Herbarium specimens demonstrate earlier flowering times in response to warming in Boston

Am J Bot. 2004 Aug;91(8):1260-4. doi: 10.3732/ajb.91.8.1260.


Museum specimens collected in the past may be a valuable source of information on the response of species to climate change. This idea was tested by comparing the flowering times during the year 2003 of 229 living plants growing at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, with 372 records of flowering times from 1885 to 2002 using herbarium specimens of the same individual plants. During this period, Boston experienced a 1.5°C increase in mean annual temperature. Flowering times became progressively earlier; plants flowered 8 d earlier from 1980 to 2002 than they did from 1900 to 1920. Most of this shift toward earlier flowering times is explained by the influence of temperature, especially temperatures in the months of February, March, April, and May, on flowering time. Plants with a long flowering duration appear to be as useful for detecting responses to changing temperatures as plants with a short flowering duration. Additional studies using herbarium specimens to detect responses to climate change could examine specimens from specific, intensively collected localities, such as mountain peaks, islands, and unique habitats.