Phenology is Deep Ecology

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in my garden. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Phenology involves tracking data in your nature journal over time. Phenology (fi-now-o-gee) is observing the relationship between climate and the life cycles of plants and animals.

It teaches you how to predict Earthways or nature’s cycles. These events often depend on seasonal changes involving the temperature of air or soil.

What is Phenology?

Here is a quote from a college-level science textbook.

“Phenology which is derived from the GReek word “phaino”, meaning to show or to appear, is the study of periodic biological events in the animal and plant world as is influenced by the environmental, especially temperature changes driven by weather and climate.”

“Sprouting and flowering of plants in the spring, color changes of leaves in the fall, bird migration and nesting, insect hatches, and animal hibernating are all examples of phenological events”.

p.3 “Introduction” in Phenology: An Integrative Environmental Science edited by Mark D. Swartz. Dordrecht: Kluuver Academic Publishers, 2003. Note: the quote is form a precious edition. An revised edition is linked to on This link is an affiliate links. I may earn a commission for Amazon purchases using the links. This does not affect the price you pay.


Large Milkweed Bugs on Milkweed
Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). Photo by Donna L. Long.

Botany observation notes the timing of flower emergence, the sequence of bloom, fruiting, and leaf drop in autumn. Butterfly, bird, and bee activities are also the subjects of observation and study.

Once you understand the basics of collecting phenology data, tracking plant and animal life cycles in your nature journal is easy.

It is these kinds of seasonal observations that filled Henry David Thoreau’s later nature journals. Scientists are using Thoreau’s journals and other similar seasonal knowledge to help predict climate change.


Bee visiting Northern Blazing Star
Bee visiting Northern Blazing Star. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Using the Information

You can also use this phenology information in your own daily life. You can sync your activities with the seasons by…

  • Coordinating when to plant or harvest crops
  • Predicting the emergence or arrival of animals, insects and bird migration
  • Alerting you when insect pests will emerge and when to pick them off food crops
  • Designing orchards and the planting and ripening of fruit crops
  • Designing backyard habitats for food, shelter, and places to raise young

One day I read about how some Plains Indians peoples would plant their crops of corn (maize) and travel many miles away for hunting or other activities. People of the migrating band could tell when their corn was ready to be harvested hundreds of miles away back home. They knew this by what was blooming or what activity was happening where they were.

This goes way past simply identifying and observing to truly knowing and understanding the land that you live in. This is deep traditional environmental knowledge (TEK).

See Collecting Phenology Data

Spring woodland flower at Temple University Ambler
Spring woodland flower at Temple University Ambler

Phenology and Science

Your phenology observations and data can also help scientific study. Some scientific projects have citizen science projects for people to take part in.

There are scientific organizations around the world that track phenological change. The USA National Phenology Network has good information on indicator plants. Nature Watch is a Canadian site that has information on watching frogs, ice, plants, and worms. And the ATTRA Phenology Web Links Page gives basic information on indicator plants, citizen science projects, and other resources.

Nature Journal Phenology will take you that deep level of understanding that best naturalists have.

More on Phenology

Project Budburst – a citizen science project focused on observing the timing of a seasonal phenomenon.


  1. I’m creating a training on Phenology for Philly K-3 teachers to help them lead studies of weather and life cycles. Do you have any more resources to share or brilliant ideas I can use?

    • Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks for reading In Season.

      Sorry, it took some time to get back to you. I was in South Carolina experiencing the Total Eclipse.

      Besides the Phenology is Deep Ecology page, you might want to read Collecting Phenology Data and the Project Budburst website. Have fun.

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