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Coming soon to a website near you – a new project to record the phenology of milkweeds and nectar plants used by monarchs. Phenology is the term given to the study of the seasonal progression of natural events involving plants and animals. In this case, we are interested in recording a series of “firsts” (first emergence of shoots, first flower bud, etc.). This study is needed to monitor the effects of proximate seasonal conditions and long-term effects of climate change on the plants on which monarchs depend.
These kinds of data are also needed to help us sort out the impacts of human-induced (anthropogenic) changes in the environment and those due to weather and climate. In short, we need to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the changing availability of the host and nectar plant resources utilized by monarchs. We will monitor 6 species of milkweeds and 10 nectar plants. Our goal is to create maps with isoclines that show the progressive greening up of the resources used by monarchs. For this to be a successful project, one in which we can make comparisons of one year with another, we will need hundreds of you to contribute your “firsts” from all over the country. We hope you will participate. If you have a Monarch Waystation, this project is another good way to put it to use for monarchs.
This project is a collaborative effort and we anticipate that it will be fully online in mid March or perhaps a bit later. Just before the website becomes fully operational, we will outline the program in greater detail and will provide additional justification and instructions for this program. The growing season for milkweeds and nectar plants is about to start in the south and it may have already started in some areas. If you are in the south, please start keeping a record of dates now, as the data can be submitted later.
Additional announcements about this program will be posted in the coming weeks.
We will monitor the following growth (or phenophases) for milkweeds:
- Date of first emergence from soil – the first shoots to break soil
- Date of first flower bud (no matter how small)
- Date of first open flower or floret on a flower head
- Date of last flower on a flower head
- Date of first seed pod (marked by elongation of the ovary at the base of a flower)
- Date of first open seedpod
For the nectar plants we will only record the dates of first flowering.
The milkweed and nectar plant species have been selected on the basis of their broad distributions, their use as season markers (e.g., American plum) and their importance to monarchs. The links for each species will lead you to distribution maps, species accounts and images of the plants and the flowers.
We will monitor spring, summer and fall nectar plants.
We hope you will participate in the phenology program outlined above. Observing plant growth and recording the data is quite easy – simply follow these steps:
1. Review the list of plants along with their pictures and distributions to determine which species occur in your area.
2. Create a journal (on paper and/or on your computer) listing the species you are most likely to observe.
3. Record the “firsts” for each species; e.g., first shoots, first flowers, first seed-pods, as appropriate, in your journal.
4. After you have accumulated a number of observations, visit the United States of America National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) website and record the data for each species. The USA-NPN website will have a separate section for the Monarch Watch plants by the 15th of May.
5. Be sure to make a note of the data that has been entered so as to avoid entering the same data at a later date.
This is a great project for classrooms, nature centers, families, and those interested in making additional uses of their Monarch Waystation habitats.