Caryn Hibbert

Plants, Fresh Air & Sunlight

by Caryn Hibbert At Thyme 12 Apr 19

I have just been to Antarctica.

It was summer there and we were so lucky to have clear blue skies and still waters.

The sun however stays low in the sky and sunrise and sunset seem to last forever. With the sun hovering on the horizon, long low rays of light illuminated the dramatic scenery of icebergs and glaciers to fabulous effect for the photographers on board our ship.

Almost nothing grows on the land except for lichen and a few mosses clinging to the rocks, there are no trees or shrubs at all, conditions are simply too harsh.  Pretty much all life comes from the sea, seasonal visitors during the short summer months only.

Returning to the UK, it was the very start of spring.

Our trees and shrubs survive winter by remaining dormant and not holding too much water which would freeze on cold winter days and frosty nights. Ice crystals forming in cells is lethal, the cells literally explode as the water content expands when frozen. As days become longer in spring time, sunshine warms the trees and the stored starch in their woody stems breaks down to form sucrose. Water is drawn from the earth by simple osmosis; it literally runs up through their veins. This rising sap can be collected and gives us for instance, maple syrup, while at Thyme, we draw birch sap. Very slightly sweet, it can only be collected on a few early spring days.

The water rising up the vascular structures of the tree trunk can, if you listen carefully, be heard like a river in the xylem tubes just beneath the bark, creaking and popping as it brings new life from the roots to the new leaves.

Every gardener knows that late spring frosts can cause devastation to tender early spring seedlings. Pea shoots will tolerate a very light frost but their tender leaves and shoots reach toward the spring sunshine and will be damaged if temperatures fall too low. Just like trees, the pea shoot has a vascular system through which water rises and it is the chloroplasts in the green leaves that photosynthesise, using sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to create sugars to feed the plant and oxygen for the earth’s atmosphere.

Unlike in Antarctica where there is not enough sunshine to allow plants to grow on the land, fix nitrogen, nourish the earth or support diverse ecosystems of land flora and fauna, we in England are lucky to have the complete opposite. Sunshine warms our soil: plants grow, clean the air, replenish the soil and eventually become our food, thereby nourishing our souls.

Spring is a special time of year, get out and about, listen to trees, pick shoots, eat leaves, breathe in the fresh air and marvel at the power of plants and nature … the circle of life and our green and pleasant land. 

Caryn travelled to Antarctica with Ultimate Travel, Antarctic images reproduced with kind permission from Philip Cayford