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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Maple Syrup: Virtual Field Trip

Jars of homemade maple syrup. Photo Credit: Chiot’s Run.

If I had to choose a favorite day of the week, it would be Sunday. I roll out of bed in my homemade pajamas with breakfast on my mind. I have more time to make breakfast, so I make French toast, waffles, or blueberry pancakes. It’s hard to pick my favorite. But the same thing always goes on top: maple syrup. 

Sticky and sweet, maple syrup adds a soft golden flavor to any food. You can buy it in glass bottles or plastic jugs to deck out your Sunday breakfasts. But before it reaches the store, maple syrup starts in forests like ours in southeast Ohio. Maple syrup and honey are the only local ways to sweeten your food!

On this week’s virtual field trip, educator Joe will show us how to get the sweet liquid goodness out of maple trees and into your belly.

Here are some options for getting to know nature’s sweetener:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, March 5th at 10:30 am on Zoom.

On your own, inside: Read an indigenous story about the origins of maple syrup.

On your own, outside: Practice identifying sugar maple trees and watch for sap.

Virtual Field Trip, March 5th at 10:30 am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:15 AM, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods for anyone who wants to join. This week, Joe will show us how he makes syrup and how to identify maple trees.

If you haven’t registered for our field trips before, register here to get the link in your email:

When you register, your registration is good for every Friday.

Teachers: Your class can join these public field trips, or contact us to set up a zoom field trip just for your classroom.

What is maple sap?

A maple is a kind of tree. Syrup is made from the sap that flows in a maple tree.

Sap is a liquid that moves up and down inside a tree, just behind the bark. Sap moves water and nutrients to parts of the tree that need it. It makes trees strong and healthy. If you’ve ever seen sticky, clear globs on the outside of tree bark, you were likely looking at that tree’s sap.

Sap that has hardened dripping from a tree. Photo credit: Pfly

When leaves photosynthesize, they turn sunlight into sugar. That sugar is in the sap. The tree uses the sugar for energy–unless we tap it for our own energy!

All maple trees have sap inside them. The best sap for making maple syrup, though, comes from sugar maple trees. The name doesn’t lie: a sugar maple has more sugar in its sap than any other species of maple tree.

Sugar Maples

Good news for us: sugar maple trees call southeastern Ohio home. Sugar maples lose their leaves year after year, making them a deciduous tree. Most trees in southeast Ohio forests are deciduous, so sugar maples fit in.

Many other states in the eastern United States are lucky to have sugar maples, too. The green parts of this map show places with the right climate and habitat for sugar maples to grow. Notice that the green extends into Canada, too.

Sugar maple distribution map. Photo credit: USGS.

Your turn: Find Sugar Maples

Take a walk to see if you can find any sugar maples! They are common even in parks and neighborhoods. Joe likes to find them in the spring and summer, so he’s ready to tap them when February comes.

Sugar maples often grow on the middle or low part of hills, or near old farms (where people planted them). They do better in backyards than near the street, where cars and salt bother them.

Here are some ways to recognize a sugar maple:

  • Look for opposite branching. The twigs on any maple always grow directly across from each other. The leaves do this too. Only a few trees in Ohio do this.
Maple trees will look like the twig on the left.
  • Look at the buds on the end of the twig. There’s one long bud in the middle, and two short ones on either side. You can identify a maple even when there are no leaves with this trick!
Count the three buds on the tip of a sugar maple twig: the long one in the middle, and the short ones on the side. Photo: Tgalos90 

Sugar maple buds are brown (like the picture above). If the buds are red, you have a red maple instead (like the picture below)

What are some differences between this red maple bud and the sugar maple bud above? Photo: jon.hayes
  • The leaf looks like the flag of Canada. A sugar maple leaf has 5 lobes (or sections). Red maples have only 3. Another way to think about it is that sugar maple leaves are pointed, not round at the bottom. What differences do you see between the red and sugar maple leaves in this picture?
The sugar maple leaf is on the right. The red maple leaf is on the left. Photo: BlueRidgeKitties

Maybe picturing the Canadian flag will help you remember!

The Canadian flag shows the sugar maple leaf. Gotta love that tree pride!

From sap to syrup

Sap dripping from a tap in a maple tree. Photo credit: Hamilton Conservancy

Maple syrup can’t be made year round. Sap only starts flowing when the weather is just right. The best time for tapping trees for sap is right now! Cold nights below freezing and warmer days create a freeze/thaw cycle that pushes the sap through the tree. But how do you get to the sap?

Watch this video from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to see how to “tap” a sugar maple tree to collect the sap.

Sap isn’t the same thing as syrup, though. Buckets of sap have to be boiled for a long time. Boiling evaporates the water and leaves behind the sugar. It takes 30-40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!

Below is a photo of Joe’s sap boiling station. He has a thermometer to measure the temperature of the sap.

Voila! Boiled sugar maple sap makes maple syrup.

Who first made maple syrup?

It certainly wasn’t Joe! Indigenous folks have been making maple syrup to flavor their food long before Europeans colonized this land. The first Europeans to make maple syrup in the 1500s learned from the Native Americans.

Here are some early ways Indigenous people used to make maple syrup:

  • Repeatedly freezing the sap and getting rid of the ice. The water in the sap will freeze, but the sugar won’t!
  • Boiling the sap on hot rocks to evaporate the water out.

The Anishinaabe have a story about why it takes so much sap to make just a little syrup! Listen to an educator at Cumming Nature Center tell it:

This educator’s story comes from Keepers of the Earth by Joseph Bruchac and Michael Caduto.

Other Indigenous groups in the Great Lakes region, like the Chippewa and Ojibwe, have similar sap stories. If you are interested in reading more Indigenous lore about maple syrup, this page has two other short stories to share.

The maple syrup economy

Humans have long depended upon the natural world for food and trade. Maple syrup is no exception. Not only do we use maple syrup as a sweetener on our pancakes and in our teas, many people make their living from processing sap into maple syrup.

Sticky Pete’s Maple Syrup is an example of a producer in Athens County

Twelve states in the US produce maple syrup to sell. In Ohio, 900 people boil sap into maple sugar to sell in stores and at farmers’ markets. Those 900 producers make 100,000 gallons of maple syrup each year. Maple syrup contributes $5 million to Ohio’s economy each year. Sugar maple trees provide us with a natural sweetener, but it also provides many folks with an income to house and feed their families. Where would we be without sugar maple trees?

Next time you jump out of bed for a Sunday breakfast, thank sugar maple trees and Indigenous people who inhabited this land before us for maple syrup. And maybe after this week’s Virtual Field Trip, you can make your own like Joe.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Sled Dogs: Virtual Field Trip

How would you send help in an emergency if you couldn’t drive or fly?

Imagine you live in Alaska in winter, 1925. There’s a pandemic: children in Nome are getting sick with a disease called diphtheria. Your town needs medicine fast. But the closest medicine is over 600 miles away.

Boats can’t sail there, because the sea is frozen. 

Trains can’t move, because ice blocks them. 

Planes can’t take off, because they are covered in snow. 

There is only one kind of transportation that you know will work. Alaska Natives have been traveling this way for thousands of years:

Sled dogs.

Me (Sophie), hanging out with Balto, who lives forever in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

To get the medicine there as fast as possible, 20 mushers (people who run dog teams) and about 150 dogs worked together to travel the 674 miles to Nome. They took turns, like a relay race, taking over when one dog team got tired. Two heroic dogs, Balto and Togo, led the team that brought the serum to Nome. 

To celebrate this brave journey, mushers from all over the world gather yearly to follow Balto’s footsteps. They run a race called the Iditarod–a 1,049 mile race that runs in Alaska from Anchorage to Nome.

On this week’s virtual field trip, I’ll share what it’s like to grow up with sled dogs, and you can meet a musher–my mom! It may change your ideas of what dogs and humans can do together

Virtual Field Trip: Friday, February 26 at 10:30 am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods for anyone who wants to join. This week, we’ll meet a musher, a person who runs teams of sled dogs.

If you haven’t registered for our field trips before, register here to get the link in your email:

When you register, your registration is good for every Friday.

Teachers: Your class can join these public field trips, or contact us to set up a zoom field trip just for your classroom.

What makes these dogs so good at pulling sleds?

It’s tough to travel by land in the arctic. Animals need to stay very warm and move over deep snow. They have to find food when no plants grow for months.

There are wild animals that can do these things. But dogs were the only Alaskan animal that listen well to humans! Alaska Natives and Siberians were the first to use dogs to pull stuff around. Some people still use them for everyday life today.

So what makes a sled dog different from other dogs?

  • They have two layers of fur:
    • A short, thick, fuzzy bottom layer close to their skin. This keeps them warm. 
    • A slick, oiled top layer. This keeps the snow off their bodies.
  • They can eat lots of blubber and fat, just like polar bears and in traditional Alaskan diets.
  • They have stout, strong bodies.
  • They can do well even with low oxygen. That means they can run longer without having to catch their breath!

When you think of a sled dog, you probably picture something like this:

Siberian huskies are great for pulling things. But most people use faster dogs for racing.

This guy is called a Siberian husky. They have big, thick coats to keep them warm, and are often seen in movies about sled dogs. These pups are really smart and strong. They are still used today for transportation in winter. But they are a little bulky for going fast.

In the actual racing sled dog world, we use dogs called Alaskan Huskies. They are smaller, sleeker, and have bodies shaped for running long distances.

These Alaska huskies are the kind of dog most people use to race. Notice their body shape, which is strong and good at running a long way.

These dogs aren’t technically a “real breed” of dog. Although sled dogs have been distinct for a long time, they also are mutts mixed with other good working dogs, like german shepherds, greyhounds and other huskies. Any smart, strong, and fast dog breeds are probably distant cousins of Alaskan huskies. 

How to race a sled dog team

This is a picture of my step dad at his last race in Wyoming. Look at those happy pups! I particularly love the guy in the back with his tongue flopping around (that helps them cool down).

Hooking the dogs up

Look closely at how the dogs are “hooked up” to the sled. They wear harnesses (like some pet dogs wear for clipping to leashes). The harnesses connect them to one long rope by their necks and backs. 

The main line is called a “gangline”. The gangline connects to the sled. The “neckline” connects each dog’s neck to the gangline. The line that they pull with their backs is called a “tugline”. 

They sometimes have to wear “booties”, which are basically puppy socks, if there’s a lot of ice or if they are running a very long way. But usually they are happy to have their bare feet in the snow. They have plenty of extra toe fur and special toe fat to protect them.

Sled dogs wearing booties. Photo: JLS Photography-Alaska

Before you get all the harnesses, lines, and booties on the dogs, you almost always have to tie a “snow hook” to your sled and bury it deep in the snow. This is like an anchor. The dogs get so excited to take off, they run the risk of pulling the sled away without you!

And they’re off!

When you’re on your sled and ready to go, you pull out the big snow hook, bend your knees, and shoot off down the trail.

To race, teams start at different times. They are timed during the race, and given updates at checkpoints. (Can you imagine if it was like a human race, and a bunch of dog teams all took off at the same time? It’d be a huge mess).

The trails are clearly marked. But how do the dogs know which way to go? 

The best listeners of your team are placed in the front. They are called “leaders”. They learn terms and phrases from their mushers to know which direction to go in:

  • “Gee” (pronounced like “oh geez” without the z) -means to turn right.
  • “Haw” means to turn left.
  • “Woah” means to slow down and stop.
  • “Let’s go” “get up” or “hike” means to get up and start running! (You don’t always need that one. They are usually really excited to do what they love: running really fast). 

Next time you are walking with friends, pretend you are a musher: to make each turn, would you shout “gee” or “haw” to your team? 

Typically, dog teams run about 9-15mph. That means, when you’re on the sled, you’d better hold on real tight! It may seem like the dogs do all the work. But you have to be very strong and quick to keep track of your team.

When going uphill, you have to step off the sled and run next to the dogs. When going downhill, you have to bend your knees and press on your brakes a little. If you don’t, the dogs could get tangled up in the lines.

You have to use your whole body to turn the sled around curves. Otherwise, you could shoot into a snowbank, like my mom did in this video: 

Doing all this in heavy warm gear, while keeping tack of your team and trying to go really fact, is a LOT of work!

 At the end of the race

At the end of the race, you unhook and feed your dogs. Then you run inside for cocoa and chili to wait for the awards ceremony. Prizes vary, but the person who comes in last always gets the same thing: a red lantern, in hopes that in the next race you will find your way.

My mom, proud of her first and only red lantern.

 People and their dogs

So why do we do it? Sometimes I think my mother is crazy for investing so much time and energy into this sport. But when you think about it, people have evolved with dogs for a long time. Sledding is a very traditional, natural form of transportation. Mushing lets us preserve this history and relationship with animals.

My step dad, lovin’ up on his lead dogs.

There are a lot of myths about mushing. People worry about the dogs staying outside. Movies and TV shows have displayed mushers whipping, beating, or abusing their dogs in other ways. 

As someone who has grown up around mushers and sled dog races, I have to say, this could not be further from the truth. The people who choose to do this sport love their animals dearly (how could you not?). They spend countless hours and resources protecting, feeding, and taking care of them. 

Little me talking with Crackers, one of my all-time favorite pups

These dogs are quite literally built for doing what they do. I like to think of them like very nice coyotes: wily, smart, and loving of the outdoors. Living outside all year round makes them happy and healthy! Playing in the snow in the winter, rolling around in the mud in the summer, tracking down whatever small animals they can find. They love it! (Just a heads up, chickens and sled dogs do not go well together. We have tried many times).

 Some people even build really intricate trailers to take their dogs to races, like this one:

In trailers, the dogs all have their own little warm beds, and there’s enough room to store their gear and food. 

There are also “dog boxes”, like this one my mom used to use when she first started out. 

The dogs hang out in their little beds for the ride! (Except for Big Brown in the front, who always liked to ride shotgun). 

Mushers typically have someone with them to help them take care of the dogs. These people are called “handlers”. They are in charge of feeding, scooping poop, and harnessing the dogs before the race. Sound fun? 

Sled dog racing is very dependent on teamwork between dogs and people. The mushers have to work with their handlers. The dogs have to work with their mushers.The dogs have to work with each other. Everything depends on a good, supportive team.

Your turn

Your life vs. a sled team

1. If you have a dog at home (or know one), compare it to a sled dog. What kind of fur does your dog have? What does their body make them good at? Could they and other dogs their size pull you on a sled through an icy blizzard? What are their favorite activities?

This dog is probably better at something other than pulling sleds. Photo:  A.Davey

2. Mushers spend a lot of their time training their dogs, figuring out which place in the team works best for them. Each member of the team has a very important role.

If YOU were a sled dog, where do you think you or your family members would fit best? You might be…

  • a leader: smart and good at following directions
  • one of the hind dogs: strong and steady, pulling most of the weight of the sled
  • a middle dog: fast and good at keeping your team on track

3. Think about all the things you would need in a sled. What would happen if you got lost or stranded? What materials do you think you would need to have? We will go over them in the virtual field trip, but try to come up with a good list and compare it to what we talk about.

 Working as a team: Sled dog game

Next time you are with your friends, imagine you are a sled dog team. Hold onto a rope together. Work together to move smoothly dow na path or pull something. Where would everyone fit in the team? Are you struggling to keep the rope straight, or are you able to move something? 

If you only have two people, make an obstacle course by placing a few harmless objects on the ground. One person is blindfolded. The other is the “musher,” giving instructions. The musher must help the blindfolded person walk past the objects without stepping on them. Try using the words sled dogs hear when they are running: “gee,” “haw,” “woah,” and “let’s go!”

Watch a race

 On February 26th, the “Copper Dog” race is happening in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We would usually participate in this race! If you’d like to see a race in real time, they have a livestream of the teams taking off. You can watch it here.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Lichens: Virtual Field Trip, Jan. 8

Our friend Emily found these “British Soldier” lichen on Christmas Eve. Photo: Emily Walter.

What is so tough that it can survive on bark, rocks, dirt, and even outer space? A little organism called lichen.

You might have seen it before: lichen is that flat, green or blue, flakey stuff on tree bark or rocks. Sometimes people think it’s moss, but it’s not. Actually, I wondered on my last walk, what exactly is this weird thing?

On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll find out just what lichen is and what it does!

CHOOSE YOUR LICHEN ADVENTURE:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, January 8 at 10:30. We’ll find out what lichen is and how it can survive harsh places!

Learn what lichen is: Read and look at pictures of lichen.

Look for lichen outside: What kind can you find? Does it tell you anything about the ecosystem?

Virtual Field Trip, Jan. 8 at 10:30am

Some lichen is so small that it looks like little dots on rocks. Photo: National Park Service/Jesmira Bonoan.

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods for anyone who wants to join. This week, we’ll look at what lichen is, how it survives crazy conditions, and how you can recognize it!

If you haven’t registered for our field trips before, register here to get the link in your email:

The same link works each Friday.

What is lichen?

If you’ve ever noticed something that…
… is grey, blue-ish, green or lime green;
… growing off a tree, a rock, cement or just on the ground;
…looks like flakes, dots, or dust;

…then you might have seen a lichen! Here are pictures of common lichens here in southeast Ohio:

A lot of people think lichen is moss. But moss is a completely different organism. Here’s a picture of moss. Can you tell the difference?

Moss is a plant, with roots, leaves and stems. But a lichen is not a plant at all!

Lichen is actually part algae and part fungus*. These two organisms join together and live like one! It’s a little like Frankenstein’s monster, except helpful instead of scary. When two organisms work together like this, it’s called symbiosis.

Lichen is made up of algae and fungus, living together like one organism.

What is the algae’s job in the lichen? The algae makes its own food from the sun (also known as photosynthesis). The algae shares this food with its partner fungus.

The fungus’ job is making the lichen’s structure. Like a house, it gives the algae a safe place to live.

Do you think lichens are producers, decomposers, or consumers in the food web? Why?

Lichens do not have stems, roots, or leaves to move water, air and food around. Instead, lichens use all the cells in their body to breathe, eat and drink. They breathe in EVERYTHING that surrounds them. This makes them very sensitive to the air around them, like Goldilocks. Certain lichens can only grow in very clean, very filtered air, while others can handle harsher conditions. 

Because they are so sensitive, scientists use lichens as bio-indicators–a living thing that shows how healthy their environment is. The number, health and kinds of lichen we find give us clues about how healthy the whole ecosystem is.

In North America, 3,600 species of lichen have been discovered so far! More are being discovered every day.

Using what you know about lichens so far, why do you think they are so important to an ecosystem? 

*It’s also part yeast, and maybe a few other things. We are still learning what is in lichen!

Masters of Survival

Lichens need a lot of water. They are typically found near water, or north in areas that get a lot of fog. When lichens are wet, they photosynthesize and grow. When dry, they stop doing everything: no making food, no growing. This helps them save as much water as possible. 

This dry lichen can spring back to life if it gets a bit of water. Photo: sirwiseowl

So when you spot a lichen outside, ask yourself: is it dry and brittle, or wet and spongy? The answer will tell you about how wet that place is. It might reflect recent weather. And it will tell you whether the lichen is active, or dormant! 

Because they can turn themselves on and off, lichens are known as one of the toughest, hardiest organisms found in nature. They can live in extreme conditions: everywhere from the freezing arctic tundra to the blazing hot desert. In the arctic, lichens are the main producer feeding animals, because it’s so difficult for plants to survive there. This is because they can dry out when there isn’t water, and wait for water to return. Astronauts even put a dry lichen in outer space for two weeks, and it returned just fine!

Lichen grows places that plants can’t. Once lichen is established, plants might grow on the spot it prepared. Photo: National Park Service

Because lichens don’t need roots to get nutrients, they can live on many more surfaces: you see them on rocks, concrete, dirt, and tree bark. In places that are very hard to grow–like rocks or places where volcanoes exploded–lichens might be the first organism to grow there. They prepare the ground before plants can grow. They have two parts that keep them attached to their surface. The first, rhizines, look like little twisty roots. The second, holdfasts, are often compared to an umbilical cord. They are just one thick structure that holds the entire lichen to its spot. 

Lichens have a weak spot: they need very clean air to be healthy. Since they breathe in EVERYTHING in the air around them, you might not find them in polluted areas, like cities or near factories or power plants. 

How do lichens help the ecosystem?

Many animals eat lichen. They can also use lichen as camouflage. Small birds, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, use them to build tiny nests that are hidden from predators. Gray tree frogs blend right in with them as well. The tree frogs will sit right on the lichen on the tree! 

Humans use some lichens for dyes, medicine, and as a preservative. We are even able to eat certain types! Do you have a pool at your house? The small strips you use to test the pH of your water, litmus strips, are lined with the color-changing chemicals found in lichens.

Some animals that use lichens in our neck of the woods: 

  • Lacewing insect larvae (to live in)
  • Northern Parula, ruby-throated hummingbird, and blue-gray gnatcatcher (for nests)
  • Nuthatches and brown creepers (for food) 
  • Gray tree frogs (for camouflage)
  • Flying squirrels (for food and nests)

Identifying lichen

There are three groups of lichen: Foliose, Fruticose, and Crustose. I can’t always identify what exact kind of lichen I’m looking at, but I can usually identify its group!

Foliose

A foliose lichen.

Foliose lichen have 2 sides, like leaves on a tree. There is a top and bottom. They can be flat, leafy, or full of ridges and bumps. 

Fruticose

Fruticose lichen have more fruit-like shapes, rather than being flat like a leaf. They can go straight up and down, look almost hair-like and shrubby, or look like “cups.” 

Crustose

A crustose lichen. Photo: National Park Service

Crustose are like their name: they look crusty, and are often on rocks. They are flat and often have bright colors. 

With this information, what do you think is the most common kind of lichen in Ohio?

Your turn: Look for lichens

Now that you are an expert in the functioning of a lichen, go outside to try and find some!

  1. Look on trees, rocks, and other flat surfaces.
  2. Once you’ve spotted your lichen, try to figure out which of the three categories it belongs in: fruticose, crustose, or foliose. s it bright and colorful and flat? Or does it have bumps and ridges? What was it growing on?
  3.  If you can’t find any–why do you think that is? If you find a bunch, what does that say about that environment?

After you’ve thought about these questions, share what you found in the comments! We’ll help you identify them!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

White-tailed Deer: Virtual Field Trip, Dec. 4th

Whitetail Deer - Brady, TX Area
A buck, or male white-tailed deer. Photo: huntingdesigns 

White-tailed deer are the most common large mammal species in North America. They can be found in all 88 counties of Ohio!

Join us on December 4th’s virtual field trip to learn to recognize signs of deer. We’ll also look at how deer have helped humans survive. Or just read onto learn about deer on your own!

CHOOSE AN ACTIVITY TO LEARN ABOUT WHITE-TAILED DEER:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, December 4th at 10:30. We’ll look for signs of deer and show you how to tan a hide.

Read a story about how the deer got its antlers. Try making a nice bowl of venison stew to complete your cozy evening!

Track a deer: Go outside with this scavenger hunt. You may find clues that show deer has been near.

Deer Virtual Field Trip: Friday, December 4, 2020 at 10:30am

Friday, Dec. 4, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll look for deer sign. Then Joe from Rural Action will demonstrate how to tan (preserve) a deer hide.

A note about this Friday’s content…

We will be showing how to tan a fresh deer hide from a deer that Joe hunted. Families who join the call should be okay with seeing the fresh deer skin. (The rest of the deer will not be shown).

You’ll receive the link for the Zoom call in your email. The same link works each Friday.

~~We’ll post the recording of the field trip here the following Monday~~

Fawn - Whitetail deer
A fawn, or baby deer. Photo: bjmccray.

Did you know?

  • The scientific name for whitetails is Odocoileus virginianus.
  • A whitetail deer can run as fast as 30 miles per hour. That’s pretty fast!
  • Water shy? No way! The whitetail can swim at speeds of up to 13 miles per hour.
  • White-tails have a four-chambered stomach, just like cows. The stomach helps them digest the rough plants that makes up their diet. This lets them to eat woody plants that other animals cannot digest.
  • The whitetail is Ohio’s ONLY big game animal. It has been a source of food for generations, beginning with indigenous people
  • Here’s how to sign “deer” in American Sign Language:

Do you know another interesting fact about whitetailed deer? Please share with us by posting it in the comment section!

Tell a deer tale

Did you ever wonder why deer have antlers? Many people have wondered why the world is the way it is. Myths try to answer these questions about the world with a story.

  1. Read this Cherokee myth, “How the Deer Got His Horns” (excerpted from History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas, by James Mooney).
  2. Now, get creative: write your own folklore to imagine how the deer got its antlers. If you have friends or siblings, trade your stories and see which ones you like best. We would love it if you shared it in the comments!
  3. Then, try to think like a scientist. How might a scientist explain why deer have antlers? How could antlers help a buck? Do some research if you need to. Share your ideas below!

Antlers or Horns?

In the story above, the author uses both the words “horns” and “antlers.” But antlers are actually different from horns.

Antlers are found on white-tails and other members of the deer family. They are bone that falls off and regrow. In most species, only males have antlers. Have you ever gone looking for antler sheds? A good time to look is the late winter and early spring, when the bucks shed their antlers.

Horns never come off of an animal. They grow throughout an animal’s life. Pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bison have horns. Horns are part bone and part hair follicle. Both males and females have horns.

Make venison chili

Mmm... chili
Photo: jeffreyw

Story-telling is best in the winter, when you can curl up by the fire with a warm bowl of stew and listen. People have depended on deer to feed them for a long time. If you are lucky enough to have some venison, warm up with a bowl of venison chili! Ask a parent for help and try making this recipe! Mmmmm!

Scavenger Hunt for Deer Signs

Go outside for a walk. As you walk, search for these clues that deer have come through the area:

Rub: A rub is a spot on a tree where the bark has been rubbed away by a male deer’s antlers. This can scar the tree for a long time. So you may find an old, healed scrape or a fresh one

Scrape: A small area on the ground where a male deer has scraped away leaves and vegetation with his hooves, leaving bare dirt. They may also lick and chew on any branches hanging over that spot, so look up!

Deer habitat is forest with lots of nuts for deer to eat. They also like the places where fields and forests meet. Keep your eyes peeled for oak, hickories, and beech trees. Deer love nuts and fruit! Did you know that deer also eat mushrooms!? Now that’s a FUNgi fact!

Deer trails are little paths through the forest that almost look like a human trail. But they are much narrower than our trails, and may seem to disappear unexpectedly. You might notice leaves have been nibbled on at about the height of a deer’s head.

Deer scat (i.e., deer poop) looks like little round balls.

Deer tracks are common in Ohio. Look in muddy places for 2-3 inch hoof marks. Can you tell which way they were going? The narrow end points the way like an arrow.

Help us decide where to put our game camera!

deer - Hampton Virginia
 Photo: watts_photos .

We need your help! Cast your vote to help us decide where to put our team’s game camera. Pick which location you think will have the most deer activity! We will put the camera in the place with the most votes. Pictures will be shared on the virtual field trip on December 4, 2020.

Voting ends on November 29, 2020.

*Already have some cool pictures!? We want to see them! Post your favorite white-tail pictures in the comments.*

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Nature Show and Tell! a Virtual Field Trip

Have you ever found something interesting outside? We found lots of crawdads at summer camp!

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!

WAYS TO DO NATURE SHOW AND TELL:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 16 at 10:30 am.

On your own: Become “In Charge of Celebrations”

On your own: Show and tell here on the blog!

Nature Show and Tell! Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 16, 2020

Prepare for this week’s field trip by thinking of something to share! You could ‘show’:

  • something you found outside, like a plant, rock or mystery item
  • a picture of a natural object
  • a story about an experience you had outside
  • something about nature you’ve been learning a lot about lately

There are no wrong choices. We welcome any nature-related shares!

Sarah found this morel mushroom last spring. It was a great day!

What will you ‘tell’ about your nature object for show and tell? You might share:

  • Where you found this nature object
  • Why this nature item is interesting to you
  • Something you’ve learned about the nature item recently
  • Questions you have about the nature item (the other people on the virtual field trips are really smart!)

If you don’t want to share anything, that’s okay too. You can listen to other people.

Join us at 10:30am on Friday, Oct. 16.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

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:

Your turn

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 darcy@ruralaction.org!
  • Add it to iNaturalist to get ID help from other nerds! (Here’s our post about how to use iNaturalist).

Looking forward to learning from you!

Categories
Young Naturalists Club

What do animals eat in fall?

Scientists study how many acorns fall each year to predict how wildlife will act. Photo: “Acorns (Explored 1/28/16)” by Marcy Leigh is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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).

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT WILDLIFE FOOD IN FALL:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 9 at 10:30 am.

On your own: Gather wild fall foods to try!

On your own: How much can you do with a nut? Face off with a squirrel.

Wildlife Food Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 9, 2020

We went on a hike to teach you to recognize the many nuts and fruits in the forest (and how to think like a hungry animal!).Watch the recording here:

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

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

This could be you. Photo: “Autumn Olive Harvest” by henna lion is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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 leaves and berries of autumn olive. See the silvery dusting on the berries and leaves? Photo: “Autumn-olive” by NatureServe is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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!

This acorn flour sifting tray was made by Amanda Wilson, a member of the Maidu tribe of California. Photo: “Acorn Flour Sifting Tray” from the Brooklyn Museum is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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.

A tasty meal for a deer…or a human who knows what to do with them! Photo: “White oak Quercus alba prolific acorns.jpg” by Dcrjsr is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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:

  1. For tastiest results, learn to recognize white oaks, burr oaks, or chestnut oaks, and gather those acorns.
  2. Read these instructions to making acorn flour here, or watch this video:
Learn to make acorn flour in this video, made by “In the Kitchen with Matt.”

The Purpose of all this food: ENERGY!

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?

ActivityCalories needed for human kidCalories needed for squirrelCalories in an acornHow 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 tree7525
Napping for an hour3415
Running for 10 minutes6525
Hunting for acorns for an hour16045
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!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Why do seasons change? Virtual Field Trip

red trees
Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

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?

Find out in this week’s virtual field trip!

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT WHY SEASONS CHANGE:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 2 at 10:30 am.

On your own: DIY leaf chromatography

On your own: Model the earth and sun

Seasonal Change Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 2, 2020

This week’s field trip will try to get to the bottom of why leaves change color. We’ll show you a few experiments that offer evidence. Join us from 10:30 to 11:00!

If you missed it, here is the recording:

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

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~~

Leaf Experiment

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:

  1. Rubbing Alcohol (Caution: this can be toxic if ingested. Ask for an adults help while handling)
  2. A small container
  3. A few green leaves from the same tree
  4. A coffee filter
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Materials for experiment
  1. Once you have gathered you materials, crush up your leaves by rubbing them between your palms.

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Crushed leaves

2. Place the leaves in the container. Carefully pour the rubbing alcohol over the leaves until most of the leaves are covered.

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Rubbing alcohol pouring over leaves
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Rubbing alcohol covering leaves

3. Stuff the coffee filter into the container so the bottom of it is in the rubbing alcohol

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Coffee filter in jar with leaves and 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
  • a ruler
  • a flashlight
  1. Tape the flashlight to the end of the ruler.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
LightArea:  # of squaresTemperature?
Direct
Angled

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:

“Seasons and the Sun,” from Crash Course Kids, explains why the tilt of the earth and the sun combine to create seasons

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!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Caterpillars Everywhere! Virtual Field Trip

Cecropia larvae

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!

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT CATERPILLARS:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, September 25 at 10:30 am.

On your own, outside: conduct a caterpillar study with a stick and a sheet.

On your own, inside: learn the caterpillars of southeast Ohio.

Caterpillar Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:00am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll talk about caterpillars, and how to find them.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

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:

  1. A solid stick you can easily hold and swing (not a wet one that will break.)
  2. A white towel, pillowcase, or sheet to catch caterpillars and other critters.
  3. 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!

(Learn more about using iNaturalist here).

Joe uploads a caterpillar we found to iNaturalist.

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

“Why is the Very Hungry Caterpillar So Dang Hungry” from Deep Look, PBS Digital Studios

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!

Which is your favorite caterpillar?
Vote below:

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!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: American Ginseng

American Ginseng. Photo credit: Larry Stritch
CHOICES FOR LEARNING ABOUT GINSENG:

Join our Friday zoom field trip! This Friday, Sept. 18 at 10:30am, we’ll be looking at ginseng.

Think you have plant ID skills? Play “Is it ginseng?” to practice!

Read about why this plant is so special in the rest of this blog post.

Make a mini ginseng habitat. Go outside and see if you can create a spot friendly for ginseng and its allies.


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!

Missed it? Watch the recording here:

Ginseng virtual field trip recording from Sept. 18, 2020

Register for more of our fall 2020 field trips here.

Read on to learn more about ginseng and try some activities!


American Ginseng

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! 

A map of the the native range of American ginseng. Photo credit: NRCS

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.

Map of places where ginseng has been recorded in Ohio. Photo credit: NRCS

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?

Ginseng habitat

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.

Photo credit: Rural Action

If a plant is only a year old, it will only have one prong (one leaf made of three smaller leaflet):

A ginseng seedling, only one year old. Photo credit: Rural Action

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.

A mature ginseng plant with four prongs and fruit! Photo credit: Rural Action

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.

Want to help ginseng return to the forests? Would you like to grow your own so you can easily harvest it ethically? You can buy ginseng seed from Rural Action each fall.

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. Attend the Virtual Field Trip this Friday at 10:30 AM to learn more about ginseng, share your stories and thoughts, and see some ginseng in action! Register for the meeting here:  https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma.
Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Mushrooms

Hunting for mushrooms at Burr Oak State Park last fall. Photo: Rural Action

This week, we invite you to choose your own adventure. How would you like to explore the wild world of mushrooms?

Choices for Exploring Mushrooms:

On your own, outside:
Make a spore print.

On your own, inside: explore mushrooms’ many forms!

Doing the “on your own” activities before the zoom field trip will help you get more out of it. Or, they are a great alternative if you won’t attend the field trip.

Virtual Field Trip on Zoom: Friday, Sept 11 at 10:30am

Go on a virtual mushroom hunt with our naturalists! We’ll show you edible, poisonous, and downright bizarre mushrooms. How do mushrooms help an ecosystem?

Watch the recording of this field trip:

Recording of the virtual field trip about mushrooms, Sept. 11 2020.

To attend future virtual field trips, click here.

On Your Own

If you go outside: Make a spore print

Spores are the part of mushrooms that grow new mushrooms, like seeds do for plants. Spores look like a dust that falls out of mushrooms.

If you leave a mushroom on a piece of paper overnight (don’t move it!), in the morning you will see a pattern. Mushroom lovers use these patterns to identify what kind of mushroom it is.

Mushroom caps on the left, and their spore prints on the right. Photo: Chelynski.
  1. First, search outside for a mushroom! Mushrooms might grow even in a lawn. Try looking in:
  • shady spots
  • on old stumps or dead sticks
  • dying trees
  • dead grass, straw, or leaves

Pluck one carefully. Don’t touch your mouth and wash your hands afterwards. Some mushrooms are poisonous!

2. Next, make your spore print. To learn how, watch the video below. Or, click here to read instructions.

How to make spore prints, from Pepper and Pine’s YouTube channel

3. Take a picture of your print. Or, write a description of its shapes and colors. Share your sport print picture or description in the comments below, or in your teacher’s online classroom.

The artist Madge Evers uses spore print to create art: click here for inspiration.

If you’re inside: Explore the many forms of fungi

If you’re like most people, you picture mushrooms or fungi as something like this:

A classic mushroom shape. Photo: Kathie Hodge, Cornell Fungi

But would you have recognized all of these as fungi as well?

Photo credits, upper left to bottom right: , Brian Gratwicke, Kathie Hodge , Kathie Hodge, Kathie Hodge, Cornell Mushroom Blog

  1. 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.
  2. Mushrooms are often just part of a much bigger web of fungus. Sometimes that web is the size of a log–but sometimes it’s the size of the whole forest! Read about it:
    Oregon Humongous Fungus Sets Record As Largest Single Living Organism On Earth
    The Wood Wide Web: How Trees Secretly Talk to and Share with Each Other
  3. 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!
Does your mushroom fit into one of these shapes? Image: North American Mycological Association/Louisie Freedman.