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Project BudBurst

Drift of Crocuses

The crocuses have bloomed here in Westford, one of first four flowers of my spring garden, the others being Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops), Iris reticulata (dwarf Iris) and Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite). But the crocuses are the most noticeable, since I have naturalized them in small drifts over the lawn.

For a few years I’ve been keeping a garden journal and have recorded the dates of first bloom for various flowers. So I see that for the snowdrops, the first bloom was March 14th this year, March 26th in 2008 and March 24th in 2007. Is this global warming? From just three observations, there is no way of telling.

But what if we had thousands of people record such information all over the country and pool their observations? Then we might be able to observe some interesting patterns. That is the idea of Project BudBurst, a distributed public field study run by a group of researches from UCAR, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the College of Forestry and Conservation of University of Montana. You sign up for a free account, state your location (US only, sorry) and pick from a list of local plant species that you can observe.

The emphasis is on widespread, native species, so the exotic bulbs I have in my garden won’t be of use. But I can report observations on things like dandelions or white pines. Depending on the type of plant, you report the date it reaches each of various “phenophases” such as first flower, fully flowering, pollen release, first ripe fruit, etc. Different types of plants will have different phenophases. Volunteers enter their observations which are then plotted, along with all the other data on Google Maps.

Aside from climate change research, I wonder if this might also be useful for predicting the onset of spring allergies?

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