The following post was written by Merran Owen, SOLV Green Team and Team Up intern, about her day out with Rachel Carson. Merran, a trained botanist, took students on a plant identification walk and learned a thing or two from them as well!
Last week, students from Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School had their botany skills tested with a winter twig identification walk. We explored our way through the different habitats and plant communities of Willow Creek, happily marching through the mud to examine all the leafless shrubs and trees. The students learned several clues that will help them identify their favorite plants long before spring. After bringing them up close and personal to plants such as Red Alder, Pacific Ninebark and entire patches of Douglas Spirea, we asked them a series of questions: Are the leaf buds opposite from each other, or alternating from one side of the stem to the other? What color is the bark? Is this plant growing down in the water, or higher up on the bank? What shape and color are the buds? Can you see last year’s flowers? How about this year’s flowers? What do they look like?
Plant identification is often seen as a skill that requires a lot of memorization, but it could more accurately be described as a game of observation. There is no way to memorize all of the world’s plants. What we hope to show the students is not necessarily the list of characteristics that make up an alder, but the value of looking at plants closely. We want to show them the tiny details that make things what they are and start them wondering as to how and why these details came about. This moves them on to the larger questions, such as why plants have leaves at all and why some choose to lose them in the winter. Science is based on exploring, observing and asking questions, and our students were able to see how much fun it can be!