Early Blooms in Grand Teton?

Andrew Jensen/pexels.com

According to an article by Kirsten Weir in the Spring 2023 issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine entitled “Bloom and Bust” (40-47), ecologist Frank Craighead lived in a cabin in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park in the 1970s. He would venture out several times each week during the spring and summer and take careful notes regarding the plants that were flowering in the area. The article tells the story of Mr. Craighead’s cabin catching fire in 1978 and how his son and nephew were able to rescue the cardboard box that contained his priceless notes. 

I say “priceless” because those notes have allowed today’s scientists to know precisely where and when various flowers were blooming. Ms. Weir explains that from 2016 to 2019, ecologist Trevor Bloom and director of science for The Nature Conservancy Corinna Riginos retraced Mr. Craighead’s steps hundreds of times and compared their observations with those he made in his notes. They documented the flowering dates for 51 species and noted significant changes over the past 40 years. 

Given the warming climate, the article states that the average spring temperature in Grand Teton has increased by about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to the spring snowmelt happening around 21 days earlier. Thus, many flower species are blooming earlier. 

At first glance, this may not appear to be such a terrible event. However, countless aspects of the environment are connected and interdependent. Flowers take their cues for blooming from the climate and thus, as stated, have been blooming earlier. By contrast, many species of insects and birds take their cues for emergence and migration from the duration of daylight. This information makes the detrimental discrepancy apparent. These changes, which have occurred over a very brief period of only 40 years, can have harmful impacts on many living things. Many birds and insects that depend on flowering plants may suffer. Furthermore, some berry shrubs may produce their fruit earlier, possibly harming grizzly and black bears that need the berries to ready themselves for hibernation in the fall. 

Ms. Weir makes clear something that the reader should easily infer. Namely, these shifts in plant cycles are not isolated to Grand Teton National Park—they are happening around the world. Moreover, this can potentially create a massive domino effect of harm to the insects and animal species that depend on plants for survival. 

The above content may seem inconsequential to many. After all, millions of us may be far removed from nature in our daily lives. However, it is worthwhile and essential to note that the entirety of nature is woven together in an intricate web. At some level, a change to one aspect of nature will induce a change to another aspect. Everything humans have, from the food we eat and water we drink to the grand cities we have created, ultimately comes from nature. We are part of and depend on nature and should thus be exceptional stewards of nature, continuing to discover innovations so that humans and the rest of the natural world can flourish and live in harmony.

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