Senior Biology and a Riverstone Arboretum

In early November, Samantha Cole, one of the middle and high school science teachers at Riverstone, invited me to guest speak to her 12th grade Biology class. They are working on their evolution unit right now and are covering the concepts of binomial nomenclature, hierarchy of taxa, reclassification due to molecular discoveries, using and making a dichotomous key, and cladistics. I wanted to apply these concepts towards a fun field trip around campus and create a valuable resource at the same time – keying the trees on campus with a goal of mapping and signing some of the trees around campus facilitating the beginning of a student created campus collection garden.

I put together a plant collections and plant identification presentation that I hoped would prepare the seniors to go out on campus and key out the trees in their landscape. Once they correctly ID the trees they will create the content for plant labels and we will install the beginning signage for our very own arboretum! The class and presentation went great, but outside we were fighting the rainy weather and the coming of winter. Many of the specimens had changed leaf color or were missing their leaves (or other identifying parts like bracts and fruit) entirely. We will install signs for the species this class identified this year, and hope to expand the collection and signage through CAS (Creativity Action Service) projects and other opportunities. Samantha has already invited me back to give the lecture to next year’s class, but at the very end of the school year when the plants will be more easily keyed due to all the leaves and flowers emerging instead of senescing!

I am looking forward to seeing the tree and plant diversity increase on campus as we continue to install and expand projects such as the native grass and butterfly gardens. The interpretive signage that comes with these projects will provide opportunities for students, parents, visitors and educators alike to learn about and interact personally with the landscape and foster an even deeper connection to the school and the grounds because of that enriched experience.


Update! June 2016
We waited all spring for the trees on campus to come out of dormancy so we could more easily identify them. Once I confirmed that our field IDs were correct I had arboretum-style signs printed! I had the opportunity to meet with next year’s senior class and give them a preview of what their keying exercise will be next year while we installed the signs for the trees identified by the current senior class. While we were installing signs Ben and I overheard a group of students express a wish to be able to do this more and make several suggestions about the places and plants on campus that are important to them. I’m proud to say that these are the founders of the Riverstone Green Team (Read about it!) (name still not official).

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