What is Phenology?

spring woodland at Temple University, Ambler
spring woodland at Temple University, Ambler

Phenology involves tracking data in your nature journal over a period of time. Phenology (fi-nol-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 temperature of air or soil.

Botany observation notes the timing of flower emergence, 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 kind of seasonal observations that filled Thoreau’s later nature journals.  Scientists are using Thoreau’s journals and other similar seasonal knowledge to help predict climate change.

You can also use this 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 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).

Your observations and data can also help scientific study. Some scientific projects have citizen science projects components for non-scientists to participate.

There are scientific organizations around the world which 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 to that deep level of understanding that the best naturalists have.


  1. Hi Donna,
    Just discovered your blog. Most interesting. It’s always good to see what other nature-oriented bloggers in other urban areas than one’s own are doing. I also like your book list.

    Adrian (Chicago area)

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