Pressed Flowers Seen As Climate Tools

LONDON, Sept. 23 (UPI) — Pressed flowers and plants picked 150 years ago by Victorian collectors could become a powerful research tool for studying climate change, U.K. scientists say.

Researchers at several U.K. universities say a lack of long-term data on phenology — the study of climate-driven events like trees coming into leaf or plants flowering in the spring — has hampered scientific understanding of how plants respond to climate change, reported.

But ecologists say plants pressed up to 150 years ago tell the same story about warmer springs resulting in earlier flowering as field-based observations of flowering made much more recently.

They examined 77 specimens of the spider orchid collected between 1848 and 1958. Because each specimen contains details of when and where it was picked, the researchers were able to match this with Meteorological Office records to examine how spring temperatures affected the orchids’ flowering.

They compared the data with field observations of peak flowering of the same orchid species in a U.K. nature reserve from 1975 to 2006, and found that the response of flowering time to temperature was identical both in herbarium specimens and field data.

In both the pressed plants and the field observations, the orchid flowered six days earlier for every 2 degree F rise in mean spring temperature.

The results are first direct proof that pressed plants in herbarium collections can be used to study relationships between phenology and climate change when field-based data are not available, researchers say.

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