Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring in Chicago and DC

It’s almost spring in Chicago and we are ready for it after our long winter! We’ve had the very earliest harbingers of spring blooming here for a couple of weeks: snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and witch hazel (Hammamelis vernalis). Despite some continuing snow flurries, forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) opened its first flowers on March 27 at the Chicago Botanic Garden, a few days earlier than last year. I was convinced that our spring was later than normal, but the forsythia told me otherwise. Maybe winter felt longer than usual this year because of all the snow we’ve endured!

I’ve been traveling a lot recently, including a trip to Washington DC the week of March 14. I was hoping for an early spring there and a chance to see the most famous of phenological events, the cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis) in bloom. Alas, I just missed it…the first flowers were just starting to open as I headed to the airport to leave on March 18. The trees are blooming a bit earlier than normal this year, according to the National Park Service who keeps detailed phenological records. The average peak bloom date since the early 1900s is April 4 and this year’s peak is expected between March 29 and April 1. However, we can break down the nearly 100 years of observations on bloom time and see a pattern begin to emerge: from 1921-1969 the average peak was April 5, from 1970-1999 it was April 3, and since the turn of the century it has been March 31. In Japan, records about cherry blossom festivals date back to the 9th century and cherries are currently blooming earlier in recent years than any time in the previous 1200 years. The earlier onset of cherry blossoms are one of the many ways plants are responding to a warming world.

Thanks to all of you who are watching plants and submitting your observations! We appreciate your efforts!

Kay Havens

(Editor's note: Kay Havens is on travel and asked me to submit this for her.)

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