Walking into the office early this rainy morning, I marveled at the color explosion of the trees and flowers in the neighborhood. Around here, the tree buds are just turning that awesome bright green, birds are singing everywhere, signaling the much anticipated transition from winter to spring. As heat treating professionals who obsess with temperatures and quenching all day when solving your pesky PIA (Pain in the #$%) Jobs, I was wondering where the expression “April Showers Brings May Flowers” came from, and just what triggers all of these early blooms. So here is a little science (thanks Wikipedia), a little history (thanks Library of Congress), a little poetry (thanks feelingsandflowers.com) and some fun random facts about the arrival of spring. Enjoy.
The poem as we know it today originated in 1557, in the form of a short poem written by Thomas Tusser, found in the April section of a collection of his writings titled, “A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry.” The poem goes as follows:
“Swéete April showers,
Doo spring Maie flowers.
While this poem is clearly a direct ancestor to the version we know today, we need to go back to the Fourteenth Century, where legendary poet Geoffrey Chaucer had his own say on the month of April in his famous collection of stories titled, “The Canterbury Tales.” Chaucer’s version goes as follows:
“Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;”
“When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March’s drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;”
- While Chaucer speaks of April in relation to March rather than April, it could certainly be said that while Thomas Tusser may be the father of this saying, Geoffrey Chaucer is certainly the grandfather.
- There is meaning behind the words, as well. “April showers bring May flowers” is a reminder that even the most unpleasant of things, in this case the heavy rains of April, can bring about very enjoyable things indeed – an abundance of flowers in May – a good lesson in patience.
- The proverb is an example of the spring cycle of renewal that many parts of the Earth go through, and can be scientifically analyzed. There are actually several contributing factors to the appearance of flowers in spring, primarily driven by temperature (yeah baby, we love temperature!!). As the days grow warmer, plants find it easier to grow, as they are genetically hard-wired to begin growth as the soil thaws and the frost becomes more distant. This combined with the rain is a perfect signal to the plant that it’s time to return to life, or begin life in the case of a seed or bulb.
- Rain is at the forefront of positive stimuli bringing about floral displays in May. Increased levels of moisture in the soil help plants to grow faster and healthier. The water helps nutrients reach the roots faster as well, but an abundance of rain can actually slow the blooms.
- Springtime sees the return of many animals, birds and insects. The renewed ecosystem involving things eating and being eaten provides nourishment for new plants in the form of fecal matter and decaying organic compounds. The presence of insects also helps to pollinate the plants, which in turn allows them to reproduce.
- In the United Kingdom and Ireland, one of the major causes of the often heavy April downpours is the position of the jet stream. In early spring, the jet stream starts to move northwards, allowing large depressions to bring strong winds and rain in from the Atlantic. In one day the weather can change from springtime sunshine to winter sleet and snow. The track of these depressions can often be across Ireland and Scotland bringing bands of rain followed by heavy showers (often of hail or snow) and strong blustery winds. The same holds true in the US, as jet stream patterns can move northward, capturing chilling temperatures, and sweeping them down into the Great Lakes region.
- Usually, we try to dodge April showers, but the one that arrives on the morning of April 22 may be worth seeking out. Every year in late April, the Earth passes through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), and the encounter causes a meteor shower – the Lyrids. The best time to look, no matter where you live, is during the dark hours before dawn. (Geek alert: Comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher) is a long-period comet with roughly a 415-year orbit discovered by A. E. Thatcher. It is responsible for the Lyrid meteor shower. Carl Wilhelm Baeker also independently found this comet. The comet passed about 0.335 AU (50,100,000 km; 31,100,000 mi) from the Earth on 1861-May-05 and last came to perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on 1861-Jun-03.
- Annuals, the flowers you have to replant each year, are different than perennials in that they can’t be planted each year until after the threat of frost passes. Once planted, what matters is the amount of rainfall in the months after they’re planted, not the month before. They need enough rain in the months after they’re planted to sustain their growth and health.
- In some areas, a “false spring” may result in great harm to flowers and fruit crops. Early warm spells may trigger flowers to begin to bloom. If those warm spells are short-lived and are followed by a hard frost, flowers and fruit trees may die and not bloom again until the following year.
- According to the 2017 Farmer’s Almanac, REGION 7: OHIO VALLEy – Spring will begin with cold rain and snow showers. April and May will be warmer than normal, with rainfall below normal in the east and above normal in the west. The end of spring will be predominantly sunny and mild, with occasional thunderstorms (pretty much what happens every year).
- April showers also bring May rainouts – come on Tribe, let’s get rolling!