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).
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.