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iSeeChange: Do Warmer Temps Equal Earlier Sunflowers?

"P Kaech" via thealmanac.org

Last week, users on the Almanac reported seeing the summer's first sunflowers. One user was surprised to see the flowers were blooming already. 

University of Maryland Biology Professor David Inouye says the early blooming season probably has to do with the warmer weather as of late. Inouye spends his summers studying flowers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte. His current project involves looking at how the timing of flowering and abundance of flowering at changing. 

"We have forty years of data already,  and that's allowed us to get some idea of what the consequences of the changing environment are, in terms of how flowering is being affected, and also how some of the animals like pollinators that interact with those flowers are being affected." 

Inouye says the earlier than usual sight of sunflowers, and other wildflowers, is indeed most likely due to  this year's warmer temperatures.

"Plants had a pretty early start to the growing season this year because the snow melted relatively early, and then it's been warm since then, so the plants have developed pretty quickly." 

Another almanac user said he watched a sunflower rapidly grow 3 1/2 inches in 24 hours. Inouye says that's also likely affected by the warmer weather.

"Plant growth would be affected by a combination of temperature and moisture, so if they're getting the moisture that they need, those warmer temperatures will result in quicker growth." 

The earlier snowmelt and hot, dry weather of late is perhaps cause for some alarm, but the sight of sunflowers is arguably a welcome distraction from the weather's other byproduct: wildfires.