Compleat Naturalist: Think Green!

By Laura & Hal Mahan

April is greenup time in the mountains around Asheville. Greenup, green-up, green up! However you write it, it is a wonderful time of year.

When I thought of the idea of writing about spring greenup, I started obsessing about the word itself. To a naturalist, greenup refers to the biological process of the launch of spring growing season and all that goes with it. Trees and shrubs leaf out. Birds nest and lay eggs. Insects emerge from overwintering. It is fascinating that one word, green, can be a noun, a verb and an adjective. The adjective green is from the Old English grene, of the color of living plants. Greened or greening is a verb, the act or process of becoming green. And then there is the noun green referring to the grassy place in the village, the Village Green.

A wonderful aspect of appreciating nature is that you can immerse yourself in poetry and aesthetics as well as looking at it with a scientific perspective. The study of the timing of natural phenomena is called phenology. Perhaps you yourself have kept records of the date at which you see your first hummingbird in the spring, or when a favorite garden flower blooms each year. It is quite interesting to keep a journal and look back over your entries from past years.

The USA National Phenology Network (USANPN) is an organization that was established in 2007 to collect, store and share phenology data and information. You can even participate in a program called Nature’s Notebook, where citizen scientists and students collect and submit their own local observations. Find out more at usanpn.org.

Some of the data that USANPN collects is for its First Leaf Index and First Bloom Index. Interestingly, two specific non-native plants are monitored for these phenology studies. Observers record first leaves and first blooms on Chinese lilac and honeysuckle plants. Then researchers can predict the timing of greenup and the blooming of native trees and shrubs, and also learn whether these events are trending earlier or later each year due to climate change. You may have noticed that WLOS, our local ABC affiliate, includes a map during the weather segment showing regional leaf-out this spring, indicating where leaves are ahead or behind average.

Another interesting science project has an Asheville connection. ForWarn is a satellite-based monitoring tool that provides images of forests in the lower 48 states every eight days. These images help recognize and track changes in vegetation health as described by greenness. UNC-Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling & Analysis Center was involved in its development.

Whether you see greenup as a poet or as a scientist, enjoy! It is a wonderful time of year!

Laura and Hal Mahan are owners of The Compleat Naturalist, located at 2 Brook Street in the Historic Biltmore Village. To learn more, visit CompleatNaturalist.com or call 828.274.5430.

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