Our Beautiful Planet: Spring in the southern hemisphere
A season of beginnings, renewal and growth: Spring has sprung in the southern hemisphere, bringing a fresh start after the winter months.
This vibrant red bloom, native to South Africa and Zimbabwe, is known as a pincushion flower for its distinctive spiky shape. These plants blossom in the spring months, their bright colors attracting a wealth of birds and insects which feast on their nectar. Pincushion flowers are not self-pollinating and rely on small beetles and birds for pollination. They’re a common sight in South Africa during spring - just one of nature’s seasonal jewels.
After a long winter, many yearn for the onset of Spring, but it’s not always clear when the season will set in. One clear marker is the Spring equinox - in the southern hemisphere, it took place on September 22 this year, the same day autumn began in the northern hemisphere.
An equinox happens twice a year when the Sun crosses the celestial equator – that’s the imaginary circle around the earth directly above the Earth’s equator. The word comes from the latin ‘equi’ meaning equal and ‘nox’ - night. On an equinox, day and night are nearly exactly the same length - 12 hours - all around the world.
The earth’s axis is always tilted at an angle, but the equinox is the moment in the Earth’s orbit that it is tilted neither towards or away from the sun. After that moment, the hemisphere where spring begins will be tilted towards the sun, receiving its warmth most directly, while the other hemisphere will start tilting away from the sun as autumn begins.
Spring has symbolic connotations of fresh starts in cultures all around the world. In the southern hemisphere, it can mean an explosion of color, like in this picture of glossy orange daisies growing in the Namaqaland region of South Africa, famous for its vibrant spring blooms. The spectacular wild flowers mark the arrival of spring, drawing tourists to the arid region.
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Bursts of color
The days grow shorter, leaves change from green to vibrant yellows and reds, and temperatures drop - it's autumn again. From north to south, fall is a good time to visit Germany for traditional festivals and foods, hip events and even roosting wild birds.
Take to the skies
Autumn is a great time to fly kites. The German word for kite is "Drachen," which also means dragon. China is believed to be the country of origin of the kite, originally made of bamboo and silk. Here, kites dance in the wind along the Rhine River in Cologne.
Festival of Lights
Enchanting, surprising, creative - Light artists from all over the world illuminate Berlin's major attractions, like the above Brandenburg Gate, for 10 days in October. 2017 marks the illumination festival's 13th anniversary.
For two days in October, adults and wide-eyed children line up at the new Haribo factory gates in Grafschaft south of Bonn, dragging heavy sacks or pulling carts full of chestnuts and acorns. The candymaker exchanges the nuts for gummy bears - 10 kilograms of chestnuts earmarked for deer parks are good for a kilo bag of sweets. The tradition goes back to 1936.
Time for a break
Every winter, 20,000 to 30,000 wild Arctic geese hibernate in the Bislicher Island wildlife sanctuary near Xanten, a town on the Rhine River. By October, most of the birds will have arrived at western Europe's largest resting place for wild geese. By the end of February, the flocks will have vanished - until next year.
Grape harvest time
It's wine festival and wine harvest time in German vineyards. The grape harvest for early wines has already begun. Ice wine grapes are picked in winter: they must be frozen, and need temperatures of at least -7 degrees Celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sylt, Germany's northernmost island, is a worthwhile destination even in fall, when a strong surf pounds windswept beaches. People out for a walk can expect to brave the elements but can enjoy some solitude, and perhaps an empty traditional wicker beach chair or two.
Munich's annual Oktoberfest isn't the only event of its kind in Germany, but it's arguably the most well-known, with millions of visitors from around the world. Millions of beer in hefty 1-liter mugs are consumed - and every year, the lost property office reports boxes filled with lost smart phones, keys, wallets and pairs of glasses.
The city of Ludwigsburg hosts a monumental pumpkin exhibition with spectacular works of art made of hundreds of thousands of pumpkins. 500 varieties of this tasty fall vegetable from all over the world are on display.
Season of change
"The time of year when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang," as William Shakespeare aptly described the months prior to winter in his Sonnet 73.
A Weckmann or Stutenkerl is a man-shaped pastry of sweet yeast dough that is especially popular for St. Martin's Day on November 11. You know it's fall when the dough-boys suddenly appear in every bakery in town. A traditional Weckmann is shaped by hand, has raisins for eyes and buttons - and a clay pipe coveted by children.