Are Seasonal Timings of Life Cycles in Plants Changing?

By Joe Murgo

Published 03/14 2014 10:14AM

Updated 03/14 2014 10:21AM

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service is phenology? According to the USA National Phenology Network (USA NPN), it is the seasonal timing of life cycle events in plants and animals such as flowering, hibernation and migration. Changes in our climate can impact the timing of these seasonal events. Here are a few examples from the northeastern United States:


Back in 1852-1858, author Henry David Thoreau observed flowering in Concord, Massachusetts. During that time, mean spring temperatures in the region were around 42˚ Fahrenheit (5.5˚ Celcius) with a mean flowering date of May 15 for 32 native species of spring flowering plants. Data from the same site in 2004-2012 show that mean spring temperatures have risen to around 47.8˚ Fahrenheit (8.8˚ Celcius). The mean flowering date for the same native species is now May 4 – that’s 11 days earlier than in Thoreau’s time! Another example of earlier flowering takes place in Washington, DC, where the famous cherry trees are blooming seven days earlier than they did in the 1970s.


Animals are changing their patterns, too. In the Northeast, frogs have been heard “singing” 10 to 13 days earlier in springtime than they did in the early 20th Century. Native bees have been making an appearance 10 days earlier, on average, than they did 130 years ago. Compared to the early 1900s, some short-distance migratory birds are arriving 12 days earlier in the spring.


Are you noticing animals coming out of hibernation earlier, birds migrating earlier or plants blossoming sooner than expected? Take a photo and upload your observations to the Eyes on Central PA Mission on Project Noah. Your photo may be featured on this page or in Chief Meteorologist Joe Murgo’s next on-air broadcast!

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