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How to tell the time using the sun

Peter Wohlleben invites us to take a closer look and interpret the signs that nature conveys in his book The Weather Detective.

What does your watch have to do with nature? Well, nothing actually, and that’s exactly why we should talk about it. A clock is supposed to represent the position of the Sun. This is also the reason why the hour hand moves around the clock face from left to right, like the trajectory of the Sun from the east (when looking south at the Sun, the east is to the left) over to the west (on the right). This is purely an optical illusion, of course; in reality it is our planet that is rotating.

Since you carry a handy astronomical instrument around with you on your wrist, you may as well put your watch to use for other purposes. It can be used as a compass if you’re disoriented: if you point the hour hand towards the Sun, then south is always between the hour hand and 12 o’clock.


Since you carry a handy astronomical instrument around with you on your wrist, you may as well put your watch to use for other purposes. It can be used as a compass if you’re disoriented...

At 12 noon, the Sun should be exactly in the sound and thus be at its highest position in the sky. Should. But remember that clock time is a compromise and compromises are always flawed. The Earth is a sphere, and when the Sun is exactly at its zenith in Berlin, for example, it takes another 26 minutes for the Sun to reach its highest point at Cologne, around 360miles west.

But if you would rather use a different instrument to tell the time you can turn towards the birds or the flowers for example. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish natural scientist of the 18th century, made an exciting discovery during his nature walks. He realised that the flowers of different species of plants opened their flowers at different times of the day, with impressive reliability. They were so reliable, in fact, that they could rival the accuracy of the church clocks at the time. (..)  Pumpkin and courgettes kick things off first by opening their flowers at 5 o’clock in the morning. From 8a.m., the marigolds spread out their petals, and the daisies follow at 9. 

More about the book

The Weather Detective

Peter Wohlleben


Bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben, invites you to reconnect with nature

As soon as we step out of the door, nature surrounds. Thousands of small and large processes are taking place, details that are long often fascinating and beautiful. But we've long forgotten how to recognise them.

Peter Wohlleben, bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Trees, invites us to become an expert, to take a closer look and interpret the signs that clouds, wind, plants and animals convey. Chaffinches become weather prophets, bees are live thermometers, courgettes tell us the time.

The Weather Detective combines scientific research with charming anecdotes to explain the extraordinary cycles of life, death and regeneration that are evolving on our doorstep, bringing us closer to nature than ever before. A walk in the park will never be the same again.

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