Phenology – Friday’s Word of the Day Haibun


Happy Friday. Today’s dictionary.com Word is Phenology. According to dictionary.com, “Phenology entered English in the 1880s as acontracted variant of phenomenology, with restrictionto climatic phenomena.” It is defined as “the science dealing with the influence of climate onthe recurrence of such annual phenomena of animaland plant life as budding and bird migrations.”

After a further bit of research I learned that the study of phenology goes back thousands of years and is in fact one of the oldest sciences dealing with the natural world. According to the website, Windows to the Universe, “The Chinese are credited with the first written phenological records dating back to around 974 B.C. For the past 1200 years, observations of the timing of peak cherry blossoms in Japan have been recorded.”

I also learned that there are a number of proverbs and sayings that refer to phenology. Here are a few that I found:

“If oak’s before ash, you’re in for a splash. If ash before oak, you’re in for a soak”.

And another version along this line…

“If the oak is out before the ash, ‘Twill be a summer of wet and splash; If the ash is out before the oak,’Twill be a summer of fire and smoke.”

“In like a lion, out like a lamb”

“Christmas in clover, Easter in snow”…

“Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men.”

Windows to the Universe explains: “Phenological observations have been used for centuries to maximize crop production, prepare for seasonal allergies, and anticipate optimal wildflower viewing conditions. Today, this well established science is used to track the effect of global warming and climate change on organisms and to make predictions about the future health of the environment.”

Did you know that scientists have tracked and discovered that the beginning of spring starts a week earlier in Europe in recent years? I didn’t. It’s called “season creep” and it is the sort of things that Phonologists study. 

Phenology is obviously an important science…for those of us who believe in science. 😉 Some cool new scientific terms I learned in my research include “green up” and “brown down”, having to do with infrared wavelengths from the sun. Can you guess which phenophase is being described by those words? Tick tock tick… Spring and Fall of course. Clever! Tracking green ups helps to identify species of plants that contribute most to the “infrared reflectance values”; a process is called “ground-truthing”. Another cool term!

There is so much more to learn about phenology. Do rev your google engines and learn more if you are a nature lover…or just curious. Or peruse an Old Farmer’s Almanac for that matter. I, on the other hand have a Haiku to write! Have a great weekend!

What force spurs seasons
to greening flush and browning?
Phenologists know!

~kat


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