Spring is Arriving Nearly a Month Early

Record-setting warm temperatures are causing plants to bloom earlier than ever.

The marsh marigold, appearing at a brook near you, soon! (Photo via Flickr/wackybadger)

Dear children and elementary school science teachers: Your rhyme is dead. In Massachusetts, April showers no longer bring May flowers.

new study conducted by researchers at Harvard, Boston University, and the University of Wisconsin found that flowers at Walden Pond set a record in 2012 for the earliest spring flowering time in 161 years. By looking at Henry David Thoreau’s flowering records—which date back to 1852—the researchers learned that winter has become substantially shorter. Thoreau saw native plants like the wild columbine, marsh marigold, and pink lady slipper flower on May 15th; in 2010 and 2012, they flowered on April 25th and 24th.

The cause: Climate change. As the scientists write in their abstract: “Flowering times are well-documented indicators of the ecological effects of climate change and are linked to numerous ecosystem processes and trophic interactions.”

Most New Englanders, of course, aren’t going to complain about shorter winters, especially given the fact that we’re supposed to get snow tonight. Interestingly enough, some botanists are actually pleasantly surprised by the data. As Smithsonian Magazine writes, it appears that at least some plants are flexible enough to handle shorter winters. But even that comes with a big caveat:

“…scientists suspect that there is some flowering threshold the plants cannot pass. If winters get so short that these flowering plants have no time at all to go dormant, it would conceivably alter their annual growth cycle to an extent that threatens their survival—or allows plants from warmer areas to move in and outcompete the natives.”

The flowering times of plants might seem pretty inconsequential—and actually, even delightful!—but it’s a good lead indicator of the acceleration of climate change. Just how good of an indicator? That April showers rhyme dates back to a book of husbandry poems by Thomas Tusser:

“Sweete April showers,
Doo spring Maie flowers.”

It was published in 1557.


(h/t to Universal Hub)