Lilacs and Phenology

Lilac from KU's campus 4-14-11

50 years  ago when I was a kid every May basket had a sprig or two of lilac.  You can almost smell the lilac in this photo.  This photo was taken today.  The lilacs have been blooming on campus all this week.  There will not be many if any left blooming on May 1st.  Lilacs are remarkably consistent in their response to climatic changes and thus can serve as a biological indicator of changing climate.  Phenology is the study of seasonal changes of natural events such as pollen shedding, flowering times, chorus frog breeding and so on.  It is a long term venture–perfectly suited for amateurs and biology classrooms.  With today’s technology tools collaboration with researchers and other interested parties is more accessible than ever.  This kind of collaboration is  great way to add authentic science experiences to your classroom.  Consider participating in the National Phenology Network.  Check out the cloned plant project at USANPN by planting various plants around your school grounds and monitoring developments throughout the year.  You can even order the plants from these folks.  The plants will serve dual purpose—beautifying the school grounds and providing fodder for student research.  Oh, and they smell good.

To learn more about the study of phenology and how your students can explore this area of science check out the Phenology Handbook available online.



2 thoughts on “Lilacs and Phenology”

  1. The following information was taken from the KONZA ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAM website. See the links in the reading below to access plant and animal appearances throughout the past several years.


    Phenology is the study of relationships between climate and biological phenomena as seen through observations of first biological events, such as the first day a flower blooms in the spring. Periodic biological phenomena have been recorded and studied for centuries. More recently biologists and climatologists are interested in such observations because they may show long-term trends in climate change. For example, if the climate is warming, certain plants may bloom earlier each year or some animals may migrate north sooner than in previous years and stay longer before returning to wintering grounds.

    Observations taken each year at the same place over a long period of time are valuable for showing trends. The Konza Environmental Education Program (KEEP) began recording phenological events at Konza Prairie several years ago, and those observations are posted on the KEEP website. “What’s Blooming?” ( lists the procession of native plant species in bloom, and “Who’s Here?” ( lists the first sightings of the most common birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects that migrate, hibernate or otherwise appear on the landscape after an absence.

    A phenology database is available for each of the animal groups and also for plants that are commonly found in the three prairie types of Kansas, tall, mixed and short. These lists are not exhaustive but represent those plants and animals easily observed or abundant in all three prairie types.

    Students across Kansas can participate in the study of phenology through periodic observation of familiar species if your teacher is signed up for the program. Observations can be made in the schoolyard, your backyard, a local park, your prairie site, or anywhere you take note of what you see in your community. Students can also take a more in-depth look at the species year round.

    Teachers: If you would like to participate, for more information call 785/587-0381 or e-mail konzaed at ksu dot edu.

  2. I have already heard cricket frogs calling this year which also seems to be a shift from a more usual later behavioral appearance.

    Being quite a ubiquitous species it would make a great species to monitor the phenology of.

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