look what just blew in: the power of the wind

SO IF I HAVE NO EASTERN SYCAMORE TREE in my yard, why am I raking up these distinctive-looking leaves? Of course the not-so-mysterious answer is the power of the wind, which carried them from the woods and delivered them at my doorstep down the road. Which got me thinking…

Wind, which most simply described is the motion of air molecules—the air in motion—bring us more than just extra leaves to contend with.  It is a powerful pollinator, for example.

The US Forest Service says that about 12 percent of the world’s flowering plants are pollinated by wind, along with most conifers and many other trees.

Grasses and cereal crops are the most common types among the flowering plants. Since they don’t need to attract animal pollinators, those flowers have no need to come in flashy colors or even to have petals for anyone to land on. Think about it. Such examples of co-evolutionary strategies between plants and animals are what make me love gardening in a deeper way than just the mere aesthetic.

The wind can move not just pollen but also seeds around to some extent, and more significantly, it moves birds.  Its force (or lack of it) at a given time helps them chart courses and attain their destinations (or not), impacting not just everyday flight but also their migratory efficiency.

The birds, of course, in turn move seeds, replanting elsewhere as they digest and disperse (to put it nicely).

THOUGH THIS NEXT STATEMENT is probably grossly inaccurate for being too general, without wind, we would not have weather change. Despite my rudimentary understanding of how this works–no, that’s not me on top of the U.S. Weather Bureau station at National Airport in 1943 measuring wind speed and direction–I know that when the pressure gradient (or difference in pressure) between adjacent high- and low-pressure areas is greater, the wind speed is greater, too—and whoosh, in comes different weather.  NOAA (weather [dot] gov) explains it more scientifically, and with charts and maps.

The explanation I like best, though, comes from veteran meteorologist Dan Satterfield of WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Alabama, where they have some serious weather to keep track of. Satterfield’s personal site, Dan’s Wild Wild Weather Page, is built for kids ages 6 to 16, but it’s just right for me. Here’s what it says about wind (with similarly helpful pages on other primary aspects of weather, like precipitation and lightning).

WIND IS ALSO RESPONSIBLE in some environments for serious erosion of the soil, among its other powers, and I haven’t even mentioned the potential impact when it meets up with with water, such as the dramatic weather they create in concert near the coasts.

Where I live, I’d have to count wind—not cold, despite my Zone 5Bish climate—as the most destructive force in the garden, bringing down or splitting apart woody plants when it roars, and desiccating evergreens in winter. Particularly when it combines with or follows drought, as it is this year, it’s a force to be reckoned with.

For now, all that means is a few stray sycamore leaves (Platanus occidentalis). We’ll see what it other tricks it has in mind this winter. Batten down the hatches, won’t you?

(Vintage photo from The Library of Congress collection.)

7 comments
November 29, 2010

comments

  1. Sharon says

    Whether you love weather stuff or not (oh, but I do!), understanding it indeed helps the gardener. My personal weather records since I moved to Virginia 13 years ago (from Honolulu — no need for records there….) are like a journal, cataloguing my thanks and epithets thrown at the weather outside. You would enjoy “The Invention of Clouds” by Richard Hamblyn,” about the man who gave clouds their names.

  2. says

    Margaret, every time there is mention of a storm, I think of you down in Columbia County, and all the people who live in the Saratoga-Lake George region. Your area, and points north of here, seem to be hit the most. We here in the Capital Region, get bad weather, but seem to be spared of EXTREME STORMS. Columbia County, seems to be a BAD weather magnet! Dorthy, don’t let one of those BIG WINDS blow your house back to Munchkin Land (New York City).

    • says

      Welcome, Sunny. I had to laugh at the name “Sunny” when the wind over here is about to try to blow in something other than sunny weather! :) Hope to see you and the sunshine soon again.

  3. says

    I am hoping the wind will blow in some super exotic seeds into my gardens. (Like yellow peony seeds.) Also that it will blow away all of the stink bugs that have plagued our area this last year. We are on a flood watch today…so maybe high waters will bring some different perennial seeds, like flag iris.
    Happy Gardening through all kinds of weather,
    Candylei

  4. says

    I was amused some years ago when a soon to be good friend moved to Iowa from western Maryland. Never in her life had she experienced such wind–she came to understand why the homesteading pioneer women went MAD! Being a native Iowan, I had never ONCE thought that the wind (or rain, thunder, or any other aspect of weather) could possibly be that different from place to place. I now understand how incredibly clueless I was. It does seem as if our weather “events,” as they call them now, are becoming more spectacular. Glad you battened down the hatches! I always welcome an opportunity to take a new look at nature and all its serpentine twists and turns!

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