Monday, April 19, 2010

Is spring advancing in Chicago?

Spring has fully arrived in the Chicago region. With the last 2 days in the mid-80s, it almost felt like summer, but we’re cooling off to more spring-like temperatures this weekend. We had our first 80 degree day on April 1 and that unseasonably early warmth popped open a lot of flowers. Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) opened its first flowers that day, the same date as a year ago. Forsythia has proven to be one of the biggest “advancers,” a species that is blooming earlier in the year. In just the three years of records from Project BudBurst, we’ve seen significantly earlier blooming of Forsythia in the Chicago area.

This year I was able to compare Project BudBurst data collected in the Chicago region to some historical observations by the preeminent Chicago botanists Floyd Swink and Gerry Wilhelm published in their Plants of the Chicago Region (1994). Swink and Wilhelm made phenology observations from the mid 1950s to the early 1990s for their book. There were 15 species that had both Project BudBurst observations and historical data. Seven of those species had a first flower earlier in one or more of the last 3 years than even seen by Swink and Wilhelm. These species included Forsythia which advanced the most (from April 25, the earliest historical observation, to April 1, the earliest Project BudBurst observation), Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) advanced from May 14 to May 3, Dogtooth violet (Erythronium americanum) advanced from April 6 to April 1, Red Maple (Acer rubrum) advanced from March 20 to March 6, Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) advanced from May 1 to April 26, Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) advanced from May 9 to April 20, and Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) advanced from May 3 to April 16. This year, we can document an even earlier lilac bloom. I saw the first flower open just two days ago (April 14) at Chicago Botanic Garden.

Many thanks to all of you who are watching plants and submitting your observations! Getting out to a natural area and admiring the spring wildflowers is a wonderful way to celebrate Earth Day (April 22). I hope you have a chance to do so, and let us know what you see!

Kay Havens

Friday, April 2, 2010

Project Budburst and planning a native garden

At this moment I am stuck in yet another snowstorm in the Rockies. In this case it is Glenwood Springs, Colorado. They say here the season depends on the day. Just a few days ago it was 82 degrees. So the local radio station is saying we are back to winter here for the next several days. Anyway at times like this it is nice to think about spring blooms and ways to enjoy the coming season. On our Facebook site lots of folks have been sharing observations on how spring is coming to various places across the country. Red maples are blooming in Chicago and across much of the Midwest and East, mayapples are starting, California has been in full spring flower display for more than a month, and the coastal Pacific Northwest is in spectacular color right now, including not only red maples but a wide variety of bulbs, ornamental shrubs and trees. I will provide a full update in another week or so. Here in western Montana the latest colorful spring arrival is yellow bells, Fritillaria pudica (see photos), biscuit root (Lomatium coos), the first of the wild parsleys that grow in grasslands around here (and an important source of food for native tribes - the roots can be used as a source of starch - hence the common name). They even bloom in the snow!

Today I would like to share a great blog on native plant gardening (and spring phenology information too) that I thought would be of interest to many of you. It reminds me of a great way to help with Project Budburst, and to combine an interest in nature and gardening with learning how weather and climate can influence the unfolding of spring in your area.

The concept is simple. A phenology garden. Why not plant some of these plants that you enjoy or like to observe in a semi-natural garden in your yard? Then it will be easy to make very accurate observations on when the first flowers and leaves come out. You can even go one more step and put out a temperature sensor and then you can really learn a lot about how weather and climate influences spring phenology in your area. Here is an example from Missoula, Montana, where David Schmetterling provides lots of great ideas on how to design and establish a native plant garden in your yard and share observations on spring phenology of these plants even including all the birds that first arrive to this great habitat. Kay Havens, The Chicago Botanical Gardens and their collaborators also have in the works a number of projects to encourage people to establish phenology gardens so that gardeners can help Project Budburst.

Top 10 most wanted species observations in America! and other updates to our website

Several important new additions to our website. See resource page for educators, and our information on the "top 10" species we would like to get more observations of this season. The more places we can get observations on these species the more scientists can do with this data. Check to see if any of these plants occur in your area. Also we now have added more habitat information for when you register a new site for making budburst observations. This will make our data even more useful for scientists. We would also like this habitat information for your already registered sites. Update old site descriptions by emailing this information to:

NPN Launches Bird Phenology Program

Also, for those of you that like to keep track of when birds come to your back yard or to places you make your phenology observations, or go for a walk The National Phenology Network (NPN) has just announced a new program to make it easy to submit your observations on birds. Bird watchers have documented many changes in spring arrival dates of migratory species, similar to what we have been observing for plants. Having observations of birds and plants from the same places adds much scientific value to these observations.

Paul Alaback

Watching spring in a native garden

Replacing a lawn with a native garden

Report Observations for Project Budburst

Budburst Facebook Page