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Warm winter does nature no favours

Shirley Lau

Plant-lovers who plan to celebrate the Lunar New Year with auspicious flowers may have to spend more - the unusually warm winter has caused most peach blossom to appear at least two weeks early, threatening a supply shortage.

Importers said peach blossom had been worst hit by the unseasonably warm weather.

'Ninety-five per cent of them have started to bloom by now. Normally at this time of the year you only get half of them blossoming,' said florist Leung Wan-ling, of Plantic Nursery in Tuen Mun.

'At this rate, some may have bloomed completely by Lunar New Year,' she added, predicting higher prices.

In Chinese tradition, peach blossom symbolises longevity, growth, prosperity and romance. If the flower blooms during the lunar new year, it is taken as a sure sign the year ahead will bring good fortune.

'If a peach blossom blooms on the first day of the Lunar New Year, it's considered very auspicious,' said Elizabeth Tse, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Flower Retailers Association. 'But a flower already in full bloom before New Year doesn't mean as much.'

Mean temperatures in Hong Kong in October matched the record of 1983; in November they set a new record. Last year was one of the city's hottest in more than 120 years - a warning of things to come if global warming continues.

While the warm early winter in Hong Kong accelerated the growth of festive flowers, it has caused the opposite problem for organic farms. 'The late arrival of cold days meant we sowed the seeds a month later than usual. All the vegetables have been affected,' said Vicky Lau Yuen-yee, of Produce Green, an organic farm in Fanling.

It's not just flower blossom that is appearing early - moths are, too.

The adult of the critically endangered Eupithecia sekkongensis species, which is unique to the Sek Kong area and normally emerges in mid-January to early February, has been spotted in late December for three of the last seven winters.

And the adult Indian silk moth is now emerging from late December, whereas 20 years ago they were rarely sighted before February, said Roger Kendrick, senior conservation officer of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Dr Kendrick said 300 moth species living of 300 metres or above were likely to become extinct in Hong Kong.

'Higher temperatures due to global warming are likely to force these species to move even further uphill,' he said. 'However, highland areas in Hong Kong are limited and the plants that they rely on may not be able to keep up with them.'

Additional reporting by Liz Heron

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