Flowering out of sync

image of pear flowers
All dressed up, but nobody's coming over. This pear's pollinators are not showing up.
As you may have noticed if you live around here, spring came really early this year. In fact, winter barely came at all, so spring has kind of been brewing since late February. But temps were in the 80’s several days this week, so spring seemed to arrive for real this week. Our silver maple began flowering a couple weeks ago, and this week our two Cleveland Select pears burst into flower. As I was walking past/under the trees, holding my breath to avoid the rank odor they emit, I noticed something unexpected. Actually, what I noticed was nothing: there was not the usual cloud of tiny flying things around the flower clusters. I’ve now spent ten or so minutes each day over the last three days observing the flowers, and I’ve counted a grand total of 3 insects.

Let me acknowledge that I am not an expert in pollinator interactions, not by a long shot. [Note: for a real treat on these kinds of natural history and phenology topics, you should read Rebecca in the Woods.] It could well be that I’m just there watching at the wrong time of day, or mis-remembering past years’ pollinators, but I don’t think so. I think what I’m observing is a plant flowering far earlier than usual due to above-average temperatures. Meanwhile, its usual pollinators aren’t yet active. I think we can probably add this to the list of unexpected results of global climate change. In our case, I’m excited at the prospect of this tree not producing fruits — they’re messy and kind of a pain. But imagine if this were a fruit tree, or a whole orchard of fruit trees with no pollinators. Yikes.

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