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Green Gallery: Signs of Early Spring in Brooklyn

Signs of an Early Spring

On a foraging tour for edible plants in a Brooklyn park on March 4, guide Steve Brill (on the left) found some surprises thanks to an unusually mild winter. As he starts his 30th year of tours, Brill says he has watched the arrival of spring creep up by a

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

On a foraging tour for edible plants in a Brooklyn park on March 4, guide Steve Brill (on the left) found some surprises thanks to an unusually mild winter. As he starts his 30th year of tours, Brill says he has watched the arrival of spring creep up by about three weeks. This year, after an unusually mild winter, is unprecedented, he said. Poor man's pepper (center) usually doesn't show up this early in the spring, but today it was the first plant he found for the group.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms on March 4, a sign of early spring in Brooklyn.

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

More research is showing that the timing of seasonal events, like the appearance of plants first leaves and flowers, or bird migrations, is shifting. Research based on observations of lilacs and honeysuckle indicates these signs of spring have crept forward by about 1 day per decade between 1955 and 2002 across much of the temperate Northern Hemisphere.

Yellow Wood Sorrel

spring arriving earlier for plants and animals, effects of climate change, environment, earlier leaves and blooms, timing of seasonal events, global warming, steve brill, edible plant foraging

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

Digging out another unusual find for early March: yellow wood sorrel. This lemon-flavored plant doesn't normally show up for at least another month, Brill said.

Garlic Mustard

Steve Brill holds a young garlic mustard plant. He recommends this wild green go into salads.

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

Steve Brill holds a young garlic mustard plant. He recommends this wild green go into salads. For the past three decades his tours have started in early March, but they used to be winter tours he said. "I would show people how to make tea with pine needles and the twigs of sassafras, and I would show people the skeletons of out-of-season plants," Brill said.

New Green Leaves

Green leaves make an appearance among last year's dead ones in Prospect Park in Brooklyn at the end of an unusually mild winter.

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

The first green leaves of spring peaked through dead ones from last year.

Crocuses on Forest Path

Crocuses add a purple hue to the side of a path in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

Crocuses add a purple hue to the side of a path in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Urban areas, like New York City, are warming more quickly than elsewhere because of the urban heat island effect, which happens when pavement, sidewalks and buildings absorb more heat than a natural environment.

Star of Bethlehem

A spring green to avoid: Star of Bethlehem is poisonous.

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

A spring green to avoid: Star of Bethlehem is poisonous. Meteorologists attribute this unusually mild winter in much of the continental U.S. and southern Canada to high-altitude, westerly winds called the jet stream. The polar branch of the jet stream kept cold, Arctic air bottled up further north this year than usual.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel blooms.

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

Witch Hazel flowers. While this unusually mild winter may bring to mind global climate change, climate scientists are loath to connect a season's weather with much longer-term shifts in climate. Even so, they say, this weirdly warm winter isn't coming out of the blue; the planet has been warming up. For instance, the last decade, which ended in 2009, was the warmest on record.

Chickweed Flower

A chickweed flower. This low-growing annual tastes of corn silk.

(Image credit: Wynne Parry)

A chickweed flower. This low-growing annual tastes of corn silk. It's not just the timing of leaves and flowers that Brill has seen change over the 30 years he has led his tours. Given an early start on flowering, berries now ripen earlier in the fall. "The whole cycle is different," he said.