The phrase probably came from the General Prologue found in The Canterbury Tales:
“Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.”
These words – March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers – can be found in The Dictionary of Proverbs by George Latimer Apperson and Martin H. Manser
Another version can be traced to the 1557 collection of writings by Thomas Tusser, A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry. For April, he wrote:
Sweet April showers
Do spring May flowers
Tusser’s rhyme is a short poem, which fits nicely since in 1996 the month of April became National Poetry Month. For ways to celebrate poetry this month, check here.
The writer in me can’t resist sharing the poetic meaning behind “April showers bring May flowers” – even the most unpleasant of things (in this case the heavy rains of April) can bring about very enjoyable things, i.e.an abundance of flowers in May. A lesson in patience that remains valid to this day.
But, do April rains truly bring May Flowers?
Not according to botany and biology research that says, for most species, first flowering is more closely tied to temperature than to rain.
According to Libby Ellwood, “The plants may not be aware of this proverb, but they rarely have to worry about having enough water in the spring to start growing and producing flowers. … But the water itself isn’t dictating flowering times the way that temperature is.”
David W. Inouye, a biology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, studied bloom times in the Rocky Mountains. He concluded the Alpine flower blooming season, which used to run from late May to early September, now lasts from late April to late September because temperatures in the Rockies are becoming warmer. That means a longer wildflower viewing season for mountain hikers.
Perhaps, if climate warming more closely controls flowering, the proverb should be re-written to read “Warm temperatures in March bring April flowers.”
Somehow, that doesn’t have the same ring, does it?