Posts tagged ‘Education’

Behind the Orchids: Orchid Family Day

Orchid Family day booths set up in the National Museum of Natural History

Orchid Family day booths set up in the National Museum of Natural History

After working with orchids for five weeks, I could not have been more thrilled to share the splendor of orchids with families and museum-goers at Orchid Family Day. The event was held Saturday, February 22nd on the ground floor of the National Museum of Natural History, and drew a large crowd even in the face of a snowstorm. Smithsonian Gardens, the United States Botanic Garden, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center joined together to engage and educate Orchid Family Day participants about orchids and orchid care. Stations included building terrariums, creating botanical illustrations, making paper orchid corsages, asking an expert any orchid question, learning about orchid research, and potting an orchid to take home.

Naturally, there’s always some amount of preparation work that goes into any event. Planning Orchid Family Day took a team of Smithsonian Gardens staff and volunteers. Over numerous weeks, the group developed activities, prepared necessary materials, and helped gather the staff and volunteers needed to run activities. We also created orchid information panels from scratch to pair with the day’s activities. As an intern, I was able to collaborate and create the initial drafts of three display panels. The text then had to pass through several people for editing and revising to ensure quality and accuracy. After having gathered some of the first research for these panels, it was incredible to see the transformation from a simple word document into a professional looking display panel. It was a great opportunity, and I’m proud to have played an influential role in the development of Orchid Family Day.

The Orchid Family Day Panels in final form.

The Orchid Family Day Panels in final form.

Aside from event logistics, Orchid Family Day also needed publicity. Event details were posted online but word of mouth brought more people than the publicity alone could have. In fact, even with the threat of a snowstorm, hundreds of people showed up for the event. Impressively, as the doors to the National Museum of Natural History opened, countless families and individuals flooded into the museum. Although many patrons were excited to be the first in the exhibit halls, a steady stream of people made their way to the family day activities.

Making orchid corsages!

Making orchid corsages!

The enthusiasm of people bouncing between tables, building terrariums then potting orchids, made for equally enthusiastic staff and volunteers at each table to engage the ever changing visitors. I had the chance to witness several staff and volunteers of the gardens participate in demonstrations that were very unlike the work I’ve what previously seen them do. For example, one of the Smithsonian Gardens supervisors was helping make paper orchid corsages! It was incredibly enjoyable seeing the staff engaged with participants whether it was through drawing, potting, building, or teaching. I had the opportunity to staff the botanical illustration table, which is something I’ve never studied or worked much with before. Regardless, it was a lot of fun watching children color in orchid outlines and use their illustrations for all kinds of art projects. We initially intended for them just to create bookmarks, but they got creative and made necklaces and pictures to give to their parents too. Their enthusiasm was endless and parents often had to gently coax their children away from the table when it was time for them to go.

Examples of the terrariums visitors got to make and take home with them.

Examples of the terrariums visitors could make and take home with them.

Many curious minds wandered into the exhibit, and not all were children. Adults wishing to learn more about orchids made the “ask an expert” table very popular. They also enjoyed discovering the latest in orchid research and conservation at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center table. And of course, the ever popular “pot an orchid” station may have stolen the show for most individuals as the U.S. Botanic Garden brought a thousand orchids to give away for free. Orchid Family Day activities offered something for everybody, so make sure to come out to the next one in 2017!

– Alan M., Orchid Exhibition Intern

February 26, 2015 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

Behind the Orchids: The Living Collection

Orchids are full of wonder. They have a vast amount of habitat diversity across the globe including swamps, deserts, tropics, and tundra. In fact, orchids are so diverse there’s almost no end to them, and this doesn’t even include the ones human have hybridized. You name a part of the plant and it’s bound to be different from genus to genus in the family Orchidaceae. To illustrate, take a look at Ludisia discolor and Oncidopsis Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty’ currently on display in the exhibit “Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty.”

Oncidopsis Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty’

Ludisia discolor

Ludisia discolor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These two plants show just how varied orchids can be in color, flower size, number of blooms, and even the general foliage. Though different, each still retains a beauty in its own way. Ludisia discolor, also called a jewel orchid, is sought after for its foliage rather than its flowers. It’s a terrestrial orchid found in Asia and its leaves are a deep green lined with red veins. Oncidopsis Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty,’ on the other hand, is distinguished by its pleasant red blooms and gives off a unique fragrance. Furthermore, Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty’ is a hybrid containing a mixture of four different species, while Ludisia discolor is a species found in the wild. And these two only make up a fraction of the 8,000+ orchids in Smithsonian Gardens’ collection.

Fortunately, there’s a system in place that helps keep track of the many plants in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. This is extremely important because as a “living collection” it’s always growing and changing. Each orchid in the collection is given a specific barcode label that links to a database record containing important information about the plant. In addition to keeping basic information like its genus and species, the record reveal the plant’s current location, condition, and notes about its current use. All of this information is important for consistent record keeping. After scanning upwards of 80 to 100 plants each week, eventually you begin to pick up some interesting information. For example, some of these orchids are over 30 years old!

Orchid display labels

Orchid display labels

Maintaining the database is essential to keeping the orchid exhibit running smoothly. Plants selected for the exhibit are scanned at the beginning of each week in order to keep track of their changing location. Every Monday and Tuesday, I work to arrange these selected orchids into rank and file at the greenhouses with the help of several other greenhouse staff and volunteers. This makes scanning the pants’ barcodes and recording whether they’re leaving for the show or returning a simple process. It also makes it easy to pull the corresponding display labels. If you’ve made it to the show, you probably recognize those gleaming black and white labels in the photo. Smithsonian Gardens actually keeps label library chock full of thousands of these labels!

Plastic wrapped carts ready to go downtown

Plastic-wrapped carts ready to go downtown

Once all the tags are scanned and display labels staked, plants have to be loaded onto carts and plastic wrapped. It’s lovely that orchids bloom during the winter, but it’s dangerous for us to have to move them outside in cold weather! The plastic wrap provides a temporary buffer from the cold temperatures, which could otherwise harm the blooms and overall health of the orchids. We then swiftly move these carts from greenhouse to box truck and box truck to exhibit hall; minimizing the time they’re outside in the cold. All this scanning, packing, and loading is a bit of a logistical feat, so it’s no surprise something may get left along the way. Case in point, I once forgot to bring the roll of plastic wrap to the exhibit hall.

Now those plants wrapped in the picture above look pretty professional, but that’s only half the battle. It’s incredibly important to take the plastic wrap to the museum because the carts bringing plants back from the exhibit really need protection from the cold as well. These are, after all, orchids that are stressed out from the less than ideal conditions of the exhibit hall. Since we did not have plastic wrap available the Smithsonian Gardens staff improvised and obtained trash bags. The bags made for sufficient protection during the trip back, even if it looked like we were stealing the plants. That was, however, an incredibly stressful experience for me because I was sure we were going to lose part of the collection. I’ll make sure to bring the plastic wrap in the future!

National Herbarium tour

National Herbarium tour

To help balance stressful moments like this, Smithsonian Gardens regularly offers really great opportunities for interns to experience. There are internal tours, in-service sessions, and other educational opportunities that I’m able to attend with my intern status. Recently, I had the opportunity to take a tour of the National Herbarium at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. If you’re like me, you had to look up the definition of a herbarium and figure out what all the commotion is about for a library of dried plants. Aside from the general appealing aesthetics of neatly dried and pressed plants, the National Herbarium has millions of specimens. Its collection includes type specimens, around thirty plants currently extinct in the wild, and even plants collected by former presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Chester Arthur. It also contains some seriously historical plants, like one collected in the 1500s! It’s almost inconceivable to think about everything that’s housed in the herbarium. Check it out online at http://botany.si.edu/colls/collections_overview.htm.

World's largest seed

World’s largest seed

After the tour, I’m really excited for what other opportunities may pop up next. I’m looking forward to making the most of these experiences and sharing them on the Smithsonian Gardens’ blog. That’s all for now, but enjoy another photo from the herbarium of the world’s largest seed. This dried seed still weighs a cool twenty pounds!

-Alan M., Orchid Exhibition Intern

February 12, 2015 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

In Pursuit of Primary Sources (National History Day Part II)

As a continuation to the National History Day post, we wanted to offer ways to find credible primary sources for any research projects. There is an infinite amount of information available to students today, but it is also infinitely important to know how to search for credible sources. Resources are available both online and in-person if you know where to look.

Collage of Archives of American Gardens primary sources.

The Archives of American Gardens is just one place to look for primary sources related to gardens, parks, and cultural landscapes. Landscape design plans, postcards, and photos can all provide rich primary source material for research.

If your student is looking for something available online these are great starting points:

However, not everything in an institution is available online. If your student has the ability to do so, visiting an archive is a great way to find primary and secondary sources. Local courthouses and city offices hold historical records such as property deeds or census records and registries. Art museums and galleries are also a great source. There may be local colleges or universities in your area with historical collections waiting to be explored. Don’t forget to look for historical societies, churches, and of course libraries which all may have primary sources about your area. All it takes is a phone call or e-mail stating your interest to find out what material is available to you!

-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern

October 6, 2014 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

National History Day and the Archives of American Gardens (Part I)

Collage of Archives of American Gardens materials

The Archives of American Gardens contains a variety of materials including advertisements, hand painted glass slides, 35 mm film negatives, and postcards.

During a recent conversation, a parent of a high school student brought up the question of how to find primary sources to use in National History Day projects. That got the Archives of American Gardens staff thinking; maybe we have items that could help students find interesting and exciting ideas for projects. The 2015 theme for NHD is “Leadership and Legacy in History,” and a further description for the theme can be found here: http://www.nhd.org/images/uploads/Theme_2015_5-7.pdf.

NHD encourages participants to develop their understanding of history using both primary and secondary resources, finding new stories beyond what is generally taught in the classroom. While the NHD website offers some great ideas for topics, the staff at AAG have a few of our own to offer. Each of the topics listed are ideas or starting points for an NHD project, and we have included places to find further information and resources beyond AAG collections.

Garden Club of America dedication ceremony of redwoods grove.

Garden Club of America dedication ceremony. The first section of the GCA Grove was purchased in 1931 and formally dedicated in 1934. Photo courtesy of The Garden Club of America. Courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.

Legacy of the Redwoods: How the Garden Club of America saved a Forest:

Milton Hershey’s Legacy: Public Spaces at the Hershey Rose Gardens:

Sargent in the Library at the Arnold Arboretum examining Quercus herbarium specimens.

Sargent in the Library at the Arnold Arboretum examining Quercus herbarium specimens. Photo taken by T.E. Marr in 1904. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection.

The Leadership and Legacy of Charles Sprague Sargent:

The Leadership and Legacy of Frederic Law Olmsted: (Note: Materials listed are extensive)

Leader in Conservation: The Legacy of J. Horace McFarland:

Other ideas for further research include:

  • The Leadership of the W. Atlee Burpee Company
  • Legacy of Gardening in America
  • Changing the Landscape: the Legacy of Women in Landscape Architecture and Design
  • Public Parks: the Legacy of Public Spaces in American History

Whatever topic your student may choose, we hope these offer some unique opportunities to create an interesting project for National History Day. The Archives of American Gardens staff welcomes any questions regarding these ideas or collection materials and can be reached at aag@si.edu or 202-633-5840.

-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern

October 1, 2014 at 7:45 am 1 comment

Digging Deeper: Making Cross-Curricular Connections

We are kicking off the start of the new school year with a guest blog post by Michael Torguson, a teacher in Medford, Oregon who spent the summer teaching school at a juvenile detention facility. He used soil as a jumping off point for his students to study the science, history and geography of locations across the globe, widening their world. 

Teaching is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Teaching summer school at a juvenile detention facility, the challenge gets kicked up a notch (or two!).

When I asked the kids what they wanted to learn over the summer, they said they wanted to learn botany. So we did the usual: planted an herb garden, studied water ecology and how pollution affects the land (and by extension, plants), and the properties of soil. In a regular school setting, the usual procedure would be for students to scatter around the school grounds, locate their patch of soil, mark it on a school map, and do their analysis.

But how do you teach soil and plant biology when students cannot leave the building?  Answer: bring the soil from outside . . . in. I was originally going to take a weekend, drive around town, and collect soil from different areas. Then I had an idea: why not collect soil from all over the country? I reached out to various “famous places” and requested soil from their grounds for the kids to analyze. I got some very interesting responses, from “This is unprecedented!” to “You just want … dirt?”

Preparing for the soil tests.

Preparing for the soil tests.

Mixing the soil and chemicals.

Mixing the soil and chemicals.

I also got some happily unexpected responses, from “Soil from the Trinity Nuclear Test Site will always be radioactive” to the one from my new friend, Smithsonian Gardens’ own Supervisory Horticulturist Brett McNish. McNish said he did a similar project a while back and offered to send some soil that he was able to collect from overseas. So Brett sent me soil from the U. S. Embassy Grounds in Kabul, a Forward Operating Base in Iraq, sand from Omaha Beach, as well as from the garden near the National Museum of the American Indian.

In all, we received and tested soils from:

  • Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico
  • Central Park, New York
  • Dodger Stadium, California
  • Forks, Washington (We had a Twilight fan in class!)
  • Haleakala, Hawaii
  • Harvard Yard, Massachusetts
  • Los Angeles Coliseum, California
  • Monticello, Virginia
  • Mt. Vernon, Virginia
  • Old North Church, Massachusetts
  • Pike’s Peak, Colorado
  • The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Trinity Nuclear Test Site, New Mexico
  • Very Large Antenna Array, New Mexico
  • White Sands Missile Testing Range, New Mexico
Extracting the chemicals.

Extracting the chemicals.

Reading the results of the soil tests.

Reading the results of the soil test.

A Social Studies teacher by training (and excitable by nature), I decided not to limit the science project just to science; I decided to add geography and history to the mix.  The project was getting really interesting!

The project evolved, and ultimately each student:

  •  Learned the Scientific Method and proper observation and documentation methods;
  • Performed Soil Properties Classification (all students classified all soils);
  • Conducted Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium (NPK) and pH testing;
  • Researched what each of the above tests mean in terms of soil health;
  • Researched the climate and geography of the region;
  • Researched the history of the location where they received the soil;
  • Created and presented their report to the class.

Best of all, the students rose to the challenge! Not only did they follow correct analysis procedures, but they also wrote very good historical and scientific summaries. As a bonus, they got to keep their dirt as a souvenir. (Except for the Trinity Soil – I didn’t want to have to answer questions about why I was giving radioactive material to students!)

In the end, the students had fun, learned a few things, and got to “visit” places they otherwise would not have been able to go. I also learned an important lesson about creatively teaching across the curriculum.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, the student who analyzed the Smithsonian soil reports that:

 “The soil was dark brown, with lots of small roots. It was rich and healthy. The Phosphorous level was low (0-50lb/acre), there were trace amounts of Nitrogen and Potassium, and the pH level is 7.0.”

 

-Michael Torguson. During school year Michael is a substitute teacher at Central Medford High School in Medford, Oregon.

August 26, 2014 at 11:22 am Leave a comment

Back to School with Plants

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 (Sophora japonica)

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’)

Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)

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)

Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)

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 

October 17, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

YES! Experience with D.C. High Schools

This summer Smithsonian Gardens (SG) joined the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo in an outreach program designed for high school students. Youth Engagement through Science (YES!) connected students to Smithsonian collections, experts, and training in an effort to provide them with practical experience, inspiration and encouragement to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. The program also equipped the students with resources to help them in their next step of attending college to pursue their career interests.

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Students who participated in YES! worked side by side with SG horticulturists and educators in the Smithsonian Gardens’ Greenhouse, Victory Garden and Heirloom Garden. The mentors, Tom Mirenda, Joe Brunetti and Erin Clark, worked with three students, Damani Eubanks, Kumar Madhav and Dion Anderson, from various high schools in the D.C. metropolitan area. Each mentor designed a project highlighting subjects in their area of expertise. The students worked with the mentors to complete the projects, keep a field journal and produce a poster for a special open-session presentation at National Museum of Natural History.

A special tour of the SG Greenhouse gave SG YES! students, Kumar and Damani, a chance to share their project with all 25 YES! students. Kumar and Damani demonstrated their newly gained knowledge when they explained how they measured and recorded various parts of blooming orchids.

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Dion Anderson’s poster outlining his experience in the Heirloom and Victory Garden. Dion helped Joe and Erin identify hostas in the gardens surrounding the National Museum of American History.

 This fall, when the students return to school, they are required to take a leadership role among their peers and promote the YES! program in a community outreach project. The students will be ombudsmen for Smithsonian Gardens!

YES! was a positive experience for both the mentors and the students. Smithsonian Gardens is looking forward to participating in next year’s programs with the new projects for new students.

Youth Engagement Through Science site

September 10, 2012 at 9:35 am 1 comment

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