Monarch Watch Blog

Milkweed and Nectar Plant Phenology Project – Part 3

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008 at 4:47 pm by Jim
Filed under Phenology | 6 Comments »

The University of Kansas issued the following press release last week, calling for fellow Kansans to get involved in our recently announced phenology program.

You don’t have to live in Kansas to participate – we would like to encourage anyone and everyone in the U.S. to join in! This is a great project for classrooms, nature centers, families, and those interested in making additional uses of their Monarch Waystation habitats.

Kansans asked to track climate change in their own backyards

Monarch Watch, a citizen science outreach program at the University of Kansas, invites school children, gardeners and interested citizens to observe and record the growth of 16 common and easily identified plants through the growing season in Kansas.

“With all the talk about climate change, one might suppose that such changes would affect the growth of plants and the first appearances of some birds and mammals,” said Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch. “In fact, scientists are just beginning to record seasonal changes in plant and animal life in a systematic manner.”

The study of the seasonal “firsts” such as first robins, first shoots or first flowers is known as phenology. Monarch Watch is collaborating with a nationwide effort headed by the National Phenology Network to record the phenology, or “firsts,” for plants that are important to the success of monarch butterfly populations.

Input from the public will help scientists to distinguish changes that are due to unusual weather patterns from those attributable to long-term climatic changes.

To participate, visit the Monarch Watch blog (“Milkweed and Nectar Plant Phenology Project“) describing “firsts” that require observation.

Next, record the date of the observed “firsts,” such as first flower, in a notebook and submit the data at the National Phenology Network Web site.

“There are only a few scientists and they can’t be everywhere to record the many ‘firsts’ each year,” said Taylor. “That’s why we need citizens to help. We need observers everywhere.”

Monarch Watch is particularly interested in plants such as milkweeds that are hosts for monarch larvae and nectar plants that are visited by adult butterflies to fuel reproduction or migration.

“Studies of the year-to-year differences in the first appearances of these plants will help us understand the yearly differences in the size of the monarch population,” said Taylor.

Other groups are tracking plants important to honey bees.

Earlier plant growth and flowering due to climate change are of increasing interest to scientists. In 2007, March in Kansas was warmer than in any year since 1910 — with the result that in some areas garden plants, crops and native plants were as much as 12 days ahead of normal by April 2. Then came the “big freeze” of April 4-10, with as much as 60 hours of freezing temperatures.

“It was simply too warm too soon,” Taylor said. “The result was devastating for crops and for all plant life in eastern Kansas as well as the wildlife that was dependent on the pollen, nectar, foliage or fruits, nuts and berries that would have been produced.”

This year is cooler than normal — but how much are plants delayed?

“If we can get lots of people to record their observations, we can make sense of these year-to-year changes,” Taylor said. “Participation in this study is quite easy.”

  1. 6 Responses to “Milkweed and Nectar Plant Phenology Project – Part 3”

  2. By Alonso Abugattas on Apr 25, 2008

    A very interesting concept. A note should be made though when making these observations. The origini of the plant material should be taken into account as well. Plants that originally were part of the southern portion of populations (southern plants that are moved further north through planting) are likely to bloom earlier because that’s how they eveolved. If plants have been been planted from southern populations, note should be taken of this so as to not skew results. Since most nurseries are from the south due to the long growing season, many of these are moved north when they are sold and so are not really adapted to those growing conditions. they are likely to sometimes bloom earlier than catual wild populations.

  3. By Alonso Abugattas on Apr 25, 2008

    One other improtant point to be aware of is where the majority of information will be collected. They will be from yards, gardens, and near buildings or around towns. These are natural heat islands and so will naturally have higher temperatures associated with them. These higher temperaures will encourage earlier blooming than even the local parks or actual wild areas. This should be taken into account when figuring out what this data means.
    Alonso Abugattas
    Washington Butterfly Club Member and professional naturalist

  4. By Mitchell Dormont on May 4, 2008

    I’m in Monmouth county, N.J., and in regard to the spring of 2007, there were Amer. Woodcocks calling from a small tree farm up the road from my house in early April, until we experienced a sudden freeze lasting 2 days, as I recall. They must have perished, and none are there again this year.

  5. By Mitchell Dormont on May 4, 2008

    Phenologically speaking, if that’s a word, the first bud on my Columbine opened on May 2nd, 2008.

  6. By Mitchell Dormont on May 29, 2008

    Here are spring firsts as noted at my house, in Monmouth County, N.J.:
    April 22nd- Violets blooming;
    27th- Bleeding Heart blooming;
    May 2nd- Columbine, first bud opens;
    22nd- Peonies start to open;
    24th- Wild Irises blooming;
    26th- First Peony fully open;
    26th- Small Salvia starts to bloom;
    29th- First apparent “Summer Snow” of Cottonwood seed fluffs, if I’m reading the fluffs correctly…and a full month earlier than usual, if, again, I’m correct.

  7. By J. Imhoff on Jul 31, 2008

    I am curious how the Monarch Host/Nectar Plant Phenology project is coming along for the 2008 season?

    Please, will you post a link to the site where observers can load their observations and data on their butterfly garden plant growth and bloom sequences? And where they can review others’ observations?

    I know a number of other butterfly gardeners who would like to participate in the study or who are curious about this summers’ phenology vis a vis the seemingly reduced monarch population for 2008. Thanks.

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