By Sonnary Campbell
The secret to knowing when wild berries will ripen each summer and fall may be hidden under the previous winter’s snow, researchers suspect. They’re asking for help in uncovering that secret.
The key may be in how much berry flower buds develop before winter arrives. So researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Connecticut want volunteers throughout Alaska to send them frozen lowbush cranberry buds.
UConn researchers will dissect the berries under a scanning electron microscope to determine how far along the buds developed before going dormant.
The team includes Christa Mulder of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, Katie Spellman of the UAF International Arctic Research Center and Pam Diggle of UConn.
Around the world, warmer temperatures have typically led to earlier budburst and green-up for plants. In recent research, Mulder and collaborators observed a peculiarity in Arctic and boreal plant responses to warmer temperatures: When it is warm the year before the plants flower, flowering is delayed.
Boreal plants make their buds at least a year before they flower. One possible explanation for the unexpected pattern is that in a very warm, long summer, the buds the plant made and was saving for the next year develop more than they should. Sometimes, plants like lowbush cranberry could bloom a second time late in the fall right before it snows, leaving the least-developed buds to burst in spring.
In a new project funded by the National Science Foundation, the UAF and UConn researchers are hoping to test if this is, in fact, happening. They hope to predict patterns in cranberry bud developmental stages with different temperatures and season lengths across the state. That information can help scientists and members of the public understand how the timing of berry flowering, ripening and picking will be affected by our changing climate.
Instructions for how to collect bud samples are available online at https://sites.google.com/alaska.edu/latebloomers/.