March 3, 2013

Maine Gardener: Seasons greeted with study of species

By Tom Atwell

Nature has an order. Winter is followed by spring, when the lilacs bloom and the robins return north to nest. The study of that order is “phenology.”


9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay Harbor

March 19 at Maine Audubon Society's Gilsland Farm, Falmouth

March 21 at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center, Belfast

June 14 at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay

PARTICIPANTS ARE ASKED to register in advance for the volunteer sessions by calling 832-0343.


Red maple
(acer rubrum)

Sugar maple
(acer saccharum)

Common dandelion
(Taraxacum officinale)

Common lilac
(Syringa vulgaris)


Wild strawberry
(Fragaria virginiana)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Monarch butterfly
(Danaus plexippus)

American robin
(Turdus migratorius)

Common loon
(Gavia immer)

(Archolochjus colubris)

(Ascophyllum nodosum)

Beach rose
(Rosa rugosa)

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Sea Grant are running a program, Signs of the Seasons, under which volunteers will monitor 13 different plant and animal species – keeping track of when leaves or flowers first appear, leaves change color, birds nest, and other natural phenomena.

A training session for volunteers will be 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Other training sessions will be held later this month in Falmouth and Belfast, and another one will be in June at the botanical gardens.

The program has a number of goals, said Esperanza Stanicoff, an educator with the University of Maine Extension based in Waldoboro, who is coordinating the program with Beth Bisson of the Maine Sea Grant team.

One of our major goals is to assist people with climate literacy so people understand how plants and animals are affected by changes in climate,” Stanicoff said.

She said information about changes in climate can affect when farmers plant their crops and might explain why the lobster population is moving north.

The climate is changing, and there are a lot of different things that show it. The United States Department of Agriculture changed its plant hardiness zones last year, showing that weather is warmer.

But the climate is not changing at the same rate everywhere.

“The records show that Maine has the fifth most warming of any state over the past 100 years,” Stanicoff said.

Gardeners will be ideal volunteers for this kind of program, Stanicoff said, and a number of Master Gardeners have already volunteered to take part. Gardeners keep close track of when the plants they care about start producing.

Signs of the Seasons program began last year and is active in all 16 Maine counties, but the sponsors want to get more volunteers this year.

We are excited to have Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens involved, because volunteers can get involved in making observations in the gardens or in their own backyards,” Stanicoff said.

People do not have to keep track of all 13 species on the list to be part of the program.
One of the plants in the program is the common lilac, Syringa vulgaris.

I have kept track of the lilac bloom since 1994, when our daughter got married and wanted lilacs from our garden to decorate the church.

Her wedding date was May 21, and we worried until just days before the wedding that the lilacs would not come into bloom in time.

Since then, the lilacs have been in bloom at least a week before May 21, and last year – one of the earliest on record – they were in bloom very early in May.

And I am not the only one who has noticed the earlier bloom for lilacs.

The Boston Lilac Festival has been a huge event over the years,” Stanicoff said, “and they have had to adjust the date because the blossoms have gone by. They had to move it by 11 days.”

The same thing has happened in Maine with Maine Maple Sunday, because in recent years the sap has stopped running by the time of the traditional date, the last Sunday in March.

And while the sugar maple is one of the plants that volunteers observe, the sap run is not one of the items they observe.

(Continued on page 2)

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