisbane Skips Winter, 2013 Becomes Hottest Year Ever (Until 2015, The Latest Hottest Year Ever Beaten by 2016, which was beaten by 2017!)

Winter is the new spring: In bud, cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum, 29/7/18
Winter is the new spring: In bud, cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum, 29/7/18

This year my garden had an extended autumn and now, judging by the flowers outside, it’s spring. Did Brisbane skip winter?

On 29th July 2013, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australia has just experienced its warmest 12 months since climate records began.

The same day, I posted that Global Warming is about the effect of physics and chemistry on life on Earth. The biochemistry of plants and the nutritional density of crops is changing in response to carbon dioxide pollution.

It is projected that the Arctic will lose its summer ice for the first time since humans evolved. At that point the Earth will have lost its protective, reflective white ‘heat shield’ and the methane gas release from melted permafrost and sea floors will trigger the catastrophic phase of Global Warming.

This will end definitive seasons, and the ‘greyer’ the seasons become the less likely it will be that conventional, seasonal food production will continue. As one farmer in Central Western Queensland put it (about four years ago), the summer rains arrived too late for a useful crop and the winter rains arrived too soon. For the first time in 30 years, his land was destocked and produced nothing.

We know rising levels of carbon dioxide gas, now increasingly joined by methane gas, are changing our climate. What most people don’t realise is how fast and how thoroughly these changes are affecting life on land and at sea.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in much the same way that cloudy nights are warmer than clear nights. While daytime and summer heat extremes are going up, it’s at night time and in winter that the changes are happening faster. Why? Because heat is not escaping back into space as fast as it used to. Jet streams influence weather patterns and they are slowing down and broadening, ‘fixing’ weather patterns for longer. Warmer winters affect the flowering and fruiting of cold-loving crops like apples, pears and stonefruit. Orchards growing high chill cultivars have a limited future in Australia.

But even more important is the affect of warming and carbon dioxide enrichment on soil ecology. Dig down a metre and the soil maintains a constant temperature. In Sydney it was 13C, too hot for tulips to survive permanently, but a cymbidium orchid, in optimum conditions, can be grown in mounded soil. Here in Brisbane, my soil is 16.2C one metre down. Plant a cymbidium orchid and it dies. Why? Both locations have similar soil-borne diseases, but warmer soil enables these pathogens to become more virulent.

On 19th July 2007, I was startled when a ‘Ladyfinger’ banana bloomed. Curious, for a tropical plant in the subtropics. Then a ‘Pisang Ceylan’ banana bloomed on 6th July 2012, and in 2013 a ‘Java Blue’ banana flowered on 6th July.

As the noisy miners catch spring caterpillars to feed their chicks in winter (the chicks hatched two weeks earlier in 2013), I thought I’d capture shots of what I formerly called ‘spring’ flowers in my garden.

Confused? So is nature.

Some things in my garden are flowering ‘on time’, some are flowering ‘early’. Summer flowering love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) and Mouse Melon (Melothria scabra) continued flowering (and seeding) as if winter hasn’t happened. For these crops, 2018 echoes 2013.

It’s not just Wynnum that has noticed the absence of winter’s chill. In winter 2013, gardeners in Stanthorpe told me their region hadn’t had any hard frosts. It was surprising to see Lobelia flowering on a windowsill in Warwick. Just a few metres away was a magnificent specimen of a Pelargonium, it’s decorative leaves and flowers undamaged by cold.

In July 2013, I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, where cherries and Wigandia caracasana were in full bloom and the first tulip of spring was flowering in the spring walk. Further west in Richmond, where winter frost is a given, the Magnolia x soulangiana, cherries and almonds were in full bloom. Underneath them flowered scented-leaf Pelargonium ‘Cherry Time’, as yet untouched by frost.

2016 was the hottest year ever on Australia’s east coast, confirms Bureau of Meteorology.

Queensland weather: 2017 Hottest winter on record, Bureau of Meteorology says.

In July 2017, while filming with Gardening Australia at Werribee Mansion, the roses in the adjacent State Rose Garden were being pruned. They were in full bloom.

Yesterday, on 28th July 2018, I was in Ballarat, heading to speak at the Creswick Garden Club annual learning day. We discussed global warming as cherry trees flowered a month early.

Since they were settled, Australia’s highland, inland regions have been prime temperate fruit growing land, and the Granite Country of SE Queensland is the best place in this state to grow apples, grapes, raspberries, peaches and pears. With warming conditions, the future of this state’s pear and apple orchards doesn’t look much more secure than that of the township of Newtok, USA.

In a submission to the federal government (‘The role of Government in assisting Australian Farmers to adapt to the impacts of Climate Change’, March 2009) Apple and Pear Australia Ltd pretty much said that Global Warming will have a significant negative impact.

Meanwhile down south, market forces are currently ripping a hole in the heart of Australia’s best pear orchards in Victoria.

It takes many years to grow a viable orchard, and Australian growers have been alarmed that importing apples and pears will also import Fireblight disease. Australia is currently one of the few places on Earth that is free of this disease. There was an outbreak of imported fireblight disease during the 1990’s.

Put Global Warming and reduced quarantine staffing numbers (reduced checks) together and national food sovereignty is at risk by various combined factors. Varroa mite entered Victoria in winter 2018, and Australia is the last place free of this pest of honeybees. How long before the only pears you can buy in Australia are imported? Is that fruit infected? Are those bee hives still healthy?

Maybe we should all grow something of our own at home. Just for practice. Officially, there’s still another month to plant for ‘winter’, so pick a fruit tree that can cope with warming conditions and grow your own food security.

My jackfruit started cropping four years from germinating. My Tahitian lime now flowers six times a year and produces 93kg fruit from under 10 square metres. Both are climate change winners.

Feedback from Facebook readers of this blog 29th July 2013:

Sally: “Yup. My loquats and peaches agree that it is spring. I’m a little concerned that the August winds and chill will destroy the developing fruit/buds. Shall report back later on that”.

Angela: “Yep. It’s the same in my garden my winter crops aren’t growing as well but we have flowers in the garden and on the Tahitian lime”.

Kate: “My fig tree has been trying to shoot its spring leaves since April…”

Deb: “Northside [Brisbane] certainly skipped the dry season”.

Heather: “Tropical peach orchard at Knockrow on full bloom. Jasmine and azaleas are out here. I think spring has sprung!”

Yvonne: “So has Melbourne.”

Adrian: “Over 18 degrees in my part of Melbourne today. Whatever this is, it isn’t winter anymore….”

Jane: “Even my broad beans are beginning to flower…”

Shane: “I have a nectarine tree flowering allready, 3km south of bargo N.S.W.”

Jo: “I’m in Mittagong and I noticed the sap is flowing in my mulberry when I pruned it the other day. Plum flowers aren’t far off!”

Jerry Coleby-Williams: “At Sydney Botanic Gardens I’ve seen the first tulip of spring . The cherries and Wigandia caracasana in the Spring Walk are in full bloom, 30.7.13.”

Alan: “Here in Tasmania, it’s been very odd. everything is budding and flowering very early and sometimes it’s been like a pleasant cool summer’s day…just a bit disconcerting.”

Jasmine: “Was it even winter? I have what I think are buds on nearly 8′ high sunflowers that grew all thru “winter” in Ipswich. Will have to wait until they get a bit bigger to be totally sure.”

Gabrielle (Canberra): “Interesting, Jerry. I am noticing a very early Spring here too – I live in the hills outside of Canberra, at 800 metres, where it snows and where the seasons are usually about three weeks later than Canberra, and I am noticing a very early flush of new rose leaves and milder and fewer frosts. My roses think it is spring all right, and my winter veggies are looking a little too leggy for this time of year too”.

Annetta (Brisbane): “We blinked and winter passed by. Scary. My garden is the same: spring growth and blooms.”

Andrew: “I saw a cane toad for the first time since summer – autumn last night here in Brisbane.”

Kara Sophia (Brisbane): “Felt the change in the last week.”

Deb Turnbull (Brisbane): “So do the birds. There’ll be baby noisy miners and noisy friarbirds aplenty at my place soon – watch out grasshoppers and cabbage-white butterflies, your time is up!”

Cheryl Nielsen (just north of Brisbane): “I have the same thing happening, Jerry. I already have four hands of fruit forming on a banana.”

Jerry Coleby-Williams

First posted 29th July 2013

Updated with Sydney Morning Herald Report on 2nd September 2013

Updated 29th July 2018. My cinnamon tree, which ‘normally’ flowers in October, is in bud.


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