A rainbow carpet blooms across the Colorado wilderness, heralding spring. But the flowers, they are a-changin’.
The seasonal mountainside glory hides a shocking climate-change truth, one revealed only after 39 years of painstaking study by a University of Maryland professor, biologist David Inouye , who (with a little help) counted some 2 million bloomsover four decades throughout the wildflower season. It’s easy to track things at a specific time, like when the first blooms flower, Inouye wrote in a study he published of his work. But those kinds of studies don’t provide a full enough picture of what’s really plaguing Mother Nature. You have to make sure every single flower is counted.
earlier every decade
That’s how much earlier the earliest petals fluttered. Wildflower season has also peaked five days earlier per decade, and the last bloom unfolded about three days later per decade. The widening spread means a longer season for tourists who flock to the area, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The petaled carpet is less dense. And that could prove problematic for bees and hummingbirds, who rely on the flowers for sustenance.
Inouye began counting flowers as an undergraduate in the 1970s at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Crested Butte, Colorado, 9,500 miles above sea level. Later, he enlisted his own graduate students to join him in his efforts.
”Not only are half the flowers beginning to bloom weeks earlier, but more than a third are reaching their peak bloom earlier, and others are producing their last blooms later in the year,” the university notes.
In other words, this isn’t the drastic ice floes collapsing off the Arctic shelf or the changing habits of predators. This is the harder-to-track domino effect — the kind that shows the impact that climate change has on our world in potentially huge ways that we aren’t even aware of, because we aren’t paying close enough attention.
So if your garden isn’t quite how you remember your youth in bloom and it seems like there are fewer birds and bees, you might be right. It may be climate change, sneaking up in a way so insidious and slow that no one noticed.
Let’s hope it’s not too late.
Why you should care
We might be looking at climate change all wrong.