We are calling on YOU to share in this week’s virtual field trip! Is there something in nature that you think is really cool? Have you found a neat plant, rock, or animal recently? One of our favorite things to do is tell our nature nerd friends about our outdoor finds.
Bring your nature objects, pictures or stories to the zoom call on Friday for show and tell. We will take turns sharing, kids and adults both!
If you can’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!
I’m in Charge of Celebrations
Every experience or interesting find in nature is, in our opinion, worth a celebration. We love this book, I’m in Charge of Celebrations, by Byrd Baylor. It inspires us to make our own holidays, just for us, to enjoy our favorite nature times.
Watch this teacher read this book out loud below, or look for it at your library:
This week, keep track of the things that are worth celebrating! Do you have a calendar, planner or notebook? Write your celebration down or draw a picture.
We’ll share some of our own celebration-worthy nature experiences in the virtual field trip. Tell us about your celebrations in the comments below!
Show and Tell Online
Here at Rural Action, we have a bit of a nature show-and-tell problem. Our phones are full of pictures of bugs and weird leaves. We text them to our friends all day.
We even started a BioBlitz project on a website called iNaturalist. People share pictures of plants and animals they’ve found in our area, then help each other identify them. Some high school students found a dragonfly that had never been seen in Morgan County before!
A few of the many nature pictures clogging up my phone…
Nerd out on nature with us! Take a walk, find a nature book, or just sit outside near your house for ten minutes. Then, share something you’ve found that interests you! You can:
Post about it in the comment section of this blog! (We love that!)
Email a picture/story to me at email@example.com!
Fall is the last chance for animals to stock up on food before winter hits. Luckily, plants are eagerly making nuts and fruit before it gets too cold for them too. An animal will travel far and wide to find enough food: it can make the difference for whether it survives.
Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by a buffet when you walk in the woods. In this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll teach you how to recognize those fall foods (including a few that are good for humans).
If you couldn’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!
Two wild fall foods to gather now
Human beings are animals too. We can’t eat everything a bird or chipmunk can, of course. But there are some surprisingly tasty foods just growing in the forest, waiting for you to try them!
Always double check with an adult before eating anything you gather outside. Autumn olive berries and acorns are safe to eat, but you want to make sure that 1, they were gathered from a safe place and 2, you identified them correctly. To learn more about foraging wild foods, check out this post.
Easier option: Autumn olive berries
Autumn olives are an invasive plant in Ohio. They aren’t great for other plants because they steal space from them. But luckily for us, they’re delicious!
Autumn olive grows in abandoned fields that no one has mown for a few years. So look for it in bushy, overgrown areas on the edges of pastures, fields, and woods (like where the woods end just before the parking lot).
The berries are a dark, dull red with subtle dots. They’re close to the size of a pea. To tell them apart from other berries, look for the silvery, dusty coating. The leaves also look silvery on the bottom side.
The berries can be a little tart and make your mouth feel like it’s dried up! But the riper they are, the sweeter they get. They are the perfect texture to make into jam easily.
Challenge option: Make acorn flour
You may never have eaten an acorn. But the deer and the squirrels are on to something. For thousands of years in North America, people who lived near oak trees ate them almost every day!
Trees don’t make the same amount each year. One year, all the trees might make a ton of acorns. This is called a mast year. After a mast year, you might see the deer or squirrel population increase. They are able to have more babies because they had so much food!
But for 3-5 years after that, that kind of oak tree might make very few acorns. Animals like deer have to travel farther to find enough food in years with fewer acorns. They are more exposed to predators, and might be weaker. The deer population might get smaller.
Acorns come from oak trees. There are lots of kinds of oak trees, and some have tastier acorns than others! Wild turkeys, deer, and squirrels prefer to eat white oak and chestnut oak acorns–and those are the kinds I recommend you eat too.
Before eating acorns, you have to soak them in water for a long time (up to a week!). Acorns have a bitter substance in them called tannins. You may have tasted tannins before: they are what makes black tea extra dark and taste bitter if you leave the bag in too long. But acorns have so many tannins that they can give you a stomachache if you eat them raw. Soaking the acorns gets rid of the tannins.
So, if you want to try something new, gather some acorns and start soaking them:
When you eat food, it is fuel for your body. It’s like having a little engine inside of you. A car burns gasoline so it can move down the road. Your body burns food so you can run, talk, and think!
A squirrel takes energy from acorns by eating them, and turns that energy into jumping, tree climbing, and whatever else it is squirrels like to do. A squirrel gathers around 25 nuts in an hour. But how many nuts does a squirrel need anyway?
How do you compare to a squirrel? How many more acorns would you need to eat than a squirrel to do these things?
Calories needed for humankid
Calories needed for squirrel
Calories in an acorn
How many acorns does a person need to eat to do this?
How many acorns does a squirrel need to eat to do this?
Climb to top of a tree
Napping for an hour
Running for 10 minutes
Hunting for acorns for an hour
Hint: Divide the number of calories needed by the number of calories in an acorn. **All of these numbers are rough estimates; don’t use these for health decisions**
Ultimately, all this energy is coming from the sun. It travelled from the sun, to the oak tree’s acorn, to your belly.
For many animals, overeating in the fall is a good thing! The fatter they are, the better they can survive the winter. For example, bears compete to eat as much as they can before hibernating, because they won’t eat at all while they are sleeping. (A fun way to celebrate their success is to vote for the fattest bear of Katmai National Park during Fat Bear Week).
How did you compare to a squirrel? Did you try eating any squirrel food? Tell us about it in the comments!
The leaves are beginning to turn orange and fall…but why? What is happening in the solar system that makes the fall come here, while it is warm other places on the planet? And how do the plants and animals react?
If you can’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!
~~We’ll post the recording of the field trip here the following Monday~~
Have you ever looked at the beautiful fall colors of the tree leaves and wondered:
Where do the fall colors come from?
Well, the old saying that beauty comes from the inside is also true with leaves! When a leaf is first popping out of its bud in early spring, it already has its fall colors inside. Leaves are born with their fall colors.
To prove this you can conduct an experiment. You will need four materials for this activity:
Rubbing Alcohol (Caution: this can be toxic if ingested. Ask for an adults help while handling)
A small container
A few green leaves from the same tree
A coffee filter
Once you have gathered you materials, crush up your leaves by rubbing them between your palms.
2. Place the leaves in the container. Carefully pour the rubbing alcohol over the leaves until most of the leaves are covered.
3. Stuff the coffee filter into the container so the bottom of it is in the rubbing alcohol
4. Now it’s time to wait. Let it sit over night. As the rubbing alcohol breaks down the leaf, the coffee filter will absorb the outer (green) and inner (browns/reds/orange) pigments in the leaves.
As you can see, all those colors were in the leaf all along! Try the experiment with a few different kinds of leaves to see the differences.
Now we see where the fall colors came from. But why do you think the trees don’t need the green anymore in autumn and winter? Leave your ideas in the comments!
All because the Earth is tilted
When fall and winter come, there is less and less sunlight each day. Since trees use sunlight for energy, the trees get less energy. Keeping leaves alive takes a lot of energy, so some trees drop them during this dark time of year.
But why are some times of darker and colder at all? Why are there seasons? It’s all because the Earth is tilted. It doesn’t stand straight up and down. Try the activity below to see why that matters.
Try this: imitate the tilt of the earth at home
Conduct this simple activity to see the difference between the effect of light that hits an object directly and light that hits the object at an angle.
You will need:
a piece of graph paper
Tape the flashlight to the end of the ruler.
First, model sunlight hitting the object directly:
Place the ruler perpendicular to the graph paper (so it makes a 90 degree angle to the paper).
Count the number of squares that you see covered by the light.
Record that number in the table below.
Next, model sunlight hitting the object at an angle:
Place the ruler at an angle to the graph paper (your angle can be between 0 degrees and 90 degrees).
Count the number of squares you see covered by the light.
Record the number in the table.
Area: # of squares
What do you notice about the difference between the angled light and the direct light?
Which light (angled or direct) do you think would lead to higher temperature? Why? Could you hold the light for 10 minutes and test your hypothesis by measuring the temperature?
Share your ideas in a comment!
Why the tilt causes seasons
You just modeled the tilt of the earth! Just like your paper, the sun hits parts of the earth at different angles. How does this create seasons? Watch this video to see:
Click through the presentation below to review the ideas from the activity and the video:
How are the plants and animals adapting to fall outside? Share a picture or story in the comments!
It’s September, and it seems like there are caterpillars on every tree and bush, gorging themselves on leaves before winter. These tiny creatures are a key piece of the food web: a meal for migrating birds, and consumers of plants.
Explore caterpillars with us on our virtual field trip, or with the activities below!
We welcome sharing your own caterpillar discoveries or stories on the call!
Watch the recording:
On your own: outside
Become a caterpillar scientist by doing your own caterpillar study in trees near you!
What you will need:
A solid stick you can easily hold and swing (not a wet one that will break.)
A white towel, pillowcase, or sheet to catch caterpillars and other critters.
Optional: a camera to take photos of what you find to upload to iNaturalist.
Once you have all of your tools, find a patch of trees you can easily and safely get to, whether it is in the forest, in your backyard, or at a park.
Your mission is to survey 10 different trees for caterpillars. It is easiest to survey young trees with leaves closer to the ground.
When you find the first tree you want to survey, choose an area of leaves you can reach with your stick. Try to pick spots with around 50 leaves. Place your white cloth underneath the area of leaves to catch whatever falls out of the tree when you hit it. Then, take your stick, and give the leaves 10 firm hits, not hitting so hard that you damage the tree.
Watch Joe take a swing at this method of caterpillar collection:
After ten hits, look at your white cloth. What’s moving on it? Did any caterpillars fall on your cloth? Count the number of insects you see.
If you find a cool insect or caterpillar that you want to know more about, take a photo and upload the photo to iNaturalist. The app will tell you what species it guesses the caterpillar is and allow others to see your neat find!
Repeat this process 10 times with 10 different trees. Did you find more caterpillars on one type of tree than another? Which tree had the most caterpillars on it? What was the most interesting thing you saw on your cloth? Share your stories and photos in the comments!
On your own: inside
Watch the video above to learn about the life cycle of a caterpillar (we learned a few new things ourselves, like, what happens to their faces?)
There are more insects than any other living thing on Earth. About 80% of all species are insects! And plenty of them are caterpillars.
So what kinds of caterpillars do we have here in southeast Ohio? Click through the presentation below to see their pictures and learn about their host plants.
Have you ever seen any of these caterpillars? If you can, go for a walk and see if you find any. Share your pictures!
One last challenge: Write a poem to your favorite caterpillar. Maybe you describe what it looks like. Maybe you include what types of leaves it likes to eat? Is it a moth or a butterfly in the future? What type of birds like to eat it? Share your poem by posting as a comment!
Virtual Field Trip on Zoom: Friday, Sept 18 at 10:30 am
We’ll be Zooming with you from a secret ginseng patch somewhere in Ohio. Learn how to recognize ginseng, why people want it so badly, and how to protect it. And share your own ginseng and plant stories!
Read on to learn more about ginseng and try some activities!
At first glance, this plant reminds me of holly and winter holidays. Despite its red berries, this plant is not a poky, festive bush. Above is a photograph of American Ginseng, a threatened plant species that thrives here in Appalachia. But lots of plants grow in our region, sometimes so many it is hard to tell them all apart! So what makes ginseng worth talking about?
In rural Appalachia (including southeast Ohio), people have a long tradition of digging ginseng roots in the forest. Folks keep good ginseng spots secret, and teach their children how to harvest it. The root is worth a lot of money, because it is thought to have amazing medicinal properties. Because it is valuable, ginseng is constantly at risk of being overharvested, or taken too often.
Fun fact: the name “ginseng” stands for two Chinese characters that mean “man root,” because the shape of a ginseng root can resemble a person with two legs! Do you see the “man?”
A brief history of ginseng
In 1716, a priest named Father Lafitau near Montreal, Canada found a patch of ginseng while he was out working. This is sometimes considered the first discovery of ginseng in North America. However, First Nations and Native Americans were harvesting and using ginseng for centuries before Father Lafitau ever knew it existed! It wasn’t long after the Father’s discovery that ginseng from North American began to be exported to Asia.
People in China were eager to buy American ginseng. A different species of ginseng called Panax Ginseng used to grow wild in the mountains of northern China, over 5,000 years ago. But the Chinese ginseng is almost all gone because of overharvesting. So many people wanted (and still want) to buy American ginseng instead.
Ginseng grows in Appalachia and a region of China called Manchuria. Why do you think it grows in both places? How are the two environments similar? How are they different?
Ginseng in China was first used as food, then as medicine. Asian ginseng is thought to cure depression, diabetes, fatigue, inflammation, nausea, tumors, and ulcers when eaten! Older and well-formed roots of the plant were thought to be spiritual and bring good luck.
Where can we find ginseng?
So, how do you actually recognize this legendary plant? The first step in becoming a ginseng hunter is knowing where ginseng grows!
The green parts of this map show where ginseng has been found in the past. That doesn’t mean there is ginseng there right now. Sometimes ginseng disappears in places where humans have turned forests into buildings or roads, or harvested too much of it. But we know that it is possible for ginseng to grow in those places, if it has what it needs!
Let’s zoom in on Ohio, where most of us are.
At least half of Ohio is shaded in green, meaning we could find ginseng in the majority of counties in Ohio. Our home, Athens County, is ginseng territory. What about your county?
Of course, ginseng won’t grow just anywhere in our county. What types of habitat does ginseng like?
You probably won’t find ginseng in the middle of a field or lawn. It is a secretive plant of shady forests. One Chinese legend says it jumps out of the ground and runs to a new place each night, making it harder to find!
Here is what ginseng looks for:
Cool, shady places: Ginseng needs to be in the shade at least 65% of the time. Too much sun can burn its leaves, though it needs some sun to grow well! Hills that face north and east are usually shadier.
Mountains and hills: Ginseng grows best on hills that are 600 to 3500 feet above sea level (about the height of the Appalachian mountains)
Deciduous forests: A deciduous forest is made of trees whose leaves change color and drop each autumn. You won’t find ginseng in evergreen forests or tropical forests.
Moist, well-drained soil: Ginseng does well in soil that is nice and damp, but not muddy or puddle-y. It doesn’t like dry places or clay.
Trees like sugar maples, tuliptrees, and black walnuts: Ginseng needs lots of calcium to grow. The leaves of these trees fall to the ground and release calcium! It’s like taking a vitamin for ginseng. Have you seen these trees before?
Joe took a video of the area surrounding some ginseng he found. Take a look at the habitat. What do you notice?
What does ginseng look like?
For the first few years of its life, a ginseng plant will look different every year! This is actually a useful way to estimate how old a ginseng plant is. The number of leaves (called prongs) on a plant tells us its age, and how big its root is.
If a plant is only a year old, it will only have one prong (one leaf made of three smaller leaflet):
When it is two years old, it might have two prongs.
When it is four or five years old, the plant will make first berries! Berries are where ginseng seeds are. That means the plant has to grow many years before it can make any new ginseng.
When a ginseng plant has at least four prongs and a cluster of berries in the middle of the plant, it is a mature (adult) plant.
Protecting Ginseng Today
Ginseng is the most heavily traded wild plant in the United States. The root of the ginseng plant can fetch around $800 per pound, so it’s no wonder people are interested in harvesting it!
Because ginseng grows so slowly, it is easy to dig up ginseng faster than new ginseng can grow. Today, ginseng is in danger of disappearing because people harvest too much.
To protect ginseng, some places have made rules about harvesting. In the Wayne National Forest, you must buy a permit for $20 to legally harvest ginseng. This permit will allow someone to dig ginseng between September 1st and December 1st.
Rules help, but it is the people who hunt for ginseng who can do the most to take care of it. Experienced ginseng hunters will only dig plants that are at least seven to ten years old. At that age, a plant will have had a few years of making berries. Hopefully, some of these berries have sprouted into new plants to replace the old.
When responsible ginseng hunters come across a ginseng plant with berries, they plant the berries just under the leaves and top soil. They will take no more than 10% of the ginseng they find. By leaving 90% of the plants untouched, existing plants can produce more berries and increase the number of ginseng plants.
Watch this video about “wildcrafting” in Appalachia to learn more about how people here are connected to and protect ginseng:
If you come across a patch of ginseng, do a happy dance! You found a sensitive plant with cool history and value! We usually do not harvest any ginseng roots we find, because we do not need to, and we want the patch to grow stronger. Consider tasting the leaves instead of the root. If you do have a reason to dig up roots, make sure to take no more than 10% of the plants, only dig 7- to 10-year-old plants, and plant the berries.
Have you ever harvested ginseng or know someone who has? Do you want to share a story about ginseng? Feel free to drop your story in the comments!
Fascinated by this magical plant? Here are three ways to become a ginseng genius!
Play “Is it ginseng?” A game where we quiz you on which plants are and are not ginseng. Find it here:https://quizlet.com/525699626/learn. Click on the photos of the plants in the quiz to make them larger.
Build your own mini ginseng habitat in your yard. Using what you learned about the shade, slope, and direction ginseng plants favor, can you create a mini environment with all the right conditions for ginseng? Use leaves, dirt, sticks, whatever you have! Show us your ginseng habitat in the comments. If you have access to a wooded area, go try to find the ideal habitat for ginseng!
Explore the mushrooms of the Cornell Mushroom Blog. Click on any picture that looks interesting to you! Find a mushroom that you are drawn to. Maybe it is pretty, surprising, weird, a little gross, or something else.
Think about some of the different fungi you just investigated, big or small. What are some of the different shapes, sizes, and colors you saw? What kind of places did they grow? Draw some of the different shapes mushrooms might have. Share your work in the comments!
Wondering where all of your waste is going? This week on our virtual field trip, we’re exploring what happens to your recyclables once they arrive at the recycling center. You’ll see some cool machines, and finally learn WHY you can recycle plastic bottles but not a plastic bag.
Join us via Zoom this Friday! We’ll teach you all about the basics of recycling, show off some cool machinery, and give you lots of tips and tricks you can use to make your household greener!
This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education and Zero Waste staff.
This Friday, we’re taking another Zoom-based field trip. Join us for a crash course in survival skills!
Environmental educator Joe Brehm and Madison Donohue will teach us about some of the most basic survival skills like fire building, rope making, and even brewing wild tea. This event is for youth, adults, and families.