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Blooming Early: Observing Nature's Changing Timetable

As we enter June, an unusual phenomenon has captured the attention of nature enthusiasts and botanists alike: plants are blooming earlier than expected, and some are even flowering far out of their typical season. This shift in nature's schedule is not just a localized anomaly but part of a broader trend documented by scientists.


Blooming Early, Flowering Data and Growing Zones

A study conducted by researchers at Cambridge University in February 2022 highlights a significant change in the flowering patterns of plants in the UK. The researchers based their analysis on more than 400,000 observations of 406 plant species from Nature’s Calendar, maintained by the Woodland Trust, a data set that stretches back to 1753. The study found that the first flowering dates of the majority of plants were flowering a month earlier on average post-1986 compared to the period before 1986. This data, spanning over two centuries, underscores a shift in plant behavior, likely influenced by changing climatic conditions. While the data is from the UK, we are seeing similar patterns here in the US as well. We all have witnessed the last two years being the hottest on record globally. Locally, we are seeing similar trends with this year, a warm winter and early spring temperatures in the 80s have led to some unusual circumstances, shifting the growing season by about 20 days.


Last weekend's foraging trip drove this point home. We observed firsthand the early blooms of mid- and late-summer flowers. Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as purple coneflower, and Symphyotrichum drummondii, or Drummond's aster, were already in full bloom. Typically, these plants would not be expected to flower until mid to late summer, yet here they were, displaying their vibrant colors much earlier than usual.



Late in 2023, the USDA revealed an updated plant hardiness or growing zone map, the first revision since 2012. This new zoning map revealed a significant shift in patterns across the United States. Over the past decade, more than 50% of the United States' geographic areas have experienced a change in growing zones, with all these regions becoming warmer. The USDA states that the changes in zones is NOT an indicator of the broader climatic changes but of change on a smaller scale. However, warmer growing zones mean that plants that once thrived only in southern regions can now be grown further north. This also means that some native plants might struggle to adapt to the new conditions, and the changing climate could have broader implications for agriculture, gardening, and natural ecosystems.


USDA Growing Zone 2023 map

Environmental Impact

This early blooming can have a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem. Pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, rely on specific plants for nectar and pollen at certain times of the year. When plants bloom out of sync with their traditional timelines, it can disrupt the food supply for these insects, potentially affecting their life cycles and populations. Similarly, birds that depend on insects for food might find themselves struggling if their insect prey is not available when needed.



Additionally, the early onset of flowering can affect the growth and health of the plants themselves. Blooming too early can expose plants to late frosts or other environmental conditions they are not ideally adapted to handle, which can impact their survival and reproductive success.


White tailed deer in the prairie

 

These early blooms offer a reminder of the delicate balance within our natural world. It's a chance to witness the impacts of our changing world and to reflect on our role in preserving the ecosystems we cherish. Studies like the one from Cambridge provide valuable context, helping us understand the patterns and trends that we witness in our local environments. By sharing these observations and insights, we can contribute to a greater awareness and appreciation of the natural world and the changes it is undergoing. As we navigate these changes, let us do so with a sense of wonder, responsibility, and a commitment to preserving the beauty and balance of the natural world.


If you would like to join us on any of our foraging trips, there are several available this summer and into the fall. Please check out the Events page to explore these local trips and register.


Angelica pupurea in bloom and seeding early
Angelica pupurea in bloom and seeding early

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