In the past week or so, I’ve noticed that a few ornamental cherry trees in the Washington DC area have been coaxed into blooming by the relatively mild winter and the recent spate of 50+ degree days. Even by Washington standards, it’s early for cherries, so naturally I’m wondering how much of this early bloom to attribute to global climate change. The National Park Service, whose duties include predicting the onset and peak of cherry blossom bloomage, says that the blooming period for the famous stand of trees lining the Tidal Basin and the National Mall will be between 27 Mar and 3 Apr. And for the recent past, that’s when one can reliably count on the trees being in bloom.
Then today (via BoingBoing) I came across Project BudBurst. Project BudBurst aims to harness the collective horticultural observations of amateurs to document year-to-year changes in plant blooming times to begin to understand the dimensions of plant phenology and the effects of climate change. From the Project BudBurst site:
Last year’s inaugural event drew thousands of people of all ages taking careful observations of the phenological events such as the first bud burst, first leafing, first flower, and seed or fruit dispersal of a diversity of tree and flower species, including weeds and ornamentals. The citizen science observations and records were entered into the BudBurst data base. As a result of the pilot field campaign, useful data was collected in a consistent way across the country so that scientists can use it to learn about the responses of individual plant species to climatic variation locally, regionally, and nationally, and to detect longer-term impacts of climate change by comparing with historical data.
If your ears/eyes perked when you read ‘citizen science’ then you get a gold star for recognizing the value of using collaborative web apps to collect data that ordinarily would be cost prohibitive to collect. Like Open Street Map, (and with sufficient quality control) this could, over time emerge into a significant time series data set. And, by incorporating location, it has the potential to reveal spatio-temporal patterns that otherwise would be very expensive to document. The web page doesn’t list anything about the genesis of this clever idea, but there are 10 managing partners (listed here) and the project is sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the National Science Foundation, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and ESRI.
The site offers some plant sheets to help you get started. They’re grouped in to native trees, native shrubs, ornamental/weed, and calibration species. Alas, the familiar cherry tree that lines the Washington Tidal Basin, prunus serrulata, is not listed among the ornamentals.
Link to the Official National Cherry Blossom Page here
Link to Project Budburst here