Status of Spring

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Spring has arrived weeks early. How early? Find out through Phenology. Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year—such as flowering, arrival of insects and migration of birds—especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate. Phenology is nature’s calendar. When the forsythia is in bloom we know, it is time to prune the roses. When we see, the red buds appear on the maples in the woods, the Japanese quince blooms pretty pink and then first wildflowers appear we know spring has sprung. Just as when trees change color or lose their leaves we get the sweaters out to be ready for fall.

Phenology is a key component of life on earth. Many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed nestlings. In turn, insects show up in coordination with the leafing out of their host plants. For those of us with allergies, our symptoms start when particular flowers bloom and the pollen production pops. Farmers and gardeners need to know when to plant to avoid frosts, and we need to know the schedule of plant and insect development to decide when to apply fertilizers and pest control. Many interactions in nature depend on timing. In fact, phenology affects nearly all aspects of the environment, including the profusion, dispersal, and diversity of organisms, ecosystem connections, food webs, and water, nitrogen and carbon cycles around the world.

Changes in phenological events like flowering, insect reproduction, and bird migrations are very sensitive to biological responses to long term weather changes. Not all species and regions are changing at the same rate, leading to mismatches. How plants and animals respond to climate can help us predict whether their populations will grow or shrink – making phenology a “leading indicator” of regional and global weather change impacts.

Our connection to the land reflects our connection to Phenology. Nature’s calendar plays an important role in our culture. Festivals around the world celebrate annual phenological events from daffodils to dogwoods, azaleas to apples.

We all can get involved. With a little bit of botanical know-how any person with a penchant for plants can participate in phenological monitoring in all the places where we live, work and play. The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the US. For those interested in more detail about how the annual start of spring shifts in different places.  Take a look at https://data.globalchange.gov/report/indicator-start-of-spring.

To understand more about the details of phenology take a look at http://plantingtheseed.colostate.edu/WebContent/WS/plantingtheseed/links/Phenology_Handbook_2nd_ed_Abridged.pdf.

If you would like to receive email updates about upcoming gardening and agricultural programs and events at NCCE – Lee County Center, please contact us at 919-775-5624 or email minda_daughtry@ncsu.edu to be added to our Lee Home Hort list.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

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Photo of Minda DaughtryMinda DaughtryExtension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (919) 775-5624 minda_daughtry@ncsu.eduLee County, North Carolina
Posted on Feb 15, 2017
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