Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

The Tulips (and Spring) Are Coming! Climate change awareness at MVFN

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair
April 10, 2006

The Tulips (and Spring) Are Coming! Climate change awareness at MVFN 

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Ask an astronomer when spring arrives and the answer will likely be that it arrives with astronomical precision between March 20th and March 22nd. Ask a field naturalist or gardener and their answer will likely depend upon where they live and the kind of winter it has been. They may rely on observations of local wildflowers or birds when considering whether spring has indeed arrived. For people in urban areas, especially those in Eastern Ontario near Ottawa, the flowering of tulips is one sure sign of spring, and a very welcome one.

In the Mississippi Mills area, for an update on 300 tulips planted last fall, and to hear how spring is progressing in nearby communities, just ask Helen Halpenny of the Almonte Horticultural Society. Halpenny and representatives from other Eastern Ontario horticultural societies including Carleton Place and Perth are participating in the “Albert’s Gardens” tulip study, part of a climate change awareness initiative of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN). The project is named for Albert, one Lanark County gardener who thought plants in his garden were getting earlier (possibly due to climate change) but had no recorded dates to confirm it. The project began last fall with eleven communities planting the same species of tulip (Red Emperor). Approximately 300 bulbs were provided to each community by the National Capital Commission, which has made Ottawa into North America’s tulip capital with events such as the tulip festival. Now this spring the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are tracking the growth of these plants on their web site ‘tulip indicator map’ at www.mvfn.ca. Dates of 20% emergence and 20% bloom are posted for each location and the idea is to compare them with those in the coming years. The map is updated as communities report in.

Albert’s Gardens communities can look to the north and south to see how spring is progressing in other communities and when their own plants might bring a splash of colour. “We try to keep the beds the same says Helen, so that the only major difference between sites is local climate.” Once the bulbs are up the crucial factor determining bloom date is April temperatures. Newly emerged bulb tips in Kingston have been soaking up the sun since March 22nd and all communities have now reported 20% emergence. To date no sites have reported blooms.

“The tulips do double duty” says Michael Macpherson, President of MVFN. “There is the fun side of Albert’s Gardens, documenting the arrival of spring after a long winter. But, there’s also a serious side. The climate is changing in eastern Ontario as it is globally and in the rest of Canada.” April temperatures have been increasing for the last 60 years and experts predict the trend will continue. We could see mean annual temperatures 1.5 C higher than now by 2020, 3.5 C higher by 2050 and 5.0 C higher by 2080. The tulips of Albert’s Gardens are one of the many indicators of local climate change that the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are watching. Bloom dates for local wildflowers will be looked at this spring, and on the August long weekend, lake temperatures will be monitored as MVFN takes part in its Ontario Nature 75th anniversary Open Doors project. “Most people are not really aware that climate is changing in our area and in eastern Ontario”, says Paul Egginton, co-ordinator of the climate change awareness project for MVFN since May 2005. “Nor are they aware that there are already impacts on river flow, ice cover and duration, and on lake temperatures and fish populations amongst others. We need to start considering these changes in our planning processes.”

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are a non-profit group dedicated to promoting the understanding, appreciation, preservation, and conservation of the natural environment, especially in the watershed of the Mississippi River in the Province of Ontario. To learn more about nature and MVFN visit www.mvfn.ca.