April 16, 2014

From the Ground Up: Crafting Cookbooks and Planting Plugs

by Melissa Harding


As part of the Museums Connect program, made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Phipps is partnering with the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria to provide an immersive experience for 15 local high school students in each city. Participating students will learn about nutrition, cooking and cultural food traditions by following local food from farm to table and will be communicating with students at their partner institutions. This project will last from September to June, resulting in the creation of a community cookbook that will be designed and created by participating students. Students will also meet each month for a Saturday workshop involving activities designed to get them thinking critically about their food system and food culture. Calling themselves the Global Chefs, this group of students is excited to learn more about what food means in their lives.

As the Museums Connect project starts winding down to the final few months, the Global Chefs are moving towards thinking more about their final projects: the community feast they are planning with their Nigerian counterparts and the culturally-diverse cookbook they are creating. Last weekend, a beautiful day filled with sunshine and warm weather was on order and the students spent the day planting in our Edible Garden and working on their individual cookbook pages.

To begin, the students met with Phipps staffer Mike Bechtel, a display horticulturalist in the Edible Garden. Using the plans they created for their beds during the March workshops, the students planted plugs of cool weather crops that they had started from seeds in February. They planted Asian leafy greens, swiss chard, lettuce, beets and radishes. When harvested, some of these plants will be used for the Phipps Café and others for the community feast in May.

After planting, the students attended a two-hour workshop by Katy DeMint and Nora Gilchrist from the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse focusing on using repurposed items to create their individual cookbook pages. This book will contain recipes from the students and their families, many of which were recreated during the workshops throughout the year. When finished, it will be displayed both in Phipps upcoming Tropical Forest: Congo show and at the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria. The students also had a chance to create small books containing all of the recipes that cooked at the preceding workshops to take home with them.

Finally, the Global Chefs Skyped with their counterparts in Nigeria. Even though they did not have a workshop on the same day the our students, the Nigerians were so excited to talk to them that they all came in on their day off to do so. Once again, the Global Chefs had a great conversation with their Nigerian peers and are even more excited for their impending visit late this spring. Next month, the students will finish their cookbook pages and start preparations for the upcoming community feast.

To see more pictures from the workshop, check out the slideshow below.

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The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.

April 14, 2014

What’s Really Going on Inside a Chrysalis?

by Melissa Harding


This time of year is very busy for us, as hundreds of children come through our doors for their spring field trips to Phipps. Some of these students come for field trips about seeds, some about carnivorous plants, and some about the tropical rain forest. However, our most popular spring field trip by far is our butterflies program. In this program, students learn the life cycle of these critters, from egg to butterfly, and all about the wonderful ways that they are adapted to their short lives as pollinators. While this is a fun program, it also offers up a little bit of mystery. After all, how does a caterpillar come out of the chrysalis as a butterfly? What’s really going on in there? Enquiring student minds want to know.

Metamorphosis has always been a mystery. It’s pretty weird, if you think about. It’s so weird that scientists have been proposing oddball theories about why insects do it for centuries, seemingly trying to answer an impossible question. The most controversial of these theories comes from Liverpool zoologist Donald Williamson, who proposed that butterflies metamorphose because their origin stems from the ancient mating of a crawling animal and a winged animal, both of whose genes live on in the unfortunate insect today. While this sounds like science from 1900, Williamson’s paper was published in 2009. To explain this interesting theory best, we turn to Robert Krulwich, “…their genes never really integrated. They are sharing a DNA molecule like two folks sharing a car, except half way through the trip, one driver dissolves and up pops his totally different successor. Driver No. 2 emerges from the body of driver No. 1.”

If you think that this sounds more like a movie plot than science, you are not alone. What’s most interesting about this theory is that although most scientists think there is no credible evidence whatsoever to support it, William’s original paper has never been retracted. Whether it’s because the idea is so crazy that no one has bothered or because no one can truly discredit it, scientists can’t agree. However,  the recent date of its publication is further proof that the evolution of metamorphosis is baffling even to scientists!

While it may be weird, metamorphosis sure is popular. In fact, it is not just butterflies that undergo a complete metamorphosis to change from larva to adult. Flies, beetles, and ants also radically transform during the course of their lives. This is such a successful way of life, to be born in one form and end life another, that as many as 65 million of the animal species on the planet are metamorphosing insects. After an insect hatches from its egg, it is born as a larva. Larval forms vary by the type of insects; for butterflies, it’s a caterpillar, and for flies, it’s a headless maggot. After a suitable period of growth, all larvae encase themselves in some sort of material and pupate. It is during this time that they turn into their adult form.

So what’s going on in there? In the case of a caterpillar, we know that the larva releases enzymes that break down many of its tissues into their constituent proteins. We tell our students that this is a “caterpillar soup”, though that is a bit simplistic. While some of the larva dissolves, other parts stay intact. Organs stay put and muscles often dissolve into cells that can be repurposed. Science writer Ed Young compares this process to “a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks”. Finally, some cells build the structures that will produce the adult body parts, called imaginal discs. There’s a pair for the antennae, a pair for the eyes, one for each wing, etc. According to Young, “…if the pupa contains a soup, it’s an organized broth full of chunky bits.”

This kind of knowledge comes from years of scientists taking a scalpel to hundred and thousands of pupae. Unfortunately, this means that metamorphosis is a mystery of science that students can’t truly investigate themselves. When they are raising butterflies at school, they can’t look inside the hanging chrysalids and find out what’s happening, but must wait until they emerge as adults. Fortunately for students and pupae-lovers everywhere, there is emerging technology allowing us to see what is going on inside the shell without using a knife. Micro-CT technology, in which X-rays capture cross-sections of an object that can be combined into a three-dimensional virtual model, is a new way for researchers to learn about pupae.   They can study the 3D models, rather than the real bugs, and see organs and body systems that they have previously been unable study. Additionally, rather than dissect pupae for a snapshot in time of their development, scientists can use this technology to watch their entire development as it happens. This technology can even be applied to learning how insects are affected by pesticides or how mutated genes affect development. However, the best use of this technology is that it allows students access to an unknown world, making the process of metamorphosis more real. After all, making science more real to students is how we get the next generations of scientists tomorrow.

To learn more about micro-CT technology and several specific research examples, check out this great article by Ed Young.

To read Robert Krulwich’s full article about the theories of Donald Williamson, click here.

Read more about the evolution of metamorphosis here.

 The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and interns.


April 9, 2014

2014 Botany in Action Fellows Announced!

by Melissa Harding


The 2014 Botany in Action Fellows have been selected!

The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed both to excellent research and educational outreach. Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, the BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research with a broad range of public audiences.

Here are the 2014 Fellows; some are returning and some are brand new:

Jacquet head photoAURELIE JACQUET, Purdue University (IN).  Neuroprotective activities of Nepalese and Native American traditional medicines in Parkinson’s disease. (Nepal and United States). related symptoms. We overall documented more than 300 uses, but we need to spend more time with the Lumbee people to provide a more complete overview of their medicine. Because herbal medicine is sacred and secret among people of the tribe, information about these practices is only shared after a trust relationship is established between the healer and the researcher. Our central hypothesis is that the plants used in Nepalese and Native American traditional medicines have a high potential to alleviate neuron death and changes in brain cells associated with PD. We collected medicinal plants and are conducting controlled tests to determine the safety and therapeutic efficacy of the samples.
Our research contributes to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal #1 “Eradicate poverty and hunger” through generation of knowledge capable of initiating new discussions in the field of public health policy, and the preservation of traditional practices.
Research Advisor: Jean-Christophe Rochet, Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Purdue University.

Learn more about Aurelie and her research here.

Johnson_HeadshotANNA JOHNSON, University of Maryland Baltimore County (MD), Biodiversity in the City: the Interactive Effects of Land-Use Legacies and Environmental Gradients on the Diversity of Fragmented Urban Plant Communities (MD). While most of the global human population lives in cities, our urban ecosystems remain one of the more understudied environments from the perspective of ecological science. We rely on the plants that grow in cities to provide services to the human population such as cooling and cleaning the air and making our neighborhoods more beautiful. We know relatively little, however, about what factors are most important for creating the patterns of urban plant diversity that we observe. This project explores how history of land-use in vacant lots affects the plants that grow there today and tests a restoration strategy for increasing urban plant diversity. I previously have conducted surveys of existing plant diversity in vacant lots in Baltimore, MD, USA. I found that in these vacant lots, there was more variation in plant diversity within areas that were remnant backyards than within the areas of the lots where buildings previously stood. I plan to expand these results to study whether the effects of different legacies of land-use on plant diversity change predictably over time, by collecting property records and reconstructing the history of when each house was abandoned and demolished. This will result in a description of what happens to abandoned urban land without human intervention. I will also collect data from a two-year long field experiment that experimentally increased the diversity of native wildflowers in “weedy” plant communities. I will use what is learned from this smaller experiment to guide a similar experimental restoration plan for entire vacant lots.
Research Advisor: Christopher M. Swan, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Geography & Environmental Systems University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Learn more about Anna and her research here.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKELLY KSIAZEK, Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden (IL). The influence of seed and pollen movement on the diversity of green roof plant populations(IL). The conversion of natural land to cities means that more plants and animals need to live alongside people. Special rooftop gardens, called green roofs, could include plant species that have lost their normal living spaces on the ground. If plants are able to live successfully on green roofs, they could provide resources like food and nesting materials to many insects and birds. However, green roofs, like other urban gardens, tend to be located far away from each other. Spaces between the roofs might not be good places for plants and animals to live, causing green roofs to act like isolated islands throughout a city. If plants on green roofs are not connected to other plant populations, inbreeding can occur between a few closely related individuals. Over time, this could mean that all individuals on a green roof were related and would share the same inability to respond to stressful situations like droughts.
However, if green roofs received seeds and pollen from other locations, the plants could have a greater ability to adapt to changes in the environment. To date, little is known about how green roof plant populations are connected with plants in other habitats throughout cities. My research will determine the characteristics of plants that allow them to get to new green roofs and will compare the movement of pollen on green roofs to a typical natural habitat. Results of this research will allow future green roofs to be designed to support diverse and resilient groups of plants.
Research Advisor: Krissa Skogen, PhD Conservation Scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University.

Learn more about Kelly and her research here.

Murphy_headshotSTEPHEN J MURPHY, The Ohio State University (OH). Forest landscape change in southwestern Pennsylvania (PA). A common misconception is that forests are static entities, remaining relatively unchanged through time unless subjected to a severe disturbance such as fire or logging. In reality, forests are constantly changing as certain species increase in abundance, others decrease, and yet others remain stable over time. Understanding this dynamic nature of forests is extremely important for predicting how they will look in the future, because changes in species composition can influence the types and values of services that these ecosystems provide. For example, the availability of suitable habitat for wildlife could be impacted, the types of nutrient input from litter could shift, or the types of timber that will be available for commercial purposes could change.
An existing series of forest plots established at Powdermill Nature Reserve offers a unique opportunity to study such changes in the forested landscape of southwestern Pennsylvania. I propose to resample a subset of these existing plots to determine how the number of species, the abundances of those species, and their overall sizes, has changed over a period of six years. Because significant changes in other forests throughout the eastern United States have been documented previously, I expect that the forests of southwestern Pennsylvania will also experience similar dynamism. Specifically, I expect to observe a decrease in drought-tolerant individuals, and an increase in moisture loving species. And because areas of the reserve are still recovering from past human land-use impacts, I expect to see an increase in the overall biomass of the forest.
Research Advisor: Liza S Comita, Assistant Professor, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University.

cromulo_headshot2CHELSIE ROMULO, George Mason University (VA). Working to conserve and sustainably manage the ecologically, culturally, and economically important palm tree Mauritia flexuosa (aguaje) in the Peruvian Amazon (Peru). The aguaje palm tree (Mauritia flexuosa) covers approximately 10% of the Peruvian Amazon. Its fruit supports many different animal species in the Amazon rainforest, including tapirs, primates, peccaries, birds, turtles and fish. The fruit of this tree is harvested from the wild and sold in the city of Iquitos, which is the largest city and commercial center of the Peruvian Amazon. The most common harvest method is cutting down the tree, even though alternative climbing methods are available. Despite the long-term benefits of using sustainable harvesting techniques, future paybacks can seem irrelevant to people who have difficulty meeting their daily survival needs. My dissertation research proposes to combine an evaluation of tree distribution with interviews of people along the market chain to better understand the current conservation challenges surrounding aguaje. I want to understand the motivation of people who harvest and sell the fruit of this palm and review how the distribution of the tree has changed over the past 25 years. The changes in tree distribution over time will be evaluated using satellite images from the NASA Landsat program, which go back to 1972. With a better understanding of the consequences of current harvest and the perspectives of the people involved in the market I will produce recommendations for the conservation and sustainable management of this threatened palm and the forest.
Research Advisor: Dr. Michael Gilmore, Assistant Professor of Life Sciences/Integrative Studies. New Century College, George Mason University.

 Turner_headshotJESSICA B. TURNER, West Virginia University (WV),  The Root of Sustainability: Understanding and implementing medicinal plant conservation strategies in the face of land-use change in Appalachia (WV). American ginseng is a valuable medicinal plant that is culturally important worldwide. Ginseng is harvested by people in Appalachia and sold on the international market. Through human activity, ginseng’s habitat is being reduced; much of this land-use change is due to surface mining. How land was used historically can influence how well a plant grows and reproduces. My research studies the relationship between ginseng and surface mining, both from the ecosystem and social science perspective: (1) Can ginseng, and another medicinal plant, goldenseal, grow just as well on land that was previously surface-mined, as compared to forests with other types of land-use history? Through this reintroduction study, I will understand, depending on how well these plants grow, if previously mined-lands are lost as potential medicinal plant habitat, or if people could grow medicinal plants on previously mined lands. (2) How do people in Appalachia view surface mining and ginseng conservation? Through surveys, I will learn if people in both the Appalachian and ginseng harvester communities prioritize the forest and practice conservation. I will also be able to assess if attitudes toward surface mining effects might be different if restoration of medicinal plants was possible. By researching how people think about ginseng and surface mining, I can develop environmental education based on the community’s perspective of ginseng conservation. Understanding the impacts of surface mining on the role of ginseng in the forests, as well as the culture in Appalachia, will provide a basis for how people can conserve medicinal plants. Research Advisor: James B. McGraw, PhD, Eberly Professor of Biology, West Virginia University.

Learn more about Jessica and her research here.

Please join us in welcoming these wonderful Fellows and their exciting research to the Botany in Action program!

The above photos are courtesy of the 2014 BIA Fellows.

April 8, 2014

Biophilia: Pittsburgh, April 17 – “Beempathy: Enriching Human Experience of the Natural World Through the Art of Beekeeping”

by Melissa Harding


Biophilia: Pittsburgh

Thursday, April 17, 2014 – 5:30 p.m.
Free to attend – RSVP required.

Guest Speaker: Christina Joy Neumann
“Beempathy: Enriching Human Experience of the Natural World Through the Art of Beekeeping”

Although beekeeping is newly popular as a form sustainable food production, guest speaker Christina Joy Neumann will explain how  the rewards of working with these creatures range well beyond the edible commodity they produce. Upon tending to the needs of the colony, the beekeeper finds that bees convey real-time information on the health of our broader ecology and also provide a wealth of problem-solving inspiration. Christina Neumann is a LEED® AP architect, botanical illustrator and owner of Apoidea Apiary, LLC.  She keeps 20 – 40 honeybee hives in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and also breeds naturalized northern survivor stock of several different bee species, including Apis mellifera and Megachilid bees.

About Biophilia: Pittsburgh
Biophilia: Pittsburgh is the pilot chapter for a Biophilia Network dedicated to strengthening the bond between people and the natural world through education, discussion and action. The group meets monthly at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes classroom at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens where, over delicious small-plate food and a happy-hour cash bar, a discipline or behavior will be identified — often by an expert guest speaker — and discussed among the participants in the interest of sharing ideas and identifying opportunities. Join the conversation!

RSVP by sending an email or signing up at the group’s Meetup page.

What is Biophilia?
The term “biophilia,” stemming from the Greek roots meaning “love of life,” was coined by the social psychologist Erich Fromm. It came into use in the 1980s when Harvard University biologist E.O. Wilson defined biophilia as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms.”

In the last twenty years, studies examining human attraction to nature have yielded convincing evidence that links interactions with nature with positive gains in productivity, increased healing rates, and even enhanced learning comprehension in a wide range of sectors.

Biophilia Pittsburgh

The top image was taken by Julia Petruska.

April 7, 2014

Frog Watching for Fun and Science

by Melissa Harding

Molly Steinwald Photography (4)

If you live by a pond or a stream, there is a certain sound in the air that says spring has sprung –  the call of a frogs and toads. Frog and toad calls are not the notorious ‘ribbit’ sounds of children’s books, but rather a rich symphony of calls that are each as distinctive as the creature that makes them. Each species of frog has a different call for mating than for defending territory; some are high-pitched peeps and others sound like the low tones of a banjo. Stand by a pond at night in the Pennsylvania spring and you will hear a raucous chorus of American toads, spring peepers, wood frogs, green frogs and bullfrogs. This spring sing is not only fun to listen to, but is also important to science. Frogs and other amphibians are considered indicator species; they are very sensitive to environmental change and their presence or absence can tell scientists valuable information about the health of an area. In short, it is very good idea to keep an eye on our frogs and toads.

This is where you come in. The North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP) and FrogWatch USA are citizen science programs that are designed to help scientists gather data about the health and well-being of the amphibian population. Citizen science programs, in which regular people collect data about the plants and animals in their communities, help scientists to have eyes and ears all over the country. These particular programs are not only important for data collection, but are also a great way to spend some time outside with your family and practice your observation skills. Participating in these two programs are especially easy, since all you need to do is listen.

Molly Steinwald Photography (2)Frog watchers don’t need to see the frogs (although that is half the fun), but rather identify them by their mating calls.  Learning frog calls is fun and easy, since each one is so unique. There are only a handful of amphibian species in most areas, so there aren’t that many to learn; this is made even easier by a host of online resources that allow you to listen and learn from the comfort of your home. Pick a location that is easy for you monitor, such as a pond near your home, and this will be the spot that you monitor all season.  You can sign up with either organization, both of which provide training sessions if you are so inclined.  You will need to monitor your spot weekly and record your data in the manner that your organization suggests. Once you are signed up and know your calls, you ready to be a citizen scientist!

Frogs and toads mate at different times of the year, so participants need to monitor their locations all spring and summer. Frog monitoring happens mostly at night, since frogs are more active then, but you can complete your monitoring during the day as well.  If you are dedicated in your data collection, you will also reap the benefits of coming to know your area and watching it change through the seasons. You may start to notice birds that nest in nearby trees, the blooming of different flowers and tracks from animals that use your water source for drinking. You may also notice masses of frog and salamander eggs stuck to plants in the water and even baby tadpoles swimming along. Frog monitoring is a great way to experience nature and feel connected to your community.

This is not only a fun project for a family, but also for a scout troop or school class. Training classes are going on now all over the country, so get connected! Here are some helpful links to get you started:

FrogWatch USA: Learn where your local chapter is based, get training, and find helpful ways to learn frog calls.
North American Amphibian Monitoring Project: Learn survey protocol, find your state’s coordinator and take a frog call quiz.
List of Frogs and Toads by State: There are over 100 species of frogs and toads in the country, but only a few near you. Learn which ones live nearby.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Learn your frog calls (and even some birds if you want!)
AmphibiaWeb: Frog calls and natural history information for the curious frog watcher.

Interested in other citizen science programs? The Citizen Science Alliance has tons of great projects for people of all interests, from here on earth to outer space!

The above photos are copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

April 3, 2014

Celebrating National Poetry Month: Poem in Your Pocket Day

by Melissa Harding

“You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.” Joseph Joubert

What can a poem mean to a person? What can a poem mean when you share it with a person? These are important questions, if you believe that poetry has a meaningful impact on those who read it. Poem in Your Pocket Day seeks answer to those questions, as well as to spread the power of poetry to the community. Poem in Your Pocket Day has a simple premise: carry a special poem in your pocket all day and share it with people that you meet, be they loved ones or strangers.  Started in 2002 by New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Education and the Office of the Mayor, Poem in Your Pocket Day was created as part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took it national, encouraging individuals around the country to join in. Each year on Poem in Your Pocket Day, schools, bookstores, libraries, parks, and workplaces ring loud with poems. On April 24, people all over the country will engage in this poetry evangelism, hoping to bring joy and happiness to their neighbors and communities.

Why share poetry? Though some may think that poetry is becoming irrelevant in our modern world, there are many more who can tell you the impact that writing or reading poetry has on their lives. In fact, poetry is an important touchstone to reality in the digital era in which we live. A poem is a powerful thing. Sharing that power with others is a goodwill gesture that can transform the community. Just ask Charlottesville, Virginia, the subject of the above video. Each year, the town unites together with the local library, recruiting students, teachers, business owners and seniors to help distribute poems. They are able to distribute 7,000 poems to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, restaurants, malls, and even on the street. Participants report that they are touched just as much as those they serve, both groups feeling touched by the community spirit as much as by the poetry itself. After all, “Geniune poetry can communicate before it is understood” (T.S. Elliot).

Speaking of the poetry, there are no rules to what is an appropriate poem to share. If you don’t have a special poem to share, check out the Poetry Foundation’s great browse section or search by occasion, subject or poet. The best way to find a new poem is to search for a topic that interests you and see what comes up; you never know what new poet you may discover that way. Another great way to find a poem is to visit your local library and browse the poetry section there. After all, there is something striking about reading a poem in a book, smelling the pages and feeling the weight of it in your hand. Children may want to share something funny, like a Shel Silverstein or Brod Bagert poem. There are many poems for children or by children. You can even try writing your own!

So how do you do it? According to the Academy of American Poets, there are many easy ways to spread poetry cheer:
1. Start a “poems for pockets” give-a-way in your school or workplace
2. Urge local businesses to offer discounts for those carrying poems
3. Post pocket-sized verses in public places
4. Handwrite some lines on the back of your business cards
5. Start a street team to pass out poems in your community
6. Distribute bookmarks with your favorite immortal lines
7. Add a poem to your email footer
8. Post a poem on your blog or social networking page
9. Project a poem on a wall, inside or out
10. Text a poem to friends

April 24th is a little ways away right now, but it will be here before you know it. Find a favorite new or old poem to share, or maybe both! Share as many poems as you like. This is a great family activity – a way to practice kindness and learn about the importance of community. It’s also good for scout and youth groups as well. Take some time this month and explore poetry and the poets who write it. You might just become a real poetry fan!

Will you celebrate with us? Poetry is best when shared. We will be sharing poems throughout the month, please share your favorite in the comments!

 To read more about how poetry can help connect us to nature, check out this blog post.

The above video is courtesy of The Academy of American Poets.

April 2, 2014

Little Sprouts Plant Their First Garden

by Melissa Harding


We just finished our latest four-week Little Sprouts program, My First Garden, and we had so much fun! Campers learned how plants grow from seeds to flowers and back again, as well as how to plant and take care of their very own gardens.  They even worked together on a rainbow garden mural by matching colored flowers and vegetables to the colors of the rainbow, building a beautiful garden. Campers sang songs, played games and read stories to help them understand the plant life cycle.

Week one focused on the parts of a plant. Campers learned that roots keep a plant anchored into the ground and that stems act like straws to suck up water. They also learned that plants love sunshine and use their leaves to catch it to make food. Campers and grown-ups explored the Tropical Forest, looking for different plant parts on a scavenger hunt. We found big leaves, small leaves, brightly colored flowers and lots of exposed roots! Finally, campers planted spider plants to take home.

Week two was all about seeds. Campers made drums from recycled containers and filled them with colored rice, using recycled drum sticks to play them. After they were finished with their drums, campers explored a set of seed instruments and various seeds big and small, from a coconut to a carrot seed.  During the lesson, campers learned that a seed is a baby plant waiting to grow. Each sprout got a soaked lima bean and dissected it to find the seed coat, embryo and cotyledon. After the lesson, we all pretended to be seeds going through the life cycle and turning into flowers. Campers walked through the east wing of the Conservatory, looking at plants with magnifying glasses.


Week three focused on caring for a garden. Campers used vegetables as paint brushes to make pictures in a sensory craft. They also played in our dirt bins, using small cups, shovels and rakes. During the lesson, campers learned that plants need water, soil, air and sunlight to survive. Campers read several interactive stories about gardens as well.  They explored the Gallery market, pretending to shop for food at the grocery store. Finally, they all planted swiss chard to take home and grow on their windowsills.

Week four was for the birds as campers learned about garden critters. Campers made bird feeders out of pipe cleaners and cereal to feed their avian friends in the winter. During the lesson, campers learned that the garden is full of helpful friends like birds, bugs and worms. Campers looked through our worm bins to find a worm friend to observe, using flashlights and magnifying glasses to learn more about their bodies. They also learned that worms are important to the health of both soil and plants, making garden grow. Campers explored the Conservatory looking for critters, stopping to see some of the good bugs that we use to help the plants.

If you want to read some great stories about gardening with your own Little Sprout, check out these books:
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Two Old Potatoes and Me by John Coy
No Carrots for Harry by Jean Langeman
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
Now I Know All About Seeds by Susan Kuchalla
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole

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Our next Little Sprouts: Single Servings program, I Heart Veggies, is scheduled for April 24 and 25, 10:30 am-noon. If you would like to sign up your child for a future Little Sprouts program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, please visit our website. We hope to see you there!

The above pictures were taken by Science Education and Research staff.


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