UWBG pilots Climate Change Garden project

UW Botanic Gardens is partnering with botanic gardens across the country in the installation of a network of Climate Change Gardens that will create a nationwide “ecological antenna” to monitor the effects of a changing climate on plant growth and survival. Each Climate Change Garden features genetically identical plant species selected for their biological responsiveness to temperature. Garden monitors will record climate data and a set of standard phenological events, from first leaf to flower to fruit set. The data will be used to help predict the impacts of climate change on plants and services they provide to people and wildlife.

Annie Bilotta and David Zuckerman plant Chinese lilac

Soo-Hyung Kim plants Monarda fistulosa

On March 23, 2010, Principal Investigator Soo-Hyung Kim, Ph.D, Master of Environmental Horticulture Candidate Allison McCarthy, Washington Park Arboretum (WPA) Horticulture Staff Supervisor David Zuckerman, Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH) Gardener Annie Bilotta and WPA Education Supervisor Patrick Mulligan planted a Climate Change Garden at the CUH. It includes cloned plants of eight species, each collected from four USDA hardiness zones.

Allison McCarthy lays out the plants for the Climate Change  GardenView more photos of planting day.

Climate Change Gardens are replicated in a range of climatic conditions, yet they maintain standard growing conditions and eliminate the confounding effects of genetic variance with the use of clones. Plants in these gardens therefore act like a network of climate sensors or “phytometers.”

Plant responses to the different climates of participating gardens will allow inferences about how the species might respond to future climate change. For example, how will zone 5 plants respond if the climate becomes more like zone 7? The species selected are long-lived  species that exhibit a variety of breeding systems and wide geographic ranges, which allow them to be planted in different climates across the country. They have flowering times that are initiated by temperature, are easy to clone, and are attractive in a garden setting. Each species will be represented by four ecotypes from each of the USDA hardiness zones 4, 5, 6, and 7. The Climate Change Garden offers a methodology for citizen scientists to explore the implications of climate change for plants.

Plant species to be monitored:

  • Aster novae-angliae, New England aster, blooms August- September
  • Baptisia australis, blue wild false indigo, blooms May-June
  • Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot or bee balm, blooms  July-September
  • Panicum virgatum, switchgrass, blooms  July-February
  • Penstemon digitalis, beardtongue, blooms  April-June
  • Physostegia virginiana, obedient plant, blooms  June to September
  • Schizachrium scoparium, little bluestem, blooms  August-February
  • Syringa rothomagensis, Chinese lilac, blooms late May- July

Text by Allison McCarthy. Photos by Jennifer Youngman.

Top left: Annie Bilotta and David Zuckerman plant Syringa rothomagensis. Top right: Soo-Hyung Kim plants Monarda fistulosa. Bottom: Allison McCarthy lays out the plants for planting.

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