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A phenological season describes one of the ten periods of the phenological calendar. This divides the year into special "seasons", which are recognizable in the behavior of the corresponding indicator plants. Various ways define the beginning and end of a season, resulting in an extensive calendar. It is interesting to look at the behavior and development of the plants, which determine the progress of the year through their growth. For the plant lover, they are worth watching.

Phenological indicator plants: 60 species

Phenology deals with determining individual periods of the year based on the unique developmental stages of plants. Based on the development of certain species, a so-called "phenological season" is determined, which is associated with one of the following phenomena:

  • Beginning of flowering
  • ripening of the fruit
  • development of the foliage
  • coloring of the foliage
  • leaf fall

These observations are constantly being followed up and researched, resulting in numerous indicator species presenting a specific phenological season. Especially for Central Europe there are numerous species that belong to one of the ten annual periods of phenology. It can happen that a species is mentioned more frequently, for example if it is an indicator due to its flowering and leaf fall.

Some plants can be recognized more clearly by their growth characteristics, which makes them easier to use as phenological indicator plants. Especially for private gardeners and plant enthusiasts, there are 60 species that you can encounter in the wild, in your garden or as a container plant. These are divided according to the respective phenological season in order to simplify the overview.

Tip: There are also phenological indicator plants that people cultivate economically and classify based on harvest, sowing or other uses. These include, for example, the planting of potatoes in the first spring or the plum harvest in early autumn, which can vary greatly from region to region, but is extremely important for farmers.

Spring: 25 phenological indicator plants

In the phenological calendar, the three spring seasons naturally belong to the beginning of the year. The phenological spring is characterized by the largest number of plant species, which has made it the most important guide for many people throughout the year.

early spring

Hazelnut (Corylus avellana)

Early spring alone presents seven plants that stand for the end of winter and the warmer days:

  1. Hazel (Corylus avellana): As soon as the hazelnut blooms, spring begins. It is considered the first indicator plant of the year.
  2. March cup (Leucojum vernum): A blooming March cup also stands for early spring.
  3. Snowdrops (Galanthus): As soon as the snowdrops appear, early spring is here.
  4. Willow (Salix caprea): When the willow blooms, the end of early spring has begun.
  5. Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum): When this species is in full bloom, early spring is in full swing.
  6. Black alder (Alnus glutinosa): A blossom on the black alder indicates the season.
  7. Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus): If the sycamore maple sprout in Alpine areas, the first half of early spring has passed.

first spring

Forsythia (Forsythia)

Shortly before the onset of the following first spring, the beginning of the agricultural season is marked by the snowmelt in early spring. Summer cereals are sown at this time and represent the transition to the next phenological season. The following twelve indicator plants define the first spring, which is characterized by a multitude of flowers:

  1. Forsythia (Forsythia): When they bloom, the first spring begins. Usually together with berry bushes.
  2. Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa): When the leaves of the shrubs appear, the first spring begins.
  3. Currant (Ribes rubrum/Ribes nigrum): Same as gooseberry.
  4. Cherry (Prunus): blossom
  5. Plum (Prunus domestica): flower
  6. Pear (Pyrus): flower
  7. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa): flower
  8. Maple (Acer): flower
  9. Birch (Betula): One of the first trees to sprout their leaves in early spring.
  10. European beech (Fagus sylvatica): European beeches sprout their leaves towards the end of the first spring.
  11. Lime (Tilia): In the case of the linden, the unfolding of the leaves indicates this part of the year.
  12. Horse chestnut (Aesculus): Usually drives out the leaves together with the birch.

full spring

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

The last frosts, for example the ice saints, are expected in most cases in the first spring. This is followed by the growth of winter crops sown in the previous season. The temperatures are rising significantly and more and more pollen is flying through the air. Full spring is slowly underway:

  1. Apple (Malus domestica): Blossoming apple trees are a direct sign of full spring.
  2. Lilac (Syringa): Lilac blooms along with apples and raspberries as a sign of this phenological season.
  3. Raspberry (Rubus idaeus): flowers only a few days later than apples and lilacs.
  4. Pedunculate oak (Quercus robur): sprout leaves.
  5. Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus): sprout leaves.
  6. Horse chestnut: Horse chestnuts indicate the end of full spring by their blossom.

Notice: The phenological spring can be subject to strong fluctuations in the future, since climate change is waking up the plants from hibernation noticeably earlier. This is true even for animals whose behavior is an indicator of different seasons.

Summer: 18 phenological indicator plants

Summer is just as extensive as a phenological season when it comes to the corresponding plants. There is a further 18 show plants to choose from and many of these are flowering plants that are part of the local flora.

early summer

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

In general, the first half is characterized by a variety of meadow flowers that attract numerous insects. Phenological early summer is characterized by the following plant species:

  1. Elder (Sambucus): Flowering elder is a sign of the beginning of summer.
  2. Hawthorn (Crataegus): flower.
  3. Rye (Secale cereale): flower.
  4. Forest goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus): flower.
  5. Turkish poppy (Papaver orientale): flower.
  6. Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis): flower.
  7. Oilseed rape (Brassica napus): flower.
  8. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia): flower.


Potato (Solanum tuberosum)

A disadvantage for many allergy sufferers is the high amount of pollen in early summer, since this mainly falls in June. The hay harvest falls in the same phenological season, while in midsummer, the next period, the grain is harvested. This is an important event in the phenological year, especially for farmers. Midsummer is defined by these indicator plants:

  1. Small-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos): The transition to midsummer is heralded by the flowering of the small-leaved lime.
  2. Chicory (Cichorium intybus): The chicory also shows its flowers in all their glory.
  3. Potato (Solanum tuberosum): If you've grown potatoes, they should be blooming now.
  4. Currants: The first currants are beginning to ripen and can be harvested.

late summer

Plum (Prunus domestica)

As soon as midsummer ends and with it the grain harvest, late summer sets in. This usually begins with the second hay harvest and is characterized by the following phenological indicator plants:

  1. Apple: As soon as apples ripen, summer is slowly over, but it is still warm enough for the fruit tree.
  2. Rock pear (Amelanchier): Rock pear also acts as an indicator for the phenological season through ripening fruits.
  3. Heather (Erica): flower.
  4. Plums (Prunus domestica subsp. domestica): Delicious plums are now ready for harvest.
  5. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia): Rowan berries present their fruit ripeness.
  6. Autumn anemone (Anemone hupehensis): flower.

Autumn: 14 phenological indicator plants

While summer and spring make up a large part of the list, there are other fall species that can be used as phenological indicator plants. Above all, the foliage and the fruits provide effective information about the respective phenological season.

early autumn

Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale)

Early autumn is represented by the following taxa:

  1. Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale): The poisonous plant shows its beautiful flowers.
  2. Black Elder (Sambucus nigra): Elder can be harvested.
  3. Hazel: Hazelnuts can be harvested
  4. Horse Chestnut: Horse chestnuts begin to ripen.
  5. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas): Cornelian cherries ripen.

full autumn

Walnut (Juglans regia)

Much of the fruit is harvested during early fall. This is followed by full autumn with 7 indicator plants, the most extensive group within the season:

  1. Pedunculate oak: The nuts ripen and define the start of full autumn.
  2. Quince (Cydonia oblonga): Now there are delicious quinces to harvest.
  3. Walnut (Juglans regia): Maturing a little later than oak.
  4. Horse Chestnut: Chestnuts can be gathered.
  5. Red beech: Leaves discolour.
  6. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior): Foliage discoloration occurs.
  7. Self-climbing vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia): Foliage discoloration occurs.

late autumn

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

Potatoes are harvested during full autumn as long as they are not early potatoes. To define the end of phenological autumn, two late autumn plant species are named:

  1. Common Oak: The beginning of the fall of the Common Oak leaves slowly heralds the end of autumn. This will not be completed until winter.
  2. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia): Only now do mountain ash lose their leaves.

Almost all deciduous trees also lose their complete foliage.

Winter: 3 phenological indicator plants

Larch (Larix decidua)

Last but not least is the turn of the phenological winter. This is immediately followed by spring and is dominated by a comprehensive dormancy for most of the period. There are only three phenological indicator plants that announce winter regardless of precipitation. These include:

  1. Pedunculate oak: Only now do pedunculate oaks lose all their foliage.
  2. Apple: If you have planted apple varieties that ripen late, they will lose their leaves.
  3. European larch (Larix decidua): The needle fall of the trees occurs.

Due to the growth of these species, winter is estimated from late November or early December to the flowering of the hazelnut. An advantage of the indicator plants is the ability to capture the beginning of the season without snow. This has no effect on these species and is not necessary to invoke the traits.

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