Yesterday E and I spent the better part of the day biking and hiking. On the trails we were hardly alone on a St. Patrick’s Day that felt more like a Memorial Day.  Every brief exchange we had with others included some exclamation about the oddly warm weather.  I have been working outdoors for most of my life, and I’m ashamed to admit that all of these little meterological extremities kind of blur together. I’m not nearly the weather-bug you’d think that I should be. 

Weather in the Midwest is never the same, and we all have our stories about warm-ish winters and frost-tinged summers. This past week has been lovely and very warm.  It was about a week ago when we had our last sub-freezing evening in a season when we usually get sleet storms. That said, I still wasn’t certain we were in uncharted waters until we saw the Bloodroot flowers over the weekend.

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate. The gardener in me takes note of when things bloom as they might relate to the appearance of other organsims. This can come in handy in matters of pest control and it’s another way of saying everything has it’s season.  

Here in the Chicago region botanists track the blooming period of flowering plants. And this is why yesterday’s Bloodroot caught my eye. Yes, it’s a spring wildflower, but I’m not accustomed to seeing it in mid-March.  This sent my scurrying to my old copy of Plants of the Chicago Region – aka The Bible – where they list the blooming range for this plant as March 28 to May 11. Yikes! The ones pictured below may have even been up a day or two before the 17th.

So, what does this all mean when frogs are croaking, mosquitos are buzzing and Bloodroots are blooming on St. Patrick’s Day?  If we were in Memphis, I’d say par for the course. I don’t have an answer other than we should sit up and take notice as we seem to be living in interesting times.    

Join the discussion on social media!

Dave Coulter

I have been a horticulturist for thirty years working in the Chicago area and beyond. I have lived in Oak Park for over thirteen years. My writing has recently appeared in the journal Ecological Restoration...

4 replies on “Walking in Circles – These Days of Odd Phenology”