Archive for ‘botany’

August 8, 2014

Phipps Hosts 1st Annual Youth Garden Summit

by Melissa Harding

Youth summit 094

We recently hosted a gathering of youth from across the region who are working on food growing projects and education. It was an opportunity to share stories, eat food and collaborate towards growing the youth food movement in the Pittsburgh area. This cohort of over 50 students included our own 2014 high school interns, as well as students from the following summer youth programs: Bridge to College, the Grow Pittsburgh Urban Garden Project; Children’s Museum Food City Fellows; Braddock Youth Project, Grow Pittsburgh Braddock Farms Team; Braddock Youth Gardening Team; and The Women for a Healthy Environment Food City Fellows and Wilkinsburg Youth Project. They were enthusiastic and engaged, bringing a positive energy to the workshops. The day included team building, breakout sessions and reflective exercises designed to get everyone thinking about how best to move their respective programs forwards in the future.

The day started with a welcome from Phipps staff and several college interns from the Children’s Museum’s Food City Fellows. Then, each group gave a presentation about their program and what they learned. For lunch, each group contributed produce from their gardens and worked together to create a big, beautiful salad. After this communal meal, the students worked in breakout sessions, both with their own intern teams and in mixed groups. They looked deeply into their program and talked about the good and the bad, how they could be improved, and what impact the program had on the community and themselves. Finally, they reflected on their experiences in the form of a folding poem, sharing with the group what they were “taking home with them” from their experiences.

Youth summit 104

It was a wonderful day – thank you to all the students and group leaders who made this possible!

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




August 4, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Plant Your Plate

by Melissa Harding

27-Day 4 052

Summer Camp Recap is our easonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

Plant Your Plate is a fun way to look at botany through the lens of food. Where does our food come from? How do seeds turn into cucumbers and then how do those cucumbers turn into pickles? Campers learned how to turn whole foods into salsa, pizzas, and even pickles. They sprouted radishes in a bag, made tea sandwiches and designed their dream gardens. Throughout the week, campers painted T-shirts, made chef hats and molded seed balls. They loved chopping, pickling and cooking their way through camp!

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!

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For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.

July 23, 2014

In With the Interns: Week Four

by Melissa Harding


In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2014 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. Written by Kate Borger, this segment will also feature original words and artwork from the interns.

This week, we were especially grateful for the unseasonably pleasant temperatures which made all our outdoor ventures that much more delightful, from a street tour with Matt Erb, arborist from Tree Pittsburgh, to weeding the Tree Pittsburgh nursery and the gardens at Phipps Garden Center. The week ended on a scrumptious note as we cooked with Rosemarie Perla from Slow Food Pittsburgh. And in between: work with the horticulture staff and an introduction to fracking and renewable energy sources.

Here are some of the interns own words about this week and what they learned:

 “This past week has been as entertaining and enlightening as those before it. We began our week by splitting into groups and helping out Phipps horticulture staff. In the morning my group potted and staked plants that will be incorporated into the fall show, while in the afternoon we spread mulch in the Palm court. On Tuesday we visited Tree Pittsburgh and toured around the streets of north Point Breeze, identifying trees and learning about the process of planting trees in the city.  On Wednesday my group worked in the Fruit and Spice room. We finished our week, once again, by working at the Phipps Garden Center, where we made lunch and did a bit of tree identification.”
-Ahmir Allen

“My highlight this week was our cooking experience! We cooked amazing parmesan cheese noodles with a side of multi-grain bread and salad. It was amazing. I feel like we  as a group bonded making this meal. This was by far the best cooking experience so far in the program.”
- Alexis Smith

“I enjoyed learning about renewable energy, which was this week’s theme. The new information I acquired about fracking offered me a view of a world I wasn’t that familiar with and showed me another way I could help the environment. On top of that, my favorite activity this week was the field trip to Tree Pittsburgh. Personally, I would do tree identification all day. It just connects me more to nature, knowing specifically what’s around me, and it makes me enjoy it more. Oh and let’s not forget about cooking Thursday; the pasta and zucchini sauce was very delicious!”
- Larissa Koumaka

“Week three was a really fun week. We had the chance to go to Tree Pittsburgh, learn more about how Phipps chose Tropical Forest India, a little bit about India and Africa, and we also had the chance to work with the horticulture staff again. The most fun thing about this week was learning about India and Africa from a staff member. His job is to go to other countries and see how it can improve on the decoration at Phipps. That was really interesting to hear stories of how they choose the Tropical Forest.”
- Ephraim St. Cyr

“This week was full of some new work experiences with the horticulture staff, in which I worked around the Tropical Forest doing exhibit cosmetic work, along with staking plants in the production greenhouses. During the week I learned more about fracking and some of its down sides. I am looking forward to learning about environmental issues that can affect Pittsburgh in the final two weeks.”
- Aaron Sledge

“My favorite part of the week was probably helping Mike in the Edible Garden with Ephraim. It’s the physical labor in the morning that I really love doing here at Phipps, especially when I get to plant or harvest crops. We also discussed fracking a lot, which I really enjoyed. We also watched the movie Gasland, which is an amazing documentary on fracking. Overall, this was a really interesting, informative and fun week.”
-Dani Einloth

“My favorite part of this week was when Ben came in and talked with us about how he designs the Tropical Forest. He travels to places like Africa or India, taking pictures there. He recreates his memories in the Conservatory to share with the public. I also learned about specific plants in that room, things I never knew before. For example, this one plant is the main ingredient in Chanel No.5 perfume.”
Anna Steeley

“The date is Tuesday, July 15th, the setting features Tree Pittsburgh’s nursery. Amongst all of it, Phipps 8 interns, including myself. Not only did we help with weeding their nursery, but we were given a tree identification walk around the neighborhood. This was extremely interesting as well as practical because I see these trees everywhere I go and now I can  identify their type.”
-Will Grimm

Another full week comes to a close with minds and taste buds open to new experiences!

The above photo was taken by Kate Borger.


July 22, 2014

Home Connections: Flower Pigment Art

by Melissa Harding


“The earth laughs in flowers.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many different crafts that we make with flowers – gluing them to crowns, making flower petal butterflies, or using them as paint brushes. In fact, flowers are a wonderful part of just about any nature craft; they add pops of color to nature weavings, mobiles and nature journals. One of the new ways that we have been using them this summer is for their pigments. The most common plant pigment is chlorophyll, which is used primarily for photosynthesis. Other colors found in leaves, like reds and yellows, are secondary colors that also help absorb light energy. Flower pigments, the colors in the petals and sepals, are used to attract pollinators. Plant pigments are made out of a variety of molecules, including anthocyanins and carotenoids. While the biology of plant pigments is fascinating, it is also really easy to get them out of the plants themselves. So easy, in fact, that kids do it all the time (think grass stains). All you need to do is rub the plant against some fabric or paper and the pigments come right off onto the surface. With this in mind, we have being creating some fun crafts that use flower pigments as color.

Flower Pounding
A really fun way to get the pigments onto paper or fabric is by pounding. This can be accomplished in any manner of ways, but we like to use small stones. While a wooden mallet or small hammer will do the best job of evenly flattening the flowers, small stones are more kid-friendly. Specifically, we use flat, decorative driveway stones that are about 3 inches square or less in size. There is no need to hit the flowers hard; a gently tap will do it. Lay your flowers flat on the surface of your choice and place a small piece of white paper or fabric over the flower, then gently tap the flower all over with the flat of the stone. Remove the cover and peel off the flower; you should see the flower’s shape echoed in the pigment print.

The best paper to use for this project is watercolor paper. Unlike office or drawing paper, watercolor paper is thick and has dimples that will readily hold on to the flower pigments. We like to make bookmarks and picture frames out of our flower pounding projects, but the sky is the limit. If using fabric, unbleached linens and muslins will work best. Ideas for fabric include lavender sachets, cloth napkins and table runners. You will want to start with a white or cream base, as the pigments will not always be dark enough to show up on colored fabric or paper.

Flower Rubbing
Pounding is a technique that can sometimes be difficult for younger children. In lieu of pounding with a small stone, flowers can be rubbed across the surface to produce a color. In this case, it is much more difficult to recreate the shape of your plant on the base. Rather, you will end up with smears of color. However, the sensory experience of rubbing flowers to produce colored pigment is a wonderful activity for small children. The scent, color and texture of a variety of flowers will be a worthwhile nature exploration activity, even if the results are not as polished.

Not all flower are pigmented equally…
While all flowers have some pigment in them, not all of them work equally well in this activity. Some petals are too watery or too thin and will not produce a good image. Test all your flowers on scrap material or paper before you put them on your finished product. We recommend pansies, chrysanthemums, goldenrod, colored daisies, and marigolds to start out. Additionally, leaves will add a lovely pop of green to your project. Like with flowers, stay away from thick, watery leaves. Explore your yard and local green-spaces to find a variety of colors and textures from your project. Or simply buy a bouquet of grocery store flowers – any flower and leaf has the potential to make beautiful art!

Other crafts using plant pigments from around the web:
Nature Colors by Fakin’ It
“A Day with No Crayons” Flower Pounding Craft by The Crafty Crow
Flower Pounding Prints by Rhythm of the Home

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.


July 11, 2014

In With the Interns: Green Careers Week

by Melissa Harding

Trimming ferns

In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2014 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. Written by Kate Borger, this segment will also feature original words and artwork from the interns.

Our high school interns completed their third week of the summer internship with a focus on green careers. This included a panel in which community members from a wide variety of sustainability-focused fields spoke with the interns about their education and career paths. Career paths explored included architecture, law, engineering, beekeeping, education and horticulture. We also had a marvelous cooking class with Justine Cassell from Slow Food Pittsburgh, who had the interns prepare summer vegetable frittatas and a raw kale salad. Finally, the interns had a chance to teach young children all about plants under the guidance of Phipps docent and educator, Amy Troyani.

Here are some of the interns own words about this week and what they learned:

“My favorite part of this week was probably having the opportunity to individually shadow a member of the horticulture staff. I was assigned to Chris, who maintains the Indian Tropical Forest. It was so memorable because it was by far the activity that made me feel the most like an actual staff member. There was a good amount of independent work for me that morning; I put plants in a large flower pot, planted various ferns throughout the room, and assisted in collecting the larger dead leaves off of the ground. It gave good insight into the fact that many little things compromise and perfect the larger parts of our lives, which is something that can easily go unnoticed.”
- Ahmir Allen

“This week, working with a horticulture staff one on one was really great. It allowed me to more freely ask questions that specifically applied to me, and that I didn’t even know I had. Also, I really liked the experiences and advice the horticulture staff shared with us at the green careers lunch, such as “don’t be afraid to try different things” and “change your career path multiple times if necessary” because that is one of the things that worried me as I’m preparing to go to college.”
- Larissa Koumaka

“This is our third week and I loved it. We got more hands-on experience with the horticulture staff. We go to also shadow a horticulture staff member, so I shadowed a girl named Lauren and she worked in the greenhouses, basically watering and deadheading plants. It was amazing. I learned so much more about the greenhouse itself and the maintenance of plants. And then throughout the week I applied a lot of the things I learned from shadowing Lauren. On Wednesday we ate lunch with the horticulture staff and got a little insight on how they decided their professions and ended up at Phipps.”
- Alexis Smith

“This week at Phipps was very eye-opening. In a special way that any people with common interests can have. We had a lunch with the other staff at Phipps, where I learned that you don’t have to be specially trained to work in a specific horticulture field and in fact most staff took general plant science. I am glad that I plan to take horticulture at Penn State, then go to Bidwell Training Center to further advance my plant knowledge, knowing that I may be more qualified for a job at Phipps one day.”
- Aaron Sledge

“From our green careers week, I’ve retained a lot of information. At first, just having a list of green careers wasn’t all that exciting. When the panel of people who have green careers came in though, that’s when it got exciting. The gears in my head started turning and I could see doors opening for me. After hearing them talk, I really would like to get into something having to do with sustainable architecture or energy. This week has made me want to change this world to make it cleaner, greener and more.”
 – Dani Einloth

“Working one on one with someone that works at Phipps was one of my favorite things about this week. I feel like we should do that more often. It’s mostly about a high school intern shadowing a staff member. The staff member told us their job gave us a little tip on how to do it. Also we had to help them with their job. My second favorite thing about this week was when the staff members and college students telling us the story about how they ended up at Phipps. It was so interesting to see that some of their staff members never thought they would be working with plants and some of then grew up planting and ended up at Phipps.”
- Ephraim St. Cyr

“Green career week featured an extremely helpful panel of professionals that explained and discussed their green jobs. One thing I will forever take away from that is the advice given: “Find your niche and then inject the green part into it.” Wise words to help make wise life choices.”
- Will Grimm

Another full week comes to a close with minds and taste buds open to new experiences!

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.

July 4, 2014

In with the Interns: Food Week

by Melissa Harding


In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2014 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. Written by Kate Borger, this segment will also feature original words and artwork from the interns.

If you ever feel worried about the fate of the world, take heart. The Phipps high school interns, given their capacity for hard work, open-mindedness and true concern for others and for the environment, are living, teenage examples of hope for the future. As they enthusiastically learn about plant science and sustainable solutions to the daunting environmental issues we face, we can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing there are youth like them to help take on these problems with commitment and intelligence.

Since their first day in the job, these eight high school students have been working with Phipps horticulture staff to help beautify the Conservatory. In addition, they planned and planted their own vegetable beds, learned cooking techniques with members of Slow Food Pittsburgh, and studied basic botany with Pitt biology post-doc, Alison Hale. This second week was focused on food systems and how our food choices affect our bodies and the environment.  The documentary film, Food Inc. and Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules, spurred on thoughtful and lively discussions.

Here are some of the interns own words about this week and what they learned:

“Learning to identify plants in the environment! Wow, what an epic experience that was! Now I can walk outside and tell whether a plant is simple, complex, a woody species, and talk about its phytotaxa. I love that! I feel more connected to nature and enjoy being outside more.”
Larissa Kowmaka

“One thing that I learned this week was that food industries and farmers use corn for everything. Most of the things we eat nowadays have corn in them. Also, instead of feeding animals the food they are supposed to eat, farmers feed them corn to make them bigger and look grown in a short amount of time. Some of the animals are so big and lazy that their legs can’t support their body weight. That type of process is not good for the animals and the people that are eating them.”
- Ephraim St. Cyr

“This week I had a combination of things that definitely jump started this internship. We had our first double work shift with the horticulture staff. Then we took a lot of workshops, like supermarket botany, which was basically the etymology of the local fresh produce we buy at the stores every day. The class broke down piece by piece the process our foods go through before reaching our tables. Then we got a lot of different work experience, like I worked in the Edible Garden and the greenhouses. Very productive second week!
-Alexis Smith

“This week as a Phipps intern has been full of exciting topics, ranging from integrated pest management to supermarket botany. But one major thing I liked was working in the Fruit and Spice Room, where I learned about banana’s progressive fruiting habits.”
- Aaron Sledge

“I really enjoyed supermarket botany. It was really cool learning about plants we eat and fun facts. For example, a strawberry isn’t a berry and the part we eat is actually swollen tissue.”
-Anna Steeley

“Ah yea, food week. Throughout this past week we have been reading Michael Pollen’s Food Rules. Although somewhat quirky, this book is filled with simple rules to help you maintain a healthier diet. Some of the rules, namely “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” have already sunk in to help me make healthier choices”
- Will Grimm

“The event this week that impacted me was definitely watching “Food, Inc.” As someone who, for the entirety of my life, has been an unquestionable carnivore, I was shocked by how seldom I actually take time to make sure my food is legitimate. I want more assurance that I’m not constantly take one step forward and two steps back in my diet. I’ll never, as far as I can know, stop eating meat, but I’ll try to be safer about it.”
Ahmir Allen

 The bottom line: individuals have the power to make choices daily that can improve our relationship with the environment. Talk about inspiring!

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

June 5, 2014

Reflections on a Phipps Field Trip

by Melissa Harding


Today is the last day of “field trip season” here at Phipps. Every day for the last several months, we have taught thousands of students about butterflies, worms and seeds. It has been a very busy and very wonderful spring indeed! Several weeks ago, we were lucky enough to host four school field trips for St. Killian’s Parish School. We taught a Stupendous Seeds for their three year-old class and  Worms for their four year-old class. We had such a wonderful time with their students! St. Killian’s lead teacher, Mrs. Staudacher, very kindly sent us her reflections on the day for us and we loved them so much that we wanted to share them here.


Stupendous Seeds

The children became “scientists” today!  They investigated seeds and learned all about plants.  Ms. Amanda, our Phipps instructor, told the children we use plants all the time.  She asked the children, if they like bananas, cookies, apples, and chocolate!  The children were a little surprised to learn some of their favorite foods come from plants.  They laughed when they heard their clothes, furniture, paper for books, and pencils all come from plants, too! 

The children used two of their five senses in their investigation:  Their eyes to see and their hands to touch!  Working as scientists, the children used magnifying glasses to examine a variety of seeds.   They carefully examined the attributes of the seeds (color, size, shape, and their “favorite funny”).  Lima beans that had been soaked in water were passed out.  Each child received one bean and was asked to remove its “coat”.  The children learned all seeds have “coats.”  The coats protect the seed.  The children learned that all seeds have an embryo (baby plant), and it has its own food!

 Soon it was time for the children to pretend to be plants.  Assembling in the back of the classroom, some children were given signs to wear (sun, clouds) and little puppet bees were passed out, as well.  The remainder of the children pretended to be seeds growing in a garden! They began to sprout as the sun gave them warmth, and the clouds gave them water.  After waiting and waiting and waiting, the flowers began to bloom!


Worms: Our Composting Friends

The children enjoyed learning about soil composition and red worms with Ms. Melissa and Mr. Steven.  The session began with Ms. Melissa asking the children what plants need to grow. They answered, “Plants need “dirt”, water, and sunshine.” Ms. Melissa took the opportunity to then introduce the “scientific” word for “dirt”, which is soil.  The children remembered from that point on to use the “scientific” word, “soil”, when referring to this plant material.

Small containers of soil, tweezers, and a magnifying glass were given to the children. They assumed the role of “scientists”, as they began their investigative mission picking out soil parts such as rocks, leaves, roots, and parts of a plant in their trays.  The question was asked, “What’s missing?”  The children’s quick response was, “Worms!”

The children used four of their five senses when working with the worms:  their eyes, nose, ears, and touch.  No mouth!  After carefully observing the worms, the children were asked to describe them.  Some of the adjectives they used: red, wiggly, long, colorful, short, long, no eyes, and stripes. 

The children learned some interesting facts about worms:  Worms have muscles like people, but no spine.  Each stripe on a worm is a muscle, the tiny hairs on the worms is called, “setae” (that is how the worm wiggles around0, worms breathe through their skin, and worms do not have eyes beause they do not need eyes since they do not like light and they live underground!

The children also used flashlights to shine underneath their plates of worms to see “inside” the wormss. Melissa shared the worms’ home as well as the banana peels that the worms eat! Steven taught the afternoon class.  It was a repeat performance of the morning class.  The afternoon class pretends to be wiggly worms!

What a fun group to teach – they were great scientists!
Check out the slideshow below to see more pictures from St. Killian’s field trips.

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 Thanks again to St. Killian’s Parish School for all of these wonderful photos and reflections!


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