Druidry and Citizen-Research: Arbor Day Hazelnuts and Project BudBurst

When I attended the East Coast Gathering, one of the talks that really stood out to me was John Michael Greer’s talk on “Reclaiming Science.”  In the talk, he argued that science has become rather corrupt, and the funding for science has been shifted away from basic, naturalistic research and into all sorts of money-making areas.  Emphasis on naturalism, the study of botany and nature through observation, has gotten a bit lost in all of this.  And yet, this kind of research is critical as our climate shifts, as species die off, and as we are moving into a more uncertain future. JMG argued that to reclaim science, Druids are in an excellent position to become citizen-scientists, naturalists, and observers of nature.

As someone whose career is based in academia and who does research for a living, I’ve witnessed what JMG suggested first hand.  Funding for basic research in a number of fields is on the decline; its not that there isn’t money available, but that money often comes with strings attached.  And unfortunately, researching things like climate change isn’t really on the agenda of most of those whole hold the purse strings.

However, a new method of science, called “Citizen-Science” encourages everyday citizens who are not formally trained in ecology, biology, etc. to do observational research and contribute to studies (that are otherwise way under-funded).  JMG argued in his talk that druids are in an excellent position to volunteer our efforts in this way.  I happen to agree, and I think that the idea of “oak knowledge” (which I have blogged about before) should include a lot of knowledge of the natural world.  One of the ways we get this knowledge is through sustained inquiry and observation of the natural world and by participating in such projects.

So to see what goes into being a citizen scientist and to heed JMG’s call, I’m going to participate in two of these citizen-scientist research projects and blog about those experiences.  The two projects are: the Arbor Day Foundation’s Hazelnut Project and Project Budburst. I selected these two projects because both, I believe, are critically important projects: The Hazelnut project addresses the need for more sustainable food systems and Project Budburst addresses climate change’s impacts on local plant ecosystems.

The Hazelnut project is testing out various hybrid hazels with the goal of improving food production from perennial woody sources. Hazelnuts are being used in a variety of food forest and permaculture-based systems, and I’m excited to be part of researching them with the Arbor Day foundation.  The Arbor Day foundation asks for a modest $20 to join the project, which includes three hazelnuts, a welcome packet, and regular informational mailings.  The hazels have been planted, and now all that I do is make sure they have nutrients, water, and space to grow. Once a year, the Arbor Day foundation will ask me to report back on how the bushes are doing, what kind of yields I get, total growth, etc.  The project is very low key and easy to do; and I get information and, eventually, a great food crop in the process.

Mayflowers on the forest floor!
Mayflowers on the forest floor!

The second project I’ve decided to participate in, Project Budburst, focuses on observation and documentation of a number of plants in the USA to better understand the impacts of climate change.  I’ve chosen for the next year to track two plants on my property – Mayflowers and Large Flowered Trillium.  Mayflowers are in Project Budburst’s top 10 of needed observations (plus, I have a very strong connection to the plant!)  The Trillium grows in the same area as the mayflowers on my property, so  I will track them both as spring approaches.  I’m hoping to add more plants in the future, but I want to make sure I commit to something manageable for this first year.

I hope to encourage others out there to try a citizen-scientist project! There are many to choose from and its a wonderful way to become closer to nature as well as to give back to create a better world.

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. I’ve had nothing but problems with hazelnuts. Either the soil has been wrong or the growing season is inadequate, I’ve never quite figured it out.
    My grandfather worked on his shrubs for years and never got them to thrive. I’d be willing to try again. Could you send me some information, Dana?

  2. Yeah. I am pretty new to them too, but I can send you the info that the Arbor Day foundation sent me. I know that there are many farmers and permaculturists in our same zone (and even in colder zones) that are doing a lot of great work with Hazels.

    A few things from the Arbor Day foundation:
    –They don’t like weeds, so keep them well mulched
    –They like rich soils, lots of compost and organic matter
    –Full sun is preferable

    The Arbor Day foundation sent me a set of new hybrids they are testing out, so I’m wondering if the variety is also important. I can also ask my two friends who are food forest specialists… 🙂

  3. Thanks for joining Project BudBurst as part of your citizen science pursuits! We are excited to have you as part of our community!

  4. Citizen-Science sounds like a beautiful idea to me! Being a very science-minded person for all that my passions are spiritual.

    Are there particularly effective ways of locating these types of projects to participate in? If it helps, I’m a Michigander from the other side of the mitten 😉

    It’s getting close to the birthday of this post, have you any updates on this?

    1. Alainafae – yes! I sent a report off to the Arbor Day foundation on the importance of making sure they send documentation on how to protect against deer…I lost two of my hazelnuts to deer. The good news is that a friend replaced them with new trees! Budburst is ongoing–I kept notes this year, and look forward to comparing them to next year. These are quite fun projects.

      The projects I know about are the ones I listed on the blog post–but you might also contact your state extension office and see if they know anything else!

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