Disclaimer: My background is in communications. Before working at Fernbank I couldn’t tell a red oak from a pine tree. That said, one of the things I enjoy most about my job is the opportunity to learn more about natural history by joining one of the Museum’s unique educational programs. I’m able to discover and learn through a new perspective, often doing so with the curiosity of an explorer and the wide-eyed-enthusiasm of a child.
Speaking of natural history, Fernbank’s Summer Camp covers a variety of areas under the big umbrella that is natural history. So, I returned to summer camp, specifically on “Forest Day” for the Discovery Team camp (rising 2nd – 3rd graders).
Our lesson started in Fernbank NatureQuest, identifying trees (beech, long-leafed pine, short-leafed pine, red oak), part of plants (leaves, stems, roots) as well as seed dispersal.
Then it was time to take the lesson outdoors with a trip to Fernbank Forest with Fernbank educator, Charlee Glenn. Shortly upon entering the forest, we stopped to identify our first tree, a muscle tree. We did this not from memory, but by examining the bark, leaves and circumference of the tree.
The bark on muscle trees almost looks like veins that you’d see on bodybuilder flexing. Not only does the bark look similar to muscles, it is also a very strong tree. Despite having a smaller circumference, the muscle tree is very dense. To illustrate this, Charlee asked one of the campers to try to push the tree to see if it’d bend. (Note: it did not, but boy did that kid try.)
Next up (after navigating at least 5 spider webs), we found a red oak tree. Red oaks have lobbed leaves and its bark is light with dark stripes (like a zebra). Since one of the main identifiers we used for this tree was its leaves, we looked for some on the ground.
As we made our way to Huntemann Pond, Charlee talked about some of the animals that live in Fernbank Forest. As if on cue, a red tail hawk made its presence known with a series of calls.
In addition to hawk calls, and despite the excited chattering of kids, you could still hear the rest of the forest: a variety of song birds, banjo frog, and the unmistakable “PLOP” of a frog jumping into the pond.
Today’s forest adventure included a special presentation by current FUN volunteer Meg, who has also served as a restoration volunteer in the Fernbank Forest Overlook. Her focus during that project was removing invasives. She provided a quick overview of the difference between invasive vs. native plants and how the invasives impact the native species.
It’s summer camp, so of course there was show and tell. Meg led a game of “Name that Invasive!” English ivy, kudzu, wisteria, privet and monkey grass - Oh my! Inspired by their new knowledge of invasives, one of the campers declared “let’s go pull ALL the monkey grass!”
Love the enthusiasm kid, but hold on a sec.
“You can’t just pull these [invasive] plants out of the ground,” Meg explained. She continued “It’s a careful process that takes time. We have to remove the entire plant, right down to the roots.”
As we made our way out of the forest, Charlee asked the kids to call out any invasives they spotted. One camper spotted a bank covered in English ivy and said “It’s like a football field of ivy!”
It was great to learn about the forest along with the campers. Their sense of wonder and endless curiosity was inspiring. Right up until I ran into my 6th spider web.
Click here to see more photos from my leafy adventure.
—Deanna Smith, Director of Marketing