Dr. Kay Havens

Dr. Kay Havens in the field

Dr. Kayri Havens was born and raised in the Chicago region, so has always eagerly anticipated the first signs of spring, particularly the appearance of spring wildflowers, after a long, cold winter. After trying one semester of engineering in college, Kay settled on botany for a major; a decision she has never regretted. She studied various areas of botany throughout her undergraduate and graduate school days, from plant physiology to plant reproductive biology, but ultimately ended up focusing on plant conservation biology.

She has spent her professional career conducting research on rare plants and the threats that they are facing, including the threat of climate change. She has also spent her entire professional career working at botanic gardens and has a great appreciation for the role gardens play in introducing visitors to plant science and often engaging them, through citizen science programs, in the research process.

Several years ago, it was a happy coincidence that Kay was able to collaborate on the development of Project BudBurst because it brought together so many of her interests…the effect of climate on plants, citizen science, and her love of spring! She was already working on the concept of the "Floral Report Card Garden" and was invited to a National Phenology Network meeting in 2006 to discuss the idea with other phenology enthusiasts. The Floral Report Card Garden project involved collecting native plant species from several climate zones, cloning them and planting them at botanical gardens around the country. This national network of identical gardens is now beginning to collect data on plant responses in different climates. It was at that same National Phenology Network meeting that the concept of Project BudBurst was born. Kay has collaborated on Project BudBurst ever since.

In 2011, Kay was able to compare Project BudBurst data collected in the Chicago region to some historical observations by the preeminent Chicago botanists Floyd Swink and Gerry Wilhelm published in their Plants of the Chicago Region (1994). Swink and Wilhelm made phenology observations from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s for their book. There were 15 species that had both Project BudBurst observations and historical data. Nine of those species had an earlier first flower in one or more years between 2007-2011 than was ever seen by Swink and Wilhelm (see table). Kay has noticed the same thing in her own garden; she remembers when she was growing up that in many years the violets weren't open by May Day and the peonies weren't open by Memorial Day. Now they regularly bloom about 3-4 weeks earlier than that (and Kay points out, she's not that old!).

Kay hopes that more people around the country will share their seasonal observations about plants via Project BudBurst, and contribute to this vital national dataset helping scientists understand how plants respond to change. She says that there's nothing nicer on a spring day than taking your dog for a walk in the country and noticing what flowers are in bloom!

Phenology Chart