Tag: Project BudBurst

Watch a tree to advance climate change research

You can help advance climate change research … simply watch a tree, or plant, and record its changes. Scientists investigating phenology – the study of seasonal biological events – can use your observations to help determine how the growing cycles of specific plants or all flora have changed over time.

early-spring-beech-wClimate change is a hot topic. You’ve likely read or heard about climate change research: Spring Coming Earlier, Study Says, a January 2009 report for National Geographic; a January 2013 report that native plants in the eastern U.S. have responded to climate warming by flowering as much as a month earlier than recorded by American naturalist Henry David Thoreau; or the two March 2014 reports, The End of Spring in a Warming World in TIME and the isciencetimes report, Fall Foliage Delayed: Studies Link Late Autumn and Early Spring to Climate Change.

Much of the research on flora changes depends on observations from those of us in the field, so to speak.

If you live in one of the New England states – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont – you can join the New England Leaf Out Project by agreeing to watch and report leaf out dates of a tree growing in your yard or nearby. The website provides a list of trees to observe. You can watch one or a few. Connecticut and other southern New England residents should start checking in mid-April and every few days after until leaf out occurs. New Englanders in more northern regions should begin observing a bit later.

Those living outside of New England can join a seasonal  Project Budburst campaign. Commit just 15 minutes of time to make a single observation and report, or more time to make regular observations and reports on leaf out, flowering, fruiting, and and leaf drop dates of common trees, shrubs, wildflowers, herbs, and grasses growing nearby.

Both programs provide instructions and identification materials to make observations easy.

beech-leaves-against-winter-sky-wI’ve participated in Project Budburst observations in previous years. This year I’ve chosen to watch one of the American beech trees growing nearby and share my observation with the New England Leaf Out Project. Beech trees often hold their leaves through winter until new leaves of spring begin to emerge, shoving old leaves out of their way.

My observation, joined with hundreds of others across New England, may just shed a bit more light on how climate change hits home.

If watching trees or plants don’t interest you, there’s many other citizen scientist programs through National Geographic, Cornell University, or The National Audubon Society.

Which have you participated in?

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Watching and Recording Plant Phases

Spring is springing early in Connecticut and I have more than anecdotal observations to prove it. I have multiple years of plant phase data recorded by me and other citizen scientists on the Project Budburst website. Project Budburst is a very cool project that asks plant watchers across the US to record first leaf, first flower, first ripe fruit, end of season leaf color changes, and other plant phenophases. Trained scientists then use these observations in their research.

The thought that I, a simple gardener, could help advance science enticed me to become a Project Budburst observer during late spring of 2009 when I recorded first flower of Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The following spring I began my observations early and was able to record first leaf and first flower of common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and  first flower of Spiderwort (Trandescantia ohiensis).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Now I can go back to these records to compare first leaf dates for my easiest to observe shrub, common lilac. This is what it looked like March 22, 2012, its first leaf phase.

This same lilac shrub did not reach first leaf until March 29 in 2010 – nine days later than this year. Last spring, 2011, it reached first leaf the first week of April, about two weeks later than this year.

All Project Budburst observations from 2007 through 2010 are currently available to anyone. Data from 2011 should be available on the site soon.

Getting started as an observer takes a few minutes but the steps are easy. A cool side benefit is you’ll learn the latitude and longitude of your property.

You can choose to make single observations or regular observations. Hint: the regular observation choice minimizes the need to input longitude, latitude, town and other site information repeatedly.

You can download field journals for each of the plants you choose to observe. These journals are available by plant type – wildflowers and herbs, grasses, and different trees and shrubs – and by state. Even if you don’t become an observer , these field journals provide useful photos and information about specific plants, trees and shrubs.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Project Budburst is a fun project to do with kids – getting them outside and increasing their knowledge of the natural world that surrounds them. You don’t have to live in rural areas to participate, all are welcome. When my granddaughter is old enough I hope to enlist her in BudBurst Buddies so we can plant-watch together along with the website buddies Lily and Sage. We’ll start with the flower that intrigues all young kids … the dandelion.

I’m not as good at journal-keeping as other gardeners with excel spreadsheets or written records of the growth-bloom-dormancy cycles of their plants. My records are not quite as organized. My records are in the photos I’ve taken, quick notes I’ve jotted, or blog posts I’ve published, but retrieving my data takes time. The plant phases I’ve documented through Project Budburst are easy to retrieve for my own comparisons. Knowing my observations also become part of science is a great side benefit.

There are citizen scientist programs in many areas of science – wildlife, health, space, insects, geology, weather – as listed in this 2011 article in Scientific American. You can also read about citizen scientist programs in this post at Native Plant & Wildlife Gardens.

Make a difference. Become a citizen scientist in at least one of these venues.

Garden thoughtfully,


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Joene Hendry