Nature’s Notebook

Connecting People with Nature to Benefit Our Changing Planet

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Nature's Notebook Nuggets

This page contains questions submitted by observers that have been researched and answered by the USA-NPN's staff to help observers better understand species and phenophases for Nature's Notebook. You may also download the entire suite of Nature's Notebook Nuggets.

Catch spring in the act!

Resting buds transitioning out of dormancy - which buds are which? What are the cues? When do I start reporting?
The cues for a plant’s transition from dormancy to renewed activity can be subtle, yet can be quite visible if you are watching closely. It may take careful sleuthing—and sometimes previous experience—to detect the early stages. The tightly clasping bud scales of the dormant buds—or tightly packed leaves of naked buds—begin to shift or ever-so-slightly "swell" and may also shift color. These signals suggest that reporting on "Breaking leaf buds" and "Flowers and flower buds" is not long off.
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A year of phenophases for a conifer

Conifers, they may all look alike, but they have interesting differences!
Nature’s Notebook includes conifer species of three types: those having deciduous needles, those with fascicled needles (the pines), and evergreen conifers having single or clustered needles that are not like a pine's needles and are not deciduous. We take a quick look at the phenophases that Nature’s Notebook observes within their annual cycle: the seasonal progression of new needles, male pollen cones, and female seed cones.
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Are two plants better than one?

Why do we ask you to observe multiple individual plants in Nature’s Notebook?
For your Nature’s Notebook plant observations, we ask you to observe two to three individuals of each plant species at each of your sites, if you have them available. Observing more than one individual plant allows you to capture the individual variation in phenological events that can be caused by many factors including genetics and microclimate. It will produce a more accurate picture of the timing of phenophases for a species at your site.
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Help! The phenophases are coming too fast! Part 2: Flowers and fruits

There is a lot going on with my plant. How do I make sense of it all?
A plant, even a small one, can have lots of activity occurring during the growing season. This visual complexity can make it difficult to understand when a phenophase has begun or ended. When observing for Nature’s Notebook, look only at the plant parts in the phenophase definition, and evaluate those individuals separately over the entire plant. With focus on the defintion, it should be easier to determine whether any phenophase question deserves a "Yes" or a "No" response.
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Help! The phenophases are coming too fast! Part 1: Leaves

There is a lot going on with my plant. How do I make sense of it all?
A plant, even a small one, can have lots of activity occurring during the growing season. This visual complexity can make it difficult to understand when a phenophase has begun or ended. When observing for Nature’s Notebook, look only at the plant parts in the phenophase definition, and evaluate those individuals separately over the entire plant. With focus on the defintion, it should be easier to determine whether any phenophase question deserves a "Yes" or a "No" response.
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Fresh new greens!

For Nature’s Notebook’s herbaceous species, what are the cues an observer would watch for to catch and record "Initial growth"?
Across the country, newly germinating sprouts are emerging from the soil, fresh leafy sprouts are emerging out of snow patches, and new green growth is initiating on previously dormant and resting plants. It’s time to record observations for "Initial growth"!
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Dashing through the snow to make your Nature's Notebook observations

What should I record in winter?
In northern states, most plants will not need weekly observations in the middle of winter. However, if your species retains ripe fruit in the winter, you should still report on fruiting phenophases. In southern states, many species may have active flower buds or open flowers that will require normal weekly observations. Get familiar with the seasonal progression of phenophases for your species to predict what’s coming! 
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Looking closely at the blush of color as leaves start to turn

When does a leaf count as colored, and how do I estimate the percentage?
When it comes to reporting on colored leaves, any amount of color (regardless of the reason) means a 'yes'. If reporting on intensity, consider the percent of color in the canopy respective to the canopy at 100% potential fullness—and it might take a year to know what this looks like for your plant. 
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Flowers have closed up...Next up, the fruit!

How can I tell if, and when, fruit starts to develop on my plant?
Watching your plant for the first signs of developing fruit can be tricky.  An observer need only report "yes" for the "Fruits" phenophase when they are sure a fruit is developing.  Each species' fruit phenophase definitions will define some detailed clues to watch for.
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The challenge of teeny tiny flowers

When are they “open” and how do I count them?
Teeny, tiny flowers are often described as inconspicuous flowers, and they can be hard to see and interpret. In some plant species having tiny flowers, they are clustered into a group called an inflorescence.  A closer look at these teeny flowers will reveal that they have a similar floral structure as any bigger, showier flower. Knowing whether these flowers are "open" becomes easier after you get to know and understand the structure of the flowers for your plant species.  And when it comes to counting them, pay attention to the special instructions in the Nature’s Notebook phenophase definition—it will tell you whether to count the flowers individually or in groups, and how to estimate the percent of flowers that are open.
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