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Warm December weather confuses even the flowers

Roses bloomed on Arlington Street near holiday wreathes. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Fairy-pink roses unfold in summer-like splendor — right next to light poles wrapped in Christmas greens on Beacon Hill.

Cherry trees, bees humming around, bloom in the Public Garden — on the first days of winter.

And geraniums, sweet alyssum, and all sorts of summer flowers thrive in planters around Boston and beyond.

The unseasonably warm weather — the high on Christmas Eve is forecast to be 65 to 70 degrees — has many living things confused.

“The leaves are starting to appear on my viburnum” bush, said Marilyn Donati, who is worrying about the flowering shrub that typically blooms in the spring in her Hamilton yard. “My daylilies, the greens are starting to grow.”


Donati, who owns Vidalias restaurant in Beverly and a farmstand in Manchester-by-the-Sea, has swapped stories of concern with customers and friends still harvesting outdoor lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower.

“That’s very unusual,” Donati said.

Jason Goodall, a Methuen floral designer, said the green leaves on his irises, a perennial spring favorite, are already 4 inches high and still growing. A week ago, he picked a couple of berries off a strawberry plant tucked into a warm corner of his yard.

Cherry trees in the Public Garden displayed their blossoms.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe Staff

“The perennial flowers I am not as worried about. They can bloom and go dormant much more easily,” Goodall said. Trees are a different matter, he said. If they flower now, they might be unable to put on their springtime show.

“The lilacs are full of buds,” Goodall said. “It’s as if we skipped ahead to April.”

Perhaps one of the showiest displays of floral defiance is in Boston’s Public Garden, where several Higan cherry trees are full of blooms.

“It’s slightly terrifying that this is blooming so early,” said Chelsea Mertz, a tourist from Chicago, who wondered about the implications of such out-of-season petals on the cherry trees. “I can enjoy this warmth, but this tree thinks it’s April.”


Carol Simpson, a Beacon Hill resident who was photographing one of the cherry trees, said she has witnessed them blooming out of sync before. But it was the bees swarming around the blossoms that took her aback.

“The squirrels, the bees, everything is freaked out by this,” Simpson said.

Not to worry, said Norm Helie, an applied plant and soil scientist who guides tree and plant care for the Friends of the Public Garden, a citizens group that helps the city care for trees and plants in the garden and on Boston Common and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. He said he has seen the Public Garden’s cherry trees blossom during at least three recent mild winters.

Higan cherry trees, unlike many other flowering trees and shrubs, are easily tricked into blooming at off-times by unseasonably warm weather. The out-of-season burst of blooms will not hurt the tree, Helie said, but probably will reduce springtime blooms.

While the flowering trees provoked concern among some outdoor enthusiasts, Helie said other types of buds — the kind that bring new leaves in the spring — are actually building resilience because of the unexpected warmth.

The weather has produced many of these robust buds, called vegetative buds, and that portends healthy new growth and ample leaves in the spring, Helie said.

“It’s better to go into winter slowly, with temperature in your favor, so the tree can develop a full vegetative dormant bud,” he said.


“A lot of years . . . Old Man Winter comes in and drops the temperature suddenly, and that’s where we get the damage because the trees don’t have the chance to form the vegetative buds,” Helie said.

This burst of warmth has given many trees’ buds time to develop “buffering capability” against the cold, making for stronger trees next year, he said.

At Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, many visitors were focused more on the joys of the spring-like temperatures than the consequences for suddenly blooming plants.

Meaghan Molloy, a Fairfield University student back in Boston for winter break, wore a light hoodie as she walked her dog Wednesday.

Earlier this month, she went to the beach, something she never expected to do in December, she said.

“People are saying it’ll just be worse later, but I’m OK with that,” Molloy said.

Bill Palmer, a trial lawyer who lives just 50 yards from the arboretum, said the weather should “give you pause.”

“Something’s going on,” Palmer said, before mentioning global warming. “I love and embrace the seasons. I think challenging weather is invigorating.”

Marie Foley, who lives in Jamaica Plain, takes a daily stroll through the arboretum with her friend, 76-year-old Peg Everbeck.

Foley, who is 85 years old, admits to a growing affinity for mild temperatures.

“When you get old,” she said, “mild is good.”

Roses bloomed on Mt. Vernon Street on Beacon Hill.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Kay Lazar can be reached
at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.