A weird response

Harkening back to the last post, I’d like to continue the conversation on stress responses to drought. We went on vacation in mid-July and I thought I had everything watered extremely well before we left. However, when we returned about 2 weeks later, I found that this sand cherry disagreed strongly with my assessment about how well I had watered it.

Burnt leaves and flowers blooming on a drought stressed sand cherry
Prunus pumila var. depressa

It was covered in crispy leaves, but I saw enough green remaining that I knew I could save the plant, even if it would look like crap for the rest of the year. The interesting thing for me was how it responded to the damage in the following weeks. It started pushing out new growth on August 6th, which was unusual in and of itself, as cherries usually only have a spring flush of growth.

New growth starting to emerge on a drought stressed sand cherry

But, even more unusual was the fact that it also responded by blooming prolifically. These are coming from the flower buds that are supposed to bloom this coming spring 2022.

White flowers of a drought stressed sand cherry blooming in August

So, although I am thankful I saved the plant, I probably won’t be getting very many flowers next year. Apparently, this is a fairly common phenomenon in drought stressed plants. Drought can put some plants into early dormancy, causing them to drop their leaves earlier than usual. In other cases (like with my cherry), the leaves become so damaged that there isn’t enough undamaged leaf area to support the plant’s health for the rest of the summer. Once the environmental conditions return to normal (e.g., it rains or I return home and water the poor thing), the drought stressed plants can break dormancy and begin growing again, which can also cause some or all of the flower buds to break dormancy and bloom. In other words, the flowers I saw in August were sort of an accidental occurrence as my cherry tried to recover from the drought damage by putting out new, healthy leaves. Plants are so cool!


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