Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rhea Howell Horticultural Interpreter.
Just to the right of the front steps to Glyndor Gallery is a rangy shrub that has straggly growth with rather nondescript foliage, and it suffers from the indignity of being completely ignored for most of the year. It is called fragrant wintersweet – and for a very good reason: it does indeed bloom in the winter, and with a wonderful, sweet scent. In most years, the buds stay tightly closed through December, awaiting the odd mild spell in midwinter – not so unusual, since such periods occur most winters – when they pop open to reveal small, greenish-cream colored flowers that are touched with the slightest blush of deep crimson. This year, it is blooming exceptionally early, and profusely, a result of a very mild November, following the brief cold snap that gave us the heavy snow fall in late October.
The flowering time of many plants relies upon “vernalization”, a period of cold, the intensity and duration of which varies according to each species. Other factors, such as length of daylight time and increasing temperatures, are important, too. Wintersweet clearly requires only a short spell of cold weather to induce flowering once warmer temperatures return.