Phenology Trail

AS IF Center has set up a Phenology Trail, so that our researchers, community members, and visitors can help us monitor the timing of events in our forests.

Phenology is the study of seasonal changes — if you study phenology in spring, you might observe buds breaking, birds migrating northward, and insects emerging from pupae; in fall, you might observe seeds or fruit forming, fruit/seed drop, and leaf color change. Phenology used to be considered a quaint activity from a bygone era. However, with climate change, it has become newly relevant to monitor whether, how, and to what extent the timing of our ecosytems is being disrupted.

Our Phenology Trail is set up to monitor 17 tree species and one species of shrub. Next year we will add a few sites where we can reliably predict there will be large patches of certain herbaceous plants like Trout Lily, Mayapple, and Golden Ragwort which bloom in spring, and Goldenrod, Aster, and Wingstem which bloom in late summer/ early fall. Our trail is set up to correspond with some of the tree species on Warren Wilson College’s Phenology Trail, which is also part of a partnership with ETSU and UNC Asheville. AS IF Center/ High Cove is at higher elevation that the other three sites, so we’ll likely see evidence of a later spring and earlier fall. Over the years, we hope that data collected at AS IF Center, combined with data from those nearby phenology monitoring sites, will help illuminate how climate change is affecting the timing of our Southern Appalachian forests.

WWC student Dru Bennett tags a Shagbark Hickory

Thanks to Alisa Hove, plant phenologist and chair of Warren Wilson College Biology Department, for getting us started with our Phenology Trail. We appreciate the work of Alisa’s Plant Physiology class in labeling our first few trees. We are grateful to WWC student Dru Bennett who came out several days to label the majority of our trees, and to Wofford College Environmental Studies Chair Kaye Savage, who helped take GPS readings for a lot of them. We are using protocols developed by Nature’s Notebook, a website of the National Phenology Network, and that website is also where we will upload our data.

Next time you’re at AS IF Center/ High Cove taking a stroll in our forests, ask us for a Phenology Data Sheet so you can help us keep track of bud-burst, leaf-out, flowering, fruit/seed set, fruit/ seed drop, and leaf senescence on our trees. If you’re a community member, you might consider “adopting” a tree species to keep track of during spring and fall.

Here is a list of the trees (and one shrub) we are monitoring:

Scientific nameCommon name
Acer pennsylvanicaStriped maple
Acer rubrumRed maple
Aesculus flavaYellow buckeye
Betula alleghaniensisYellow birch
Betula lentaBlack birch
Betula nigraRiver birch
Carpinus carolinianaIronwood / American hornbeam
Carya ovataShagbark hickory
Castanea dentata x molliissimaAmerican chestnut x Chinese chestnut
Cornus floridaFlowering dogwood
Fagus grandifoliaAmerican beech
Lindera benzoinSpicebush
Liriodendron tulipiferaTulip poplar
Ostrya virginianaAmerican hophornbeam
Oxydendrum arboreum Sourwood
Platanus occidentalisAmerican sycamore
Prunus serotinaBlack cherry
Quercus rubraNorthern red oak