Calling All Amateur Scientists: Project Budburst Wants You

Q: And what exactly is “Project Budburst”
A: National Phenology Network Field Campaign for Citizen Scientists.

Q: Er…
A: Project Budburst engages the public in making careful observations of the phenophases of trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses.

Q: And phenophases are what, exactly?
A: Phenophases are the life events of a plant: first leafing, unfolding of the leaves, first flowering, first fruiting. You know, the highlights in the life of a young, nubile forb.

Q: And why would we be doing this?
A: It’s the climate, stupid.

Q: Uh…?
A: Right. Apparently everything is moving up due to global warming. That is to say everything is happening sooner and sooner each year, hormonally-speaking. Seeds are germinating sooner, buds are bursting sooner, flowers are getting pollinated sooner, etc. The Project Budburst folks need people like you and me to document all the precociousness.

Back when I was in college, my school discouraged anybody from going into biology because there were never, ever going to be any jobs in that field. They told all of us Jane Goodall wannabes to study chemistry instead. I did and that’s why I’m a writer today. I wanted to be Jane Goodall, they wanted me to be Rosalind Franklin. Losing proposition, that, as we all know. The point is, about the same time my school was discouraging its students from studying field biology, other schools all across the country were doing the same thing. Nobody wanted a bunch of loser grads that couldn’t get jobs so they pushed anybody with a love of anything that might lead down a fulfilling but not overly alumni-fund endowable career path into a more lucrative curriculum. Therefore there are no biologists in the country anymore.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. I’m sure there are some, but not enough. So you and I get to play scientist now. It’s fun for the whole family. Good and good for you. Here’s how to do it:

Pick your plant, watch its phenophases, document them, report your results. That’s it in a nutshell. Naturally you’ll want a little more guidance than that, so you’ll head over to the Project Budburst website to sign on.

Don’t know your wild plants? No worry, they have ID guides. Besides with such easy species as Eastern White Pine, Tulip tree, Southern Magnolia, and forsythia on the list of observables, I’m sure you’ll do fine. They also have grasses and wildflowers if you’re into the more dramatic members of the plant kingdom. Something for everyone.

If you are like the former me, touched by the when-I-grow-up-I-wanna-be-Jane-Goodall syndrome, this just might be the way to satisfy your Stalking the Wild Asparagus jones.

Go forth and endow the world with your wonderful scientistness.

Sue Lange
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at Book View Cafe

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Calling All Amateur Scientists: Project Budburst Wants You — 3 Comments

  1. This is way cool. I gave up on biology because I — like James Thurber — couldn’t ever see anything in the damn microscope. Nice to think I could still do something biological.

    And ever since I moved back to Austin, I have become obsessed with climate differences — not only the difference between Austin and Washington, DC (which is profound), but also the difference between the Austin I remember and the Austin of now. I swear there never used to be so many cacti in this town, and I swear Austin used to have winter and that February was always nasty.

    I haven’t seen any winter yet — winter being defined as weather that requires at least a hat and gloves and a zipped up coat. And February is the glorious beginning of spring.

    Anyway, I’m heading over to sign up.

  2. That’s great, Nancy. If you think of it, report back on what plant you’re going to watch. Texas is known for it’s wildflowers. I imagine you’ll have a great time watching this.

  3. I’m going to concentrate on live oaks and cedars, since they grow right outside my apartment, making observation easy. I’m pretty sure our local cedars are the Eastern red cedar — I’m double checking, but the one pictured is from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is just a few miles from my house.

    I’ve always loved live oaks, but my interest in cedar is more practical: I’m highly allergic to cedar pollen (as are about half the people in Austin). Know your enemy, as they say.