Written on March 3, 2012
A stage-managed spring!
What could be more gratifying, after endless weeks of gray skies, icy surfaces and cold, than to see constellations of light green buds appear, announcing the arrival of spring? In the wild, we have to wait until mid-April to witness this spectacle. But in the Biodôme’s Laurentian Maple Forest, spring officially arrives on March 1! It’s the perfect time for getting a preview of some springtime events. But how do we go about changing the seasons? Magic? Not really!
Light on spring…
In nature, plants and animals can tell by the light that winter’s behind them. Days get longer in the spring, and the metabolism of plants and animals in our latitudes is well adapted to it. It’s a reliable and constant indication, much more than changes in temperature. The duration of sunshine in a day or photoperiod varies throughout the year because of the tilt of the Earth in relation to the Sun.
In the fall, when light diminishes, trees lose their leaves and go dormant. Conversely, when the days grow fairly long in the spring, trees get the signal that they can restart their photosynthesis, and they open their buds to reveal their new leaves. With that knowledge in mind, it becomes relatively simple to initiate spring in an artificial environment. At the Biodôme, thanks to a controlled lighting system that reproduces the light spectrum of the Sun, we can lengthen days gradually to “kick off” spring at the desired time.
And in part one: the arrival of the divas!
In nature, it takes about three weeks after the first gaps of melted snow appear for leaves to open on big trees. The amount of light reaching the ground is at a maximum at that point. This is when the divas emerge from our undergrowth: springtime plants. They complete their live cycle by producing leaves, flowers and fruit in this short period of time, becoming a first important source of food for numerous animals, and offering up beautiful flowers to delight our eyes.
A bit capricious by nature, demanding to have all the light on them, these plants retire from the scene before very long, as soon as the big trees cast a shadow over the forest...until next year! At the Biodôme, trilliums, bellworts, caullophylums and jack-in-the-pulpits also add to the spectacle. But there’s a snag: because of the roof, the tops of trees warm up faster and accelerate the opening up of buds. The springtime plants don’t have enough time to capture the sunlight they need. For that reason, the horticulturists replant a dozen species of spring plants each year, grown in the Jardin botanique greenhouses.
Then come the singing and the colorful finery…
More abundant light and milder temperatures also affect the behavior of animals: for some it’s the time to give birth, for others, to mate – and it’s the ideal time to observe Biodôme birds. Warblers, chickadees, the gray catbird, the cedar waxwing, buntings, the wood duck and many others get busy building a nest and wooing their partner. They come and go in the forest in search of building materials, attired in their breeding plumage and singing their most beautiful melodies.
And as a finale, the arrival of the turtles!
After long months of hibernation, the turtles finally snap out of their torpor. However, in the Biodôme’s ecosystem, it’ not cold enough for them to hibernate and not warm enough for them to be able to continue feeding. The most suitable place to hibernate over the winter: the refrigerator! We can re-create the seasons in artificial surroundings, but we’ll never be able to replace nature itself. Our true wealth lies in the natural environments that we must learn to understand so that we can better appreciate them, and therefore better protect them.