Phenology, the Urban Forest, & Nature’s Notebook

by Theresa Crimmins, USA National Phenology Network; theresa@usanpn.org; @TheresaCrimmins and Dudley Hartel, Urban Forestry South, USDA Forest Service; dhartel@fs.fed.us; @treeobs

Urban foresters and urban forestry advocates are well suited for tracking recurring seasonal events such as leafing, flowering, and fruiting. The study of these phenomena is known as phenology. Adding this activity to your weekly routine has a lot to offer; this simple measurement can help you or your urban forester choose the best time to perform management activities, serve as an early warning indicator of trouble brewing among your trees, offer education and engagement opportunities, and support research. And, it’s fun!

Phenology observer Brian F. Powell
Phenology tracking can be done by urban foresters, tree lovers, and urban forest advocates. Photo by Brian F. Powell

Schedule management activities. Tracking phenological events such as leaf-out and leaf drop can be very informative for planning. For example, knowing when leaves are falling from different dominant tree species can help public works crews schedule street sweeping operations for maximum efficiency. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota are using residents’ observations of when different tree species are dropping their leaves to schedule street sweeping activities. Such well-timed removal keeps leaves out of storm drains, which improves water quality in city lakes and impoundments.

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