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Global warming may cost Kansas its sunflower

Sun., May 20, 2007, midnight

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Imagine the Sunflower State without sunflowers.

That’s one of the dire predictions contained in a new report on global warming released by the National Wildlife Federation, which says the Kansas state flower could move north to other states in a few decades.

Increasingly warm temperatures also could mean the end of the state tree, the eastern cottonwood, according to “The Gardener’s Guide to Global Warming.”

“Everything being equal, these plants won’t thrive and will shift north,” said Patty Glick, the report’s author and the federation’s senior global warming specialist.

The report paints the same dim future for state flowers in 18 states, including the magnolia in Mississippi, sagebrush in Nevada and black-eyed Susan in Maryland. Global warming threatens state trees in 17 states, according to the report.

While conditions could change, the projected temperature increase also could wipe out cool-weather grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, and many fescues that cover lawns in the region, Glick and others say.

Some experts think global warming will cause temperatures in Kansas to rise an average of 5 to 12 degrees in the next several decades.

The projection that the sunflower could fade from Kansas’ landscape surprised some experts and scientists.

“This is a plant that has survived for eons,” said horticulturist Dennis Patton at the Johnson County Kansas State University Research and Extension office. “It is hard to believe in this short period of time that the plant would be nonexistent here. Same with the cottonwood.

“I guess what I come back to, it is a good wake-up call.”

John Blair, a Kansas State University professor and research scientist at the Konza Prairie research station, has been conducting experiments for nine years on the effect of altered rain patterns on plants.

Blair said even if total rainfall doesn’t change, computer models show rain will occur less often and will fall in downpours.

Plants with root systems able to reach water deeper in the earth have a better chance of survival, he said. That means many perennials with their more developed root systems have a better chance than annuals such as the sunflower.

What would the absence of the sunflower mean for Kansas, which has Mount Sunflower and hundreds of businesses, clubs and associations with sunflower in their titles?

“Maybe in 100 years the Texas bluebonnet will be the Kansas state flower,” Patton said.


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