What is phenology? Phenology is the study of seasonal or periodic biological events such as plant leaf-out and flowering, insect emergence, and animal migration. Put simply, phenology is the science of the seasons. In order to assess the effects of climate change on California’s extraordinary biodiversity and natural resources, the California Phenology Project was established in 2010 as a 3 year pilot project. The pilot project is focusing on 7 parks, including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Corny Foster, a garden volunteer, also volunteers with stewardship of Crissy Field, an area just east of the Golden Gate Bridge. A few plants in her area are being monitored as part of the California Phenology Project, and so she thought ‘why aren’t we doing this on Alcatraz’? Alcatraz has 2 of the 5 native plants that are being monitored in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – California poppy, Eschscholzia californica and coyote bush, Baccharis pilularis. Project wide, over 60 plant species are being monitored. The species were selected based on their ability to address key scientific questions and to inform natural resource management, as well as their ability to engage the public (charisma and easy identification are important!).
Our plants are being monitored for breaking leaf buds, young leaves, flowers, open flowers, pollen release, fruits, ripe fruit and recent fruit drop. Our phenology trail takes about 30 minutes to complete and we are hoping to build a volunteer group to do the twice weekly monitoring. Eventually, we hope to invite school groups out to observe the plants and to build on their school lessons, and to show them that looking closely at plants is FUN!
The island’s environment provides a unique opportunity to study the plants. We will be able to compare our flowering times with plants on the mainland and find out just how much being surrounded by water affects our plants. Plus, Alcatraz does not have any gophers, so our California poppies are never tampered with. The selected plants to be monitored on Alcatraz do not receive irrigation.
Simple to observe and record, phenology offers a way for “citizen scientists” to
learn about the rhythms and natural processes of their local environment while observing directly the important links between the living world and the climate system. If you would like to volunteer to monitor our plants, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.