Wanted: Garden Observers!

Editor’s Note: This information first came to my attention when I read Bart Ziegler’s October 4, 2013 column in The Wall Street Journal titled “‘Crowdsourcing’ Comes to the Garden.” Ziegler is a news editor and gardening columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

“The leaves fell early this year.” Or, “Spring arrived late this year.” Sound familiar? This information—and a lot more on the nation’s flora and fauna—is of interest to scientists. Scientists alone can’t collect enough data so they are asking citizen gardeners for help.

You can contribute to their data collection efforts by joining Nature’s Notebook and becoming an official garden observer. Nature’s Notebook gathers information on plant and animal phenology. (Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year—such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds—especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.)

A free smartphone app is available to help you conveniently gather information then it sends the information to the USA National Phenology Network. Or, you can gather information the more traditional way using data sheets, which are made available to you after you register online as an official Garden Observer.

According to Ziegler’s column, “Another way you can help this research network is to grow two specific plants in your yard for observation, one a lilac and the other a dogwood tree. The lilac is called the USA National Phenology Network Lilac. Each is a clone, or genetically identical to each other. That means the plants shouldn’t vary in their response to the seasons, providing a standard basis for observations around the country. The shrub, which produces sweet-smelling purple-red flowers in spring, has been used for research-observation purposes for over 50 year.” The dogwood is a variety called Appalachian Spring. His article provides sources for purchasing the plants.

Will you become an official Garden Observer?