IT is normally time to look out the defroster and the snow shovel.

But this year's warmer winter has seen mild temperatures as the mercury reaches almost 20ÚC higher in parts of Scotland than in the south of England, leaving the nation's wildlife entirely confused.

Gardens across Scotland have reported flowering plants and bulbs emerging after the weather flipped from storm-force gales to balmy temperatures in less than a week.

At the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh the fragrance of flowers has been in the air, even although the storm damage from last week's gales is still evident.

David Knott, curator of the Living Collection at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, said: "The perfume, the cinnamon honey fragrance from the viburnum and its small white flowers is incredible. You really get it in the gardens. It is beautiful and the iris is in flower as well.

"Is it the impact of climate change, global warming? Who knows? But just a week ago we had storm-force winds.

"The plants do become confused. The winter flowering plant species can flower sporadically over the winter months because our Scottish winters tend to be stop start. But just now they are flowering better than we have seen for a while.

"But we should be cautious. If we get a frost in a few days, they will go back. They might flower again, but not so well."

The Met Office said ­temperatures in Scotland had been warmer at night than in daylight hours. The average maximum temperature for December is usually 5.5ÚC but overnight on Tuesday it reached as high as 16.2ÚC in Achnagart, while it was -3.1ÚC in West Sussex.

The Met Office said this was related to warm air from the Atlantic blowing in from the west and south-west and wrapping itself round parts of Scotland before the rest of the Britain.

A spokeswoman said: "On ­Tuesday night into Wednesday morning we had the rather odd situation where some of the furthest reaches of Scotland were warmer during the night than day, and warmer than the south of England.

"It was almost like a flip. It reached 16.2ÚC at Achnagart [in Glenshiel on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh], 15.2ÚC at Kinlochewe in Ross-shire, 14.6ÚC at Altnaharra in Sutherland and 14.3ÚC at Kinloss in Moray."

She said these were warmer temperatures than during the day because of where the wind was coming from that night. "On the same night it was -3.1ÚC at Shoreham Airport in West Sussex and Perhsore in Worcestershire, and -2ÚC in Kew Gardens in London," she added.

She said the mild weather looked like continuing although it would not be quite so warm.

Mr Knott said other botanic gardens such as Ben More in Argyll, Dawyck in the Borders and Logan in south-west Scotland, where there also had been storm damage, were reporting flowering plants.

Meanwhile, Dr Deborah Long, programme manager for the charity Plantlife Scotland, said: "The bulbs that we would expect to see coming up in January are already beginning to show. As soon as the temperature drops they will stop growing. We don't expect them to come to any harm. They've just started a bit earlier than usual."

She said the trees, too, had kept their leaves longer this year. "But again, as soon as winter relay kicks in, they will start to look more like the winter skeleton trees we expect to see at this time of year," she added.