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.