Monday, May 16, 2016

#phenology -- coming to terms with terms

When I was in school, I'd occasionally overhear a teacher or parent refer to a student as a "late bloomer." Of course, none of my friends were in that category. We used to think it was just a polite way of saying someone was "dumb." Also, of course, we were wrong about that and a long list of other things. Remember the old saying about people and glass houses and stone-throwing? Learning more about phenology and looking at the dates on some of my photos of plants in bloom on our property, I think I now actually understand what may have been meant by "late bloomer," but there seems to be lots of room for interpretation.

Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens)
Photo by J. Harrington

According to the Minnesota Wildflowers web site, hoary puccoon bloom season is May - August. Would that mean a hoary puccoon "late bloomer" doesn't bloom until September, or would the season simply be divided in half, and those plants which bloom before Independence Day are early and those after the fireworks are late? A quick glance at the phenology glossary doesn't offer any help. The National Environmental Education Foundation web site offers some helpful hints, but no listing of definitions.

Every since I've become at least somewhat sensitive to the concept that one of the hardest things to remember is what it was like before I "knew" something, I suppose all our phenologists have similar problems. When they (we?) start talking about peak blooming dates and topics of a similar ilk, however, it would reduce confusion and help those of us who tend toward cynicism to lower our levels of skepticism if we had a better understanding of common terms or a note that there is not consensus on a standard. Maybe we could track dates by hardiness zone or something like that.

Night Blooming Jasmine

And in the hour when blooms unfurl

thoughts of my loved ones come to me.

           The moths of evening whirl

           around the snowball tree.

Nothing now shouts or sings;

one house only whispers, then hushes.

           Nestlings sleep beneath wings,

           like eyes beneath their lashes.

From open calyces there flows

a ripe strawberry scent, in waves.

           A lamp in the house glows.

           Grasses are born on graves.

A late bee sighs, back from its tours

and no cell vacant any more.

           The hen and her cheeping stars

           cross their threshing floor.

All through the night the flowers flare,

scent flowing and catching the wind.

           The lamp now climbs the stair,

           shines from above, is dimmed...

It’s dawn: the petals, slightly worn,

close up again—each bud to brood,

           in its soft, secret urn,

           on some yet-nameless good.

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