Conservation interns Elise Huculiak and Caleb Gaeke reflect on life cycles in the Little Campbell Watershed.

For most Lower Mainlanders, this year’s lingering winter has been a reason to grieve, but for the A Rocha conservation team at Brooksdale Environmental Centre it allows us to catch sight of the first signs of spring.

We began surveying plant phenology in 2014 and 2015 with the intent of contributing our observations to PlantWatch, a citizen science program designed to enable Canadians to get involved in recording plant life cycle events (budding, leafing out, flowering, etc.) for selected plant species. Plant phenology is the study of the timing of these life cycle events.

Until very recently, humans have relied on phenological indicators to know when plants are ready for harvest, when animals will be migrating, and when it’s time to move to another location. Many traditional First Nations cultures independently came to the belief that the singing of the Swainson’s thrush caused salmonberries to ripen, and the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people of Vancouver Island have traditionally associated the ripening of salmonberries with the return of adult sockeye salmon to fresh water.

People generally don’t still rely on traditional phenology in day to day life, but old proverbs like “april showers bring may flowers” and “in like a lamb, out like a lion” are still common knowledge. Our ancestral reliance on phenological knowledge has also formed persisting cultural ceremonies and symbols; the blooming of plants and the colors of springtime are universally associated with rejuvenation and reawakening, and the overabundance of food at harvest time is the reason behind many traditional feasts and celebrations.

The timing of the life cycles of plants on our planet are changing; increases in global temperatures and rainfall levels caused by human activity has led to plants beginning their spring season earlier and fall season later. Native plants often have important synchrony with insects, animals and the environment; plants rely on the wind, rain, insects, and animals for pollination, seed dispersal, and food. An asynchronous shift in the life cycles of plants, animals, and insects impacts all three. Studying plant phenology is a key to practicing ecological wisdom in the future.

As conservation interns we have the privilege of doing weekly surveys of ten plant species (salmonberry, red elderberry, and Indian plum to name a few) in our patch of forest and along the Little Campbell River here at Brooksdale. It is gratifying to know that the data we collect regarding the life cycle stage of these plants will go into a national repository that in time will help scientists understand how plants respond to changing weather patterns and climate. Like many long-term monitoring projects that A Rocha Canada is a part of, it takes many years before we are able to draw significant conclusions about the trends that we are seeing today.