Posts filed under ‘Education’
Did you know that this week is National Pollinator Week? Every year organizations devoted to conservation celebrate pollinators and address the urgent issue of declining pollinator and plant populations. Pollination is the process of moving pollen within flowers or from flower to flower, allowing the plants to fertilize and reproduce. This movement can be done by wind, water, or a variety of animals, known as pollinators. Animal pollinators assist about 90% of all flowering plants in their pollination needs.
This year’s focus is on native orchids, which depend on a variety of animals for pollination. What is particularly interesting about the relationships between orchids and their pollinators is that while many insects and animals may visit orchid flowers, each orchid species often has a “preferred” pollinator. Unfortunately, if pollinator populations continue to decline, many species of orchids could be at risk.
This is true too for many of our own food sources, including coffee, bananas, and a variety of tree nuts. These plants are truly dependent on their pollinators and in turn, so are we. According to pollinator.org, “worldwide, approximately 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend. In the United States, pollination by honeybees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually.” However, the loss of habitat, chemical misuse, invasive plant and animal species, and various diseases have severely affected pollinator species around the world. Unfortunately, the true scope of damage and the status of pollinators is still unknown, which is why it is so important to work to conserve pollinator species, even the seemingly non-desirable insects, such as flies.
When we think of pollinators, we typically think of the glamorous ones: bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. However, many plants are pollinated by other animals and insects such as bats, beetles, moths, and even flies; each one has its own distinct attraction to flowers. For example, bees, birds, and butterflies prefer brightly colored flowers, while flies and moths prefer pale or dark colored plants. A diverse selection of native plants in your garden can help to support pollinator populations in your area and maintain botanical biodiversity. Pollinator.org has handy regional guides on what plants are native to your area and attractive to the different pollinators in your eco-system.
So what can we do to protect and encourage pollinator communities? In the Butterfly Habitat Garden, Smithsonian Gardens has committed to planting pollinator-attracting plants free of chemical-based pesticides. In all of our gardens too, an Integrated Pest Management approach is used, meaning that we monitor insect behavior and can then attempt to control insect populations rather than eradicate them. This method can better allow for pollinators to do their jobs, as they are not exterminated by chemical-based pesticides.
Even if you cannot devote a whole habitat to pollinating critters, you can provide a refuge or food source with even one plant. James Gagliardi, horticulturist in the Butterfly Habitat Garden provided a list of some of his favorite plants in the garden that are frequently visited by pollinators:
Hummingbird Mint (Agastache spp)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Bee Balm (Monarda spp)
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)
Salvia (Salvia spp)
Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa spp)
Goldenrod (Solidago spp)
Verbena (Verbena spp, especially Verbena bonariensis)
Lantana (Lantana camara)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
-Elizabeth Chenevey, Smithsonian Gardens Education & Outreach Intern
The Enid A. Haupt Garden is a symmetrical, manicured Victorian parterre gracing the Smithsonian Quad. While the design of the garden changes with the seasons, it usually has topiaries or tall urns in each of its four corners. This year, however, the plants have been replaced by four large bronze birds, each one representing an extinct species native to North America.
The birds, the work of artist Todd McGrain, are part of the Lost Bird Project. The project seeks to create awareness of the vulnerability of living things when they are hunted or their habitats are destroyed. The sculpture closest to the southeast corner of the garden is the heath hen, whose history is closely entwined with that of the areas where it once thrived, from Maine to Virginia.
A subspecies of the prairie chicken, the heath hen was considered a culinary treat. Indeed, some have suggested that it was the heath hen rather than the turkey that the Pilgrims consumed during the first Thanksgiving. Because they were a cheap food source, heath hens were hunted and eaten, and their numbers dropped sharply. By 1870, there were none in the US mainland; their dwindling population was confined to the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. By the turn of the 20th century, only 100 heath hens were left and the island placed a ban on hunting. This measure, together with the creation of a sanctuary, increased their population to 800 by 1916. But a fire destroyed much of their breeding ground that year, and that, together with a harsh winter, disease, and the rise of predatory birds, once again imperiled the heath hen. By 1927, there were only 13 birds left. The last heath hen, known as Booming Ben for his distinctive and haunting hoot, died in 1932.
McGrain has depicted the hen with an open beak, as if Ben were trying to tell us something. The sculpture was made using the lost-wax method. The bird was first carved in wax, then covered with a ceramic material and baked in an oven. This burned away the wax, leaving a mold in the shape of the bird. The molten bronze was then poured into the mold, after which it hardened and assumed the desired form. The artist has therefore created a memorial to the extinct bird, both honoring the heath hen and reminding us of its extinction, an event that could have been averted with greater environmental knowledge and awareness.
-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens volunteer
Interning at the Smithsonian Gardens this winter has been an enriching and rewarding experience. Getting the opportunity to work on so many different projects with so many different people in an intellectually-stimulating environment makes every day exciting and gratifying.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to assist in The Lost Bird Project’s arrival at the Smithsonian. Sculptor Todd McGrain began The Lost Bird Project to bring awareness to North American birds that have become extinct within the last two centuries. Todd has made five cast-bronze statues to immortalize five extinct birds: the Carolina Parakeet, the Passenger Pigeon, the Labrador Duck, the Heath Hen, and the Great Auk. He has traveled across the country installing his statues at locations where the birds were last seen. His statues have also been displayed at various institutions across the country.
Smithsonian Gardens is proud to host Todd’s statues in the Enid A. Haupt Garden located adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle. The Passenger Pigeon statue will be on display at the Urban Bird Habitat Garden located at the northwest corner of the National Museum of Natural History as a companion piece to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ exhibit Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America opening on June 24, 2014. The five sculptures will be on display through March 15, 2015.
The stories of these birds are tragic and highlights just how fragile nature can be. One-hundred years ago, massive flocks (numbering in the millions) of Passenger Pigeons flew across the Unites States. It was inconceivable at the time that the huge Passenger Pigeon population could become extinct. The birds became a stable food source across the country and as the demand for Passenger Pigeons grew, the birds were hunted to the point of extinction. Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, died in captivity in 1914.
These two exhibits remind us of the importance of understanding how as humans we are intrinsically linked to our environment. Whether directly or indirectly, humans have a huge influence on our natural world and our every action affects many other organisms. These birds represent just a mere fraction of the species we have lost over the past two centuries. Pollution, excessive hunting and fishing, global warming, habitat loss are all anthropogenic factors that have contributed to the extinction of many species across the globe. By bringing awareness to this issue, we can work towards preventing such extinctions from happening in the future.
-Tammy Lee, Smithsonian Gardens landscape architecture intern
As part of its exhibition Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, the National Museum of African Art invited several African artists to do earthworks in the Smithsonian’s gardens. These are large sculpture works which use earth as material, motif, and/or message. One of these is ”Ala” by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui.
Ala is the Igbo goddess of earth, and is also associated with morality, fertility, and creativity. Although she is usually depicted as a voluptuous woman, El Anatsui has chosen shape and materials to allude to her powers. The pyramidal shape may be seen as emblematic of the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. But for El Anatsui it reflects the ubiquity of mounds of earth in West Africa. There are termite mounds, and mounds may be used to mark the entrance of villages, serving as posts or guardians for those who live there. In addition, there are crops [e.g., yams] that are planted in mounds of earth.
The materials that sheath the pyramid are trade objects that come from the earth. The metal plates are graters made from flattened, repurposed large cans or drums. These are punctured with nails, leaving sharp ridges that are used for grating. These graters are used primarily for processing cassava, which is a staple food that was imported into Africa from Brazil. Cassava — also known by other names such as yuca, garri, manioc, and tapioca— is a very hardy and multi-purpose food which can be prepared in many forms: it can be boiled, fried, mashed into a paste, and ground into a flour-like substance. Depending on how it is cooked and used, cassava can be a main dish, a side dish, dessert, and even bread. Cassava has a long history as a trade object: it was carried on ships going from the western hemisphere to Africa and traded for human lives. It thus served as a kind of currency, with most of the cargo left in Africa. But enough was kept on board to feed those being taken as slaves to the Americas. Cassava therefore has a very mixed legacy: it was both the source of the slaves’ misery and the means of their survival and sustenance.
The graters are interspersed with mirrors, which comes from silica and therefore from sand. In more formal terms, mirrors break up the shape, giving what the artist calls ‘buoyancy’ or lightness to the structure. In addition to being trade objects, mirrors are used in transportation to reflect where we’ve come from. For El Anatsui, these mirrors are a visual pun: they allude to the sankofa bird, which twists its neck to look back and is associated with a variety of Asante proverbs and meanings, including the following:
(1) It is never too late to turn around and start on a new path once one has recognized one’s mistake.
(2) Look at your past and you will recognize your future.
(3) You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from.
Combining different shapes, media, history, and metaphors, El Anatsui has created a tribute to Ala which brings her ‘down to earth’ and makes her accessible to many in a variety of ways.
-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian docent
Ghada Amer, (1963 – ), born in Egypt, based in New York
Earthwork in “Earth Matters”
Ghada Amer is one of a selected number of artists invited by the National Museum of African Art to take part in the exhibit Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor by creating an earthwork in the Smithsonian’s gardens. Earthworks are large sculptural works which use earth as material, motif, and/or message. Several of these earthworks have been installed in the Enid A. Haupt Garden in the vicinity of the Sackler and African Art Museums.
Amer works in a variety of genres: painting, sculpture, film, photography, installation. In much of her work she has appropriated two media that are usually associated with domestic arts or “women’s work”: embroidery and gardening. She therefore uses thread and plants to express messages that are highly political, focusing on a range of themes, including gender roles, women’s sexuality, and human rights. In the work currently on display in the Smithsonian Gardens, Amer has chosen the subject of hunger as her topic. She thus highlights a worldwide problem at the same time that she alludes to a specific issue: the fact that politicians in her native Egypt and elsewhere prey on the hungry by promising food in exchange for votes. Bags of rice and other edibles are therefore bartered for political support.
The current earthwork began with the delineation of large letters spelling the word “Hunger” along a strip of land at the north entrance of the Haupt Garden. Once the letters were outlined as furrows, they were planted with rice. The work has therefore evolved through different stages, reflecting the initial carving of the land and the growth of the ‘crops’ growing in the designated space.
Initially, the viewer could read the word “hunger” spelled out in earth. Then, the stenciled letters were filled in with small tufts of rice plants. Over the summer months, the plants grew very noticeably, and the edible rice began to emerge. This in turn attracted birds, who saw the grain as a bonus meal. As the plants grew and became bushier, the word was ‘hunger’ became less readable. The letters re-emerged once the crop was harvested. In keeping with the original idea of crop rotation, the letters will be planted with kale, which can survive colder temperatures. During fall and winter, the letters will become greener and denser.
In “Hunger,” as in some of her other work, Amer combines medium and message, and urges us to read both the ‘writing on the wall’ and the letters on the earth.
-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian volunteer
As parents, teachers, and students wrap up the first couple of months of the new school year. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Christine Price-Abelow thought it would be fun to highlight a few plants with names linked to education. Keep an eye out for these plants growing in the museum gardens on your next class field trip!
1. Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)
Chinese Scholar-tree is also known as the Japanese Pagodatree. In its native country of China the Scholar–tree was often planted near Buddhist shrines, hence the name. However it is commonly used as a city or street tree in the United States. It has a moderate to fast growth rate and usually reaches a height of 40-60’ with a nice rounded crown. Sophora trees have a compound leaf which casts a light shade and they are very tolerant to heat, drought and pollution. They produce creamy white flowers in mid-July followed by a pod type fruit. This “educational” tree can be found on the west side of the National Air and Space Museum near the McDonald’s trailer and seating area.
2. Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)
The next time you visit Smithsonian Gardens and the National Mall, be sure to look up at the large towering trees shading the walkways. A large percentage of this tree canopy is made up of American elms, specifically the ‘Princeton’ American Elm. As you know, most plant cultivars are named for people and places and the ever popular Princeton elm is no exception. The Princeton elm was first introduced in 1922 by William Flemer of Princeton Nurseries located near Princeton, New Jersey. The Princeton elm was originally selected for its resistance to Dutch elm disease and aesthetic beauty. There are many examples of the Princeton elm planted throughout the U.S. and they can be genetically linked to a 200+ year old American elm tree formerly growing at Princeton Cemetery near Princeton University.
American elms have a beautiful yellow fall color and make excellent shade trees. They are fast growing and reach a height of about 80’ with a spread of 50-60’. The Princeton cultivar is known for its disease resistance and large dark green leaves. They are also a great choice for urban landscapes. Plant your own piece of history!
Smithsonian Gardens is using Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’ as a street tree and in the tree box planters surrounding the museums.
3. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
In keeping with our “Back to School” theme, our next featured plant is the pencil cactus. Though often referred to as a cactus, this plant is actually a succulent and a member of the Euphorbia family. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and India, therefore it is grown as a seasonal tropical plant or a houseplant in the Washington, D.C. area. This euphorbia’s distinctive round, rod-shaped branches that resemble the familiar school implement give the plant its nickname. They are very easy to grow and can be propagated by cuttings.
*A note of caution, you should always wear gloves when working around this plant; it exudes a milky, latex-type sap that can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people.
This plant can be found growing in a large container in the Ripley Garden.
-Christine Abelow-Price, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
In preperation for the Smithsonian’s Day of the Dead celebration we are currently growing ‘Hopi Red Dye’ Amaranth and Orange Marigolds in the gardens around the National Museum of the American Indian and in our greenhouses.
The Aztecs, Mayans, and Toltecs commemorated the deceased at fixed times during the year. The Indigenous peoples believed that during these months of the year the deceased could return. To encourage the deceased to return, they offered flowers, food, incense, dancing, and music.
Day of the Dead or “Dia De Los Muertos” is a holiday celebrated in many Latin American countries and in areas of the United States with high populations of Hispanic Americans, including California, Texas, and New Mexico. The festival is celebrated on November 2nd. The culture of the Day of the Dead reinforces the idea that death is not scary or sad but a natural part of life.
In the United States, Day of the Dead celebrations are becoming increasingly common. While the use of skulls, marigolds, and candles is still routine, the altars are sometimes included museum exhibits to make a statement about life in America for Latino Americans. Latino Americans are mixing the traditional with the contemporary in the continuation of this tradition and the preservation of their heritage.
Learn more about the Day of the Dead from the Smithsonian Latino Center: http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/.
The National Museum of the American Indian in collaration with the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Latino Center will be hosting their annual Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead on Sunday, October 27, 2013 and Saturday, October 28, 2013 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program will include the exhibition of the ofrendas, food demonstrations, music, dance performances, and special film screenings.
-Mattea Sanders, Fall 2013 Horticulture Collections and Education Intern
This summer I had the privilege of working with two terrific high school students who were part of the Youth Engagement Through Science Program (YES!) sponsored by the National Museum of Natural History. The students spent six weeks at Smithsonian Gardens participating in a citizen science bird watch. Read about their experiences below.
-Cynthia Brown, Horticulture Collections and Education Manager
Elvis Sosa Martinez: My name is Elvis Sosa – Martinez. I plan on graduating from high school next year (2014) and I would like to go to college and major in Business Administration and Criminal Justice.
My experience at the Smithsonian Gardens was great! I never thought I would learn so many things about bird species. My project for the six weeks was about conducting a bird count to see what types, and how many, are stopping by to visit the Smithsonian Gardens Urban Bird Habitat Garden around the National Museum of Natural History. The data that was collected from our bird watching sessions was added to the Cornell Lab Ornithology Celebrate Urban Birds project. Every bird is unique in some type of way. Honestly I would recommend this program to any high school student. It is a great experience and opportunity to communicate and interact with many different people. You get the opportunity to observe and to learn how birds nest, live, what they eat and much more. My mentors Cynthia Brown and Paula Healy were a lot of help. They were always there when I needed help and they were very fun to work with. I really appreciate everything that they have done to make this experience a great experience.
Brianne Turner: My name is Brianne Turner and I am a rising senior. I am originally from Dallas, Georgia and moved to Washington, D.C. in 2007. I was excited about this internship because it was something fun and new for me. I hoped to gain knowledge about new science fields that I didn’t have prior knowledge about. When I graduate high school I would like to study food science and go to law school.
When most people think of bird watching, they think “Boring!” and choose to avoid the activity all together. However it is so much more. Bird watching for the first time was dull to me, but when you see your first bird it unlocks a new curiosity. When you see a bird you start to pay attention to the environment near it and also you look at the details on the bird. You begin to do more research in order to find out what bird species you saw and how you can find it again. You find a new appreciation for the world in which you live in and think of ways to help better it for people and animals, because we are not the only ones that have to pay for our negligence. I had an opportunity be involved with a fairly new project and do research for the new bird interpreters. I get to leave with the knowledge that my work that I have done will be used over and over again and it will be put to great use.
I really appreciate everything that Smithsonian Gardens has done to make this experience a great experience.
On May 10th We celebrated National Public Gardens Day with Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens – Garden Fest 2013! It was a busy (and hot) day energized by music, dancing, crafts, tomato potting, and lots of information for the home gardener, from composting to attracting pollinators.
When we asked artist Emily C-D to design a collaborative, ephemeral art activity for Garden Fest we were excited to see what she would dream up. For weeks we collected leaves, flowers, and more from our gardens and greenhouses, eager to see how she would incorporate the materials into an artwork dependent on visitor participation that would only last for one day.
In her own words, here is Emily’s take on her process and vision:
What was your inspiration for the project?
Emily: I was asked to come up with a temporary, participatory art piece appropriate for a festival about gardening that would also reference the Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor exhibit at the National Museum of African Art. Drawing on my experience as a muralist who has often painted on horizontal surfaces, and also as an explorer that has experienced the beauty of Mexican tapetes (ephemeral carpets), I proposed the creation of a ground mural out of natural materials. I have always enjoyed transforming the floor—crosswalks, sidewalks, streets, and bridges—because the process of creation and the finished piece are intrinsically participatory. I can invite people of all ages and abilities to join in the fun since the surface to be transformed does not necessitate the use of ladders or scaffolding. The public that walks across the finished work of art enters the world created by the designs and colors, literally becoming a part of the piece. For Garden Fest, it seemed appropriate that we would use organic materials from the garden itself—seeds, leaves, petals, sticks, wood chips, rocks, and dirt—to “paint” the mural.
Can you tell us a little bit more about “garden carpets” in Mexico?
Emily: Tapetes (literally, carpet in Spanish) are temporary works of art that are created on the ground out of brightly colored sawdust and other organic materials like flower petals, beans, seeds, and rice. In Mexico, their creation is a public event that draws the community together and is often associated with the celebration of a religious holiday. Tapetes can be monumental, perhaps covering the entire block that surrounds a church. It takes an incredible amount of patience, time, and energy to create a work of art of such magnitude (and often quite impressive detail and design), and yet tapetes are meant to be walked on. They are pathways for spiritual processions and as such they are ephemeral, lasting only a day or two. The value of tapetes lies within a process that builds community and brings people into the present through the creation of a moment of beauty.
Did everything go as planned? Did anything surprise you?
Emily: The nature of my community practice is such that the element of surprise is built into the projects. My role as the artist is to create an open framework that establishes cohesiveness within a work of art that involves the contributions of many hands and minds. Although I might be working with specific themes, materials, and/or designs, many details are left up to the participants so that they might have a sense of ownership of the piece, and not just feel like “helpers.” In the case of Garden Carpet, I drew a very basic design onto a large piece of canvas which people were encouraged to “color in” using the various materials at hand—sort of like a page from a monumental coloring book. The symmetrical nature of my drawing influenced the placement of the materials (sand, pinecones, or pink sawdust), so that without directing people as to where to place what, the final work exhibited an incredible sense of balance. It was a constant surprise to me as to which colors and textures were chosen to fill in the different areas of the design, and yet at the end of the day, my original drawing still shone through.
What was your favorite moment of the day?
Emily: The moment when two girls began to fill in the blank design with color was especially exciting, and viewing the finished work at the end of the day was definitely very satisfying. Although, I have to stress that I thoroughly enjoyed myself throughout the day. Every moment was filled with color, collaboration, and creation!
How did you get into community art, and what do you enjoy about collaborating with the public?
Art is a form of communication that can transgress boundaries of language and culture. As such, I have always been interested in increasing the accessibility of art so that we might all realize our creative potential and cooperate in the creation of a more vivid, expressive world. I first got into community art back in 2004 when I facilitated the painting of new outdoor seating for a public library in Baltimore. Since then, I have been creating fun, interactive projects that blur the line between spectator and participant, working with people to discover color, rhythm, and beauty within the chaos of our reality.
At the end of the day the installation was rolled up and composted at our greenhouse facility, but it lives on in photographs and the memories of those who contributed to its creation.
Emily C-D is based out of Mexico City and Baltimore. You can view more of her community art on her website: http://www.emilycd.com/
-Kate Fox, museum educator
Friday, June 21 marks the 2013 summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis reaches its steepest incline towards the sun. It is the longest day of the year, as the sun hangs at its highest point. The solstice represents only an instant in time, but the day of its occurrence encompasses celebrations around the world throughout history. The day of the solstice, or midsummer, offers an excellent opportunity to celebrate the sunny days ahead as well as reflect on the approaching decline into autumn and winter.
In Western culture, midsummer has many ties to pagan magic. Folklore links many plants with the event in many magical capacities, like being able to see the fairies that emerged for the night, protection from natural and spiritual forces, and healing. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) maintains a strong connection to the holiday. Traditional wisdom tells us that the bright yellow flowers hold the sunny energy of midsummer, making the herb effective at treating depression, and that it can protect against thunderstorms.
European midsummer festivities also have abundant connections to fertility. The Swedes have an excellent saying: “Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.” Cultural traditions provide ample opportunities for young people to pair up and sneak into the night, such as looking for the flower of a fern that only blooms at night in Estonia. Midsummer celebrations often involve bonfires, which play an important role in many myths, such as a jumping through a fire to aid fertility.
The West does not, however, hold a monopoly on summer solstice celebrations. Eastern cultures often observe solstice festivities, as well as Native American cultures. The ancient Chinese celebrations of the summer solstice, honoring the earth, femininity, and “yin,” complemented the heavenly, masculine, and “yang” centered winter celebrations.
Native American rituals varied by culture, and some traditions survive today. The National Museum of the American Indian Heye Center (New York) hosted an event on June 15th entitled “Circle of Dance! Inti Raymi.” The event included a family-oriented activity session to create gold foil pendants to recognize the importance of the Inti (sun) to all life, as well as a lecture session on the celebration of Inti Raymi by indigenous peoples of the Andes. The traditional festival included music, dancing, colorful costumes, and the sharing of food.
Despite being the longest day of the year, the solstice isn’t necessarily the hottest day, which means it could be a wonderful day to enjoy the outdoors. Celebrate the height of summer by working in the garden, hosting an outdoor solstice party, or building your own Stonehenge. There are plenty of beautiful flowers in bloom right in time for the solstice, like this great flower in bloom at the Smithsonian Gardens, Oenothera fruticosa ‘Summer Solstice.’ It’s vibrant “sundrop” flowers will brighten up any day!
Education and Outreach Intern