The Cloned Plants Project: contribute to climate change research

lilacs-mlIt’s spring — time to get outside and contribute to science!

The Cloned Plants Project needs citizen scientists to observe the leafing and flowering of cloned plants, like lilacs and dogwoods, and submit their findings to researchers. These observations will help researchers better understand the interaction between the atmosphere (weather and climate) and the biosphere (living organisms).

The project is part of the USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN)’s nationwide effort to make phenology data available to researchers and decision-makers. Phenology is the study of  life cycle events of plants and animals and how these events impact the climate. Science for Citizens is currently offering a phenology project on Robins through our partnership with USA-NPN, NBC Learn, the National Science Foundation, and Discover Magazine. (If you spot a robin, let us know here!)

I had a chance to chat with Erin Posthumus, an outreach assistant at the USA-NPN’s National Coordinating Office. She gave me all the details on the Cloned Plants Project, including how you can contribute and what will happen with all the data.  Off we go!

First things first: what’s a cloned plant?

Erin: Cloned plants are genetically identical individual plants.

Why would you use a cloned plant to conduct a study?

Erin: Making observations on plants that have the same genetic make-up (clones) allows us to separate environmental responses from genetic responses. If we monitor a cloned lilac in New York and a cloned lilac in Georgia, we can look at differences between them, such as later bloom time, and better detect the climate change signal.

Where does one get a cloned plant?

Erin: Cloned lilacs are available for purchase through Jung Seed Company. Orders can be placed at Jung’s webpage or by calling their order department at 1-800-247-5864.

Cloned dogwoods are currently only available through a wholesale nursery, and are purchased for a limited number of observers by the USA-NPN. If you live in the southeast, and would like to observe a dogwood, please select ‘yes’ to the “Request for Dogwood” field when you register or edit your account on our website.

Lilac and dogwood ranges. (Image: USA-NPN)
Lilac and dogwood ranges. (Image: USA-NPN)

What will people do when they take part in the Cloned Plants Project?

Erin: As part of the Cloned Plant Project, you will go outside with a datasheet and answer simple yes/no questions about the leafing and flowering of your cloned plant. Currently, the USA-NPN’s phenology observation program, Nature’s Notebook supports observations of two species of cloned plants, a lilac (Syringa x chinensis ‘Red Rothomagensis’) and a dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Appalachian Spring’).

Check out the map to find out whether lilacs or dogwoods would be most appropriate where you live. If you live in an area where they overlap, consider observing both!

You are also encouraged to observe the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and the native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) as part of this program. Comparison of phenology data from these species with those from the cloned lilac and cloned dogwood is an important part of understanding genetic vs. environmental responses. Observations from the cloned and non-cloned species at the same location are especially valuable.

Once you have received your cloned plant, check the information on selecting a planting site and on planting and care of the lilac on our webpage.

How do participants submit data?

Erin: Lilac and dogwood phenology is observed and recorded using the USA-NPN’s Nature’s Notebook program.

How will this data be used?

Erin: Data on phenology is a crucial contributor to global climate change research. Data from this study have provided evidence for earlier onset of spring across the northern hemisphere (Schwartz et al. 2006), assessed the accuracy of satellite sensor-derived phenology measurements (Schwartz et al. 2002), and increased understanding of the impact of the initiation of spring growth on lower atmospheric temperature, moisture, sensible-latent heat balance, and carbon balance (Schwartz and Crawford 2001).


Schwartz, M. D., & T. M. Crawford, 2001. Detecting Energy-Balance Modifications at the Onset of Spring.Physical Geography 21(5): 394-409.

Schwartz, M. D., Reed, B. R., & M. A. White, 2002. Assessing Satellite-Derived Start-of-Season Measures in the Conterminous USA. International Journal of Climatology 22(14): 1793-1805.

Schwartz, M. D., Ahas, A., & A. Aasa, 2006. Onset of spring starting earlier across the Northern Hemisphere. Global Change Biology 12: 343-351.

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Categories: Biology, Citizen Science, Climate & Weather, Ecology & Environment, Nature & Outdoors

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