A Night in the Tropics: Phipps Campers Explore the Rainforest

by Melissa Harding

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Last Friday night, six young botanists braved the unknown and dared to tread into the heart of the jungle. These modern-day Darwins went into the rainforest with the same spirit of discovery as the early explorers;  Juan Ponce de Leon, Lewis and Clark, Joesph Banks, and many others took great risks for the sake of science, hoping to learn more about the world. Of course, our young explorers were not braving the dark jungles of South America, merely the seasonally lit rooms of the Conservatory. However, the spirit of adventure was the same!  In this most recent Evening Ed-Venture, A Night in the Tropics, campers took to the Conservatory to learn how to be botanists in the field.

To be proper scientists, campers made themselves rainforest journals to record all their new discoveries. They used pictures of rainforest birds and mammals to give them extra pizazz. Our scientists were so eager to go that we forwent any briefings and just took the journals into the jungle! As botanists in the field, campers learned how to use their powers of observation to “discover” some new plants in the Conservatory. At least, they discovered plants that were new to them. Armed with their journals, pencils, magnifying glasses and rulers, each camper chose several different plants and created field entries about each of them. Campers recorded information about the color, size, shape, and smell of their plants, creating their own field guide entries. After the expedition was over, campers came back to the classroom to share their findings with their fellow explorers. As the real Darwin said, “Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue.” These campers were certainly respectable; they had tons of observations to share!

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By then, it was time for a snack. After all, exploring the jungle can get tiring. Campers made healthy fruit kabobs out of papaya, pineapple and banana pieces. Unfortunately, papaya was not a popular choice and we recycled the remainder of it by feeding it to our worm bin (possibly the most exciting part of the night!)  After a fortifying snack, we all went back up to the Fruit and Spice room to create “Plantbook” pages on the trees there. Campers drew their plants, found their “friends” and gave them imaginary thoughts and hobbies. Campers loved inventing imaginary status updates for their plants; one memorable update was “I wish I was taller!” Finally, campers went back down to the classroom and made terrariums to take home a bit of the rainforest with them; they chose Reullia and Tradescantia, understory plants known for their air cleaning properties, to place into jars filled with gravel and soil. They watered them and sealed them up; if the lid remains on, the water inside the terrarium will recycle over and over again and it will never need to be watered. Campers were then ready to take them home and observe how their rainforests grow over time, continuing their scientific careers.

To see more images from the night, check out the slideshow below!

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If program sounds fun, check out our next Evening Ed-Venture on February 14, Conservation Investigation; in this exciting program, campers will hone their detective skills and solve a mystery to learn about the importance of conservation. To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

The above pictures were taken by Hanna Mosca.

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