For the past 36 years, I have kept records of weather and the progress of the seasons in Yellow Springs Ohio, a small town just south of the 40th Parallel in the Ohio Valley. Whenever I travel in the United States or even to Italy, where my youngest daughter lives, I add notes about what is happening in the places I visit or pass through.
The daybook has been an anchor in my personal life, becoming a kind of autobiography of my awareness of the natural world around me. And since there are few resources for comparative phenology in print or on the web, I feel that my daily notes might be of use to those interested in following common events in the Ohio Valley seasons, and in contrasting those things with what is happening in their own neighborhoods.
The 142nd Day of the Year
The flowering of wild grapes seems to me always a time of demarcation – on the one side, the halcyon days and nights of migrant and courting birds with their wealth of song, the choirs of the frogs, the stimulating aromas and odors of the opening earth – and on the other side, the months of humidity, mosquitoes, deer flies, and gnats, making the marshes less pleasant for walking.
August Derleth, Countryman’s Journal, May 21
Day’s Length: 14 hours 35 minutes
Average High/Low: 74/53
Average Temperature: 63
Record High: 92 – 1902
Record Low: 32 – 1883
The likelihood of precipitation rises sharply to over 50 percent, but temperatures are typically warm: 80s on 40 percent of the days, 35 percent in the 70s, a fourth of the days in the 60s. The sun shows through the clouds three days out of four.
The Weather in the Week Ahead
The final week of May is typically a wet one, with completely overcast conditions more common than during any other time of the month. On the 25th, 26th and 27th rain falls almost half the time, and the 29th is one of the rainiest days in the whole year. Average temperature distribution for this time of the month is as follows: five percent chance for highs in the 90s, thirty percent for 80s, thirty percent for 70s, twenty-five percent for 60s, and ten percent for 50s. The brightest days of the week are usually the 27th and 30th.
The last week of late spring (the last week of May at average elevations along the 40th Parallel) offers the best of Honeysuckle Blooming Season and Sweet William Season. It’s Multiflora Rose Blooming Season, Siberian Iris Blooming Season, Privet Blooming Season, Yellow Poplar Blooming Season and Spiderwort Season. In the woods, Gold-Collared Blackfly Season and Green Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle Season have started. Along bikepaths and old railroad right-of-ways, it is Blackberry Blooming Season and Black Raspberry Blooming Season. In the garden, Leafhopper Season and Scorpion Fly Season open. Grasshopper Season and Northern Spring Field Cricket Season bring the fields alive. Butterfly seasons include White-Spotted Skipper Season and Red Admiral Season. It’s Fledgling Robin Season in the yard, Young Groundhog Season in the fresh grass along the highways.
1982: First Siberian iris opens. Wild parsnips bloom.
1983: Wisteria full bloom. First red clover seen. Catalpas and osage starting to leaf along King Street. Poppies full bloom, lily-of-the-valley late full.
1987: Siberian iris have all come in at once. Snowball viburnum gone, locust flowers disappearing, Osage flowers at their peak.
1988: Middle summer’s wild lettuce, wingstem, and wood nettle are as tall as my hip, grasses past my waist, sweet Cicely gone to seed, phlox worn. Mosquitoes pesky. First damselfly. White-spotted skipper. Ragwort with fluffy white seed heads. First wild rose open.
1991: First sweet William opens in the yard.
1992: At home, the peonies all opened at once this morning, iris near full bloom. Into South Glen, gold-collared blackflies are out. The last of the garlic mustard is blooming. Full late phlox, late star of Bethlehem. Rockets continue near perfection, wood nettle past knee high. White violets blooming. Late and tall catchweed, lanky and falling, tinted with yellow. Chickweed tangled and old, henbit bright blue and gangly, honeysuckle still full, damselflies and daddy longlegs common. A few late sweet Cicely. Seed pods on the wild geraniums, angelica six feet and headed, locust still blooming, parsnips, blackberry flowering. Lots of white clover, some very late winter cress. Continuous songs of cardinals, robins, warblers, finches. Red-winged blackbirds whistle. Wild cherry full, rich, heavy fragrance, wingstem up to the bottom of my pocket. The canopy is complete but still not mature; there are shadows, patches of paler green all along the tree line. Some Canadian thistles budding. Spitbugs on the goldenrod, yarrow heading. A blackbird female hovers above me as I walk; I’m near her nest. First brilliant green tiger beetle of the year seen. Dogbane up to my thighs. Sweet clover budding. In the deeper woods, full bloom of the blackberries. Wild strawberries climb, bright yellow though the blue ivy and the dying catchweed. Sycamore leaves still just half size. Queen Ann’s lace and teasel mostly small, basal leaves only, wild lettuce still basal plus a foot or so. One high ragwort, the last, and the last spring beauty. Blue-eyed grass found. Clustered snakeroot with golden pollen, fields of rockets and corn salad, hundreds of yards ahead and back as far as I can see, giant tall buttercups, full meadow parsnips. Three carp, one white sucker, one bluegill caught in the weed bed at Far Hole, constant bites for an hour and a half. Coming home at five o’clock, I heard the first cricket of the year.
1993: Iris at their best now. Violets noticed gone – I always miss the end of their season, they are so strong for such a long time. Flicker call heard this afternoon for the first time in weeks.
1994: First clematis opens along the west wall, first poppy in the south garden. Lupines and iris full bloom, last of the bleeding hearts. At South Glen, owl heard in the late afternoon calling, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?”
1996: The locusts and wild cherries are in full bloom all over the county. The first mock orange unraveled today. The first iris bloomed last night. The daisies are coming in early full now, and the rockets are at their best. Garlic mustard late but strong. Violet hyacinths in the south garden hold, columbines hold. Honeysuckles still full, bleeding hearts almost gone. The cressleaf groundsel is in full bloom scattered throughout the pastures from Fairborn into Wilberforce, maybe three feet high.
1998: End rhododendrons. Most mock orange fall. Peonies decline, many Siberian iris.
2000: To Caesar Creek with John: One catfish in two days, ten bluegills yesterday, but none today. Hundreds of carp mating in the backstreams. Zebra swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, black swallowtail, and a viceroy seen. Rockets and cressleaf groundsel are the flowers in bloom. River willow trees shedding their cotton now, tufts gathering in the sloughs. The yellow-headed warbler just seen once yesterday, not at all today. Geese still loud, but bird activity much less this time than my last time out earlier in May. Canopy of leaves appears complete here. Bullfrog calling.
2001: Cardinal calls in the rain at 5:35 a.m. Doves at 5:50. Blue flag iris gone now. Full bloom of white clover in the fields at Washington Court House. Tulip tree flowering at Antioch, catalpas in Dayton. Privet just barely opening. Red admirals and skippers have been out maybe a week and a half.
2002: Robins still talking back and forth to their young. First nodding thistle opening on the freeway to Dayton.
2003: First dark purple iris blooms in the pond. One water lily bud has appeared. The rhododendrons are declining.
2004: First water lily opened at home today. On Kelleys Island, wild grapes and cottonwoods have budded, willows and honeysuckles are in bloom, mulberries just half size (half Yellow-Springs size). A flower similar to hemlock parsley is in late bloom all along the banks of the lake. Balsam ragwort identified, the dominant plant on the quarry floor. Wild madder is in full bloom, as is herb Robert and a pale violet penstemon.
2005: Many blue flags fully budded. First yellow swallowtail seen in the honeysuckles this morning – the first large butterfly all year. Ranunculus is flowering in the south garden, and the first pale pink peonies.
2006: First pale pink peonies have opened. Bittersweet above the sidewalk at the corner of Limestone and High Streets is blooming, flower hulls falling to the sidewalk. Under the apple tree, the first sage blossoms have appeared. Kousa dogwoods are coming in at the triangle park. Iris, locust, mock orange full bloom everywhere in town. First scorpion fly noticed near the pond.
2007: Moya, our next-door neighbor, reported that the deer that lives in the woods behind our houses gave birth to a fawn about a week to ten days ago. At the park, all the crabapple trees that were so hurt in the April freeze have recovered most of their foliage – but have never flowered. In the back yard, our Osage and locusts are leafing but not complete. Spiderwort now full bloom, purple-stemmed penstemon budding, first candy lily just barely starting to unravel, peak of Dutch iris, reddening of astilbe, budding of purple coneflowers. Mallow dug up and moved yesterday, suffering in the 80-degree heat today.
Notes for the Yellow Springs News on the Possible Effects of Global Warming in Yellow Springs – 2007
Bruce Stutz’s Chasing Spring notes that the growing season in Europe now begins eight days earlier than it did in 1970 and that North American tree swallows lay eggs nine days earlier than they did in 1959. “Worldwide studies of more than 1,500 species,” says Stutz, “show that frogs mate, birds nest, and trees bud on the average more than a week earlier than they did 50 years ago.”
Reports this year from places as diverse as the Shanghai Botanical Gardens and the New York Botanical Gardens emphasize the unusual nature of this past winter-spring season. The first four months of 2007 in Yellow Springs brought extremely early blooming of trees and perennials – as well an unfortunate freeze that produced the only April in recent memory without significant color from redbuds and crabapples.
And that was enough of a surprise to send me to my daybook to look for more evidence that our climate might be in flux. Although my phenological records of the past quarter century in Yellow Springs are not exactly rigorous (I did not record blooming or leafing dates for many species some years), they offer an interesting perspective on blossoming times since the early 1980s.
To test the hypothesis that some flora are flowering earlier than they did 25 years ago, I checked my first blooming dates for common shrubs that grow in my yard, shrubs for which I have the best records: forsythia, redbuds and mock orange.
I recorded the first flowers of forsythia as early as February 25 in 1998 and as late as April 3 in 2001, with March 25 the mean blooming date. Among the earliest years, 3 occurred in this century, 4 in the 1990s and 3 in the 1980s. Among the latest years, 3 occurred in this century, none occurred in the 1990s, and 6 occurred in the 1980s and 1970s. Although an easy progression was not clearly visible, more forsythia have bloomed before March 25 since 1990.
I came up with similar results when I checked my notes on redbud blooms. While earliest flowers occurred as early as March 17 in 1990 and as late as April 21 in 1989, with the mean of April 13, almost all of the earlier flowering occurred after 1990.
Most striking because they displayed the clearest progression were my notes on first blooming dates for mock orange. The earliest day I have recorded for mock orange is May 5 in both 2006 and 2000. The latest date is May 25 in 1984, with the mean being May 15. Ten out of 12 of the earlier dates occurred after 1990. Seven out of 12 of the later dates occurred before 1990.
The results of this unofficial overview? Yellow Springs may be experiencing the same kind of changes already noted in so many other locations. Even though every spring is different, it appears that 1) forsythia is more likely to flower before March 25 than it was in the 1980s), 2) redbuds are more likely to flower before April 13 than they were in the 1980s, and 3) mock orange bushes are more likely to bloom around May 8 instead of around May 18, the expected average date in the middle 1980s.
2008: Yellow roses early to mid bloom at Liz’s yard. The air along Stafford Street is heavy with the scent of locust flowers, the high trees white with blossoms. One cardinal sang outside our window this morning at 3:50. No red-bellied woodpeckers today. The top few inches of three Jerusalem artichokes in the garden had been eaten off overnight by a deer. Violet locust tree in bloom at Stutzman’s nusery. Pond iris budding. On the way to Wilmington and back, great patches of ivory locust blossoms, some entire woodlots in bloom. Pineapple weed (matricaria discoidea) seen at school – years ago I had identified it as chamomile. Jeanie cut back the New England asters today. Blue-flowered bittersweet nightshade seen in bloom along High Street. Four Dutch iris in bloom today in the north garden. Berries fully formed on the hackberry, Osage budded. Robin singsong at dusk.
2009: Kousa dogwood opens as the hawthorn ends. American beech now fully leafed.
2010: Cedar waxwings feeding in the mulberry tree late this morning, robins peeping to their young, toad singing in the pond, red admiral butterfly in the circle garden, sun coming through the clouds, cool northwest wind. Water iris fully budded. A male tiger swallowtail came by. Porch wisteria fading, some yucca six-feet tall. Lamb’s ear full bloom, many crab apples full size.
2011: Italy: Ninebark flowering in the hills around Spoleto. Pink spirea in bloom at the apartment.
2013: First scorpion fly seen in the garden, first buds noticed on the stella d’oro lilies, fleabane noticed full.
2015: The Japanese wisteria at the porch has three flower clusters; the trellis wisteria is putting all its energy into leaves and tendrils. Strawberries are still in bloom, only a few with berries, all green. A male Baltimore oriole appeared in the north honeysuckle hedge this afternoon, the second one this year. And a pair of orioles reported along the road to Fairborn.
2016: First bee fly noticed. First golden bi-wing skipper.
2017: Don’s dark-leafed ninebark remains in full bloom. Corry Street lined with fallen petals from the Kentucky coffee trees. Pie cherries on the Stafford Street tree are ripening, a few ready for pie. Pink spirea early bloom on Dayton Street. Jill’s poppies are gone, but Peggy’s are still all open. The very first mulberries are turning along the west border of the property. In the dooryard garden, the first astilbe has come into bloom. Cottonwood cotton wisps floating down near Jill’s house.