Last Saturday, we celebrated Valentine’s Day, a time of year that marks plants and flowers beginning to grow. It has been celebrated as the day when the first work in the vineyards and in the fields commences. Love is in the air, and so are the birds and the bees. In our local watersheds, the sun has been shining, and the world outside is awakening in the form of birdsong, bright orange faces of California poppies peeking out of the ground, and yellow-faced bumblebees buzzing around in search of pollen.
As a native to the rainy Pacific Northwest, I do not take sunny days for granted. Like a sun-seeking plant, I find myself drawn to the sunshine, as if I too need to photosynthesize to create energy. Although I feel grateful for the sunshine and the beauty that surrounds me, seeing the date on the calendar brings concern. While the calendar on my wall says that it is wintertime, the budding leaves outside of my window suggest that it is spring.
One of the many effects of climate change is the shift in seasonal events and cycles, causing plants and animals to try to adapt. Scientists call this study of seasons and cycles phenology. Recording the dates for events that are associated with certain seasons, such as flowers blooming or birds nesting, is one of the ways that people can contribute to citizen science and the greater body of knowledge surrounding phenology.
Recently, I observed an example of this change in phenology while tending to some plants at The Watershed Project’s own native plant nursery. Near the entrance of the shade house, there are two pink-flowering currant plants. One bush is blooming, showing off several pale vibrant, pink petals shooting out like fireworks from the refreshingly green buds. Seeing this flowering Ribes sanguineum immediately brings me back to my former home in the North Cascades Mountains. After a long and dark winter, I remember rejoicing at the sight of these magnificently bright flowers. Seeing these pink petals in the coniferous forest meant spring was on its way – the Rufous Hummingbird would soon hover over these flowers and the landscape around me would soon explode in colors, warmth, and new life.
Back in the shade house, there is a second pink-flowering currant just three feet away from the blooming beauty, but this one indicates it is, after all, still winter. The plant is hibernating, no new buds or flowers to be seen, the way the plant should look in the middle of February. Even here in the East Bay, where we experience a Mediterranean climate, this flower usually flowers in the early spring.
Seeing these two plants of the same species side by side reminded me of these shifts in phenology occurring around the globe. The diminished snowpack in the Sierras, lack of rainfall, and constant sunshine makes it difficult for plants and animals to follow their normal cycles.
While I personally enjoy all of this love in my watershed, we live in a world where species will have to adapt or become extinct due to the rapidly changing effects on ecosystems caused by climate change, and more reason to continue this work that we do to protect our watershed.