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Why do frosts and freezes cause damage to cherry crops?

Every spring, as seasonal changes bring frosts, freezes and steep drops on temperatures, reports are that local crops could be damaged by the severe weather. But what, exactly, is the damage caused by these changes? RIT journalism student Rebecca Boone reports.

Most Rochesterians know that Mother Nature has a fickle relationship with the city. This past Monday many people woke up to an extra Monday morning burden – a scattering of snow. In the big picture this was upsetting to the Rochesterians who were soaking up the sun in 70 degree weather just weeks ago. But the most important issue is the future of local crops.

One crop in question is cherries. The blooming cherry blossoms gave hope that Spring was here to stay. Now the question is whether or not the growing cherries can stay around til summer. The edible cherries are usually ready to be picked in July, August, and September. It cannot yet be determined if the recent low temperatures will prevent them from surviving til then.

As Dawn Carter, a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology explained, the blossoms are delicate and the life of the developing cherry is at stake. The fruit of the tree is basically the ovary that holds the seed of the cherry.

As Michael Savka, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology explained, the cherry cells are mostly water, so freezing temperatures cause the water inside to freeze, expand, and burst delicate cell walls. Repeated freezing or the weight of snow and ice can break or crack large branches that will need to be pruned off, said Savka.

An additional problem, Carter points out, is that when trees bloom abnormally early there are less insects to pollinate the flowers that do survive the freeze.

This news may be more tart than sweet. But there is still hope for cherry-lovers.

“Within a blossom sometimes not all the flowers are killed so some will continue to grow and produce fruit,” said Savka.

Now Rochesterians wait on Father Time to reap the benefits of the buds.