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Amy Seidl: Mother’s Day Flowers: A Sign of Our Changing Ecology?

Today's post is from Amy Seidl, author of Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World. Seidl has taught in the environmental studies programs at Middlebury College and the University of Vermont. She is currently a research scholar at Middlebury and associate director of the LivingFuture Foundation. She lives with her family in Huntington, Vermont, in a solar- and wind-powered home.

Book Cover for Early Spring The celebration of Mother's Day isn't complete without flowers, bouquets of tulips and roses, clusters of violets and daffodils gripped in the fists of small children. Flowers capture the season, that time when we are relieved from winter and move decidedly into spring. Flowering azalea bushes, ephemeral wildflowers, and cultivated garden blossoms all confirm that the growing season is truly here.

Except that all this is changing. As the planet warms and weather conditions change, flowering plants are responding. Lilacs, perhaps the floral archetype of the feminine, are blooming up to two weeks earlier than in the 1960s. Native plants like phlox, columbine, and milkweed flower earlier in the Wisconsin woods where Aldo Leopold first recorded their timing, a pattern that others are seeing across America's natural landscapes. Fruit trees are responding too and in January 2007 apple trees bloomed in Boston's Public Garden after a record-breaking warm December.

What does this mean for Mother's Day? What is the connection? First, because the celebration is strongly tied to season we have the opportunity to see the signs of this phenomenon in our everyday, local landscapes. We just need to take a look. Second, climate change is altering everything about life; ecosystems are entering flux as species respond to changing conditions, the risk of extinction has grown immeasurably, and humans and their built environments are threatened by extreme events they are not prepared for. Who better to demand that we stop global warming than the mothers, the givers and protectors of life? Who better to promote a future founded on clean energy, clean water, and healthy ecosystems? Who better to illuminate that not only the Arctic but our backyards are changing? Who better to say it with flowers?