Archive for ‘Plants’

March 13, 2015

2015 High School Internship Opportunity: Horticulture, Sustainability and Service

by Melissa Harding


Will and Larissa weeding

“A previous intern had once told me this was one of the best experiences of her life. I hardly believed that would be the same for me, but after being here for two summers, I honestly feel the same way. Phipps has provided me with amazing opportunities and education as well as allowing me to meet all the great people that make Phipps what it really is.”
– Will, 2013 and 2014 intern

Do you know any students that would make strong and eager candidates for an extraordinary summer learning experience?

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is now accepting applications from highly motivated high school students with an interest in the well-being of the planet to serve as summer interns in our paid internship program which will run from June 22nd through July 30th. All applicants must be at least 16 years of age by June 22 and have at least one year of school left. Students of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

Our high school internship provides hands-on experience working with our science education and horticulture staff, along with classes, service projects, and field trips that expose students to a wide range of “green” concepts and career options.

More information and a Phipps employment application and a supplemental application form, along with a flyer suitable for posting can be downloaded from the Phipps website.


“More than teaching me about plants and the environmental problems, this internship has shown me a deeper meaning of the value of work and achievement. It has also taught me that doing things you never thought you could do and, most importantly doing then well, as best as you can, is one of the most rewarding feelings there is. I will forever be grateful for my time spent here at Phipps and will not forget all the amazing people – horticulturalists, chefs, students, staff and volunteers – that I met here. ”
– Larissa, 2013 and 2014 intern

All interested students should submit the following to be considered for employment:

Application materials are being accepted between February 1st – April 1st, and should be sent to:

Kate Borger, High School Program Coordinator
Phipps Conservatory
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

For more information call 412/622-6915 ext. 3905 or email today!

Download and print a flier to help spread the word.

To learn more, check out previous blog posts about last year’s internship here. You can also learn about our first annual Youth Garden Summit here, and check out some pictures below:

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This program is made possible with support from the Grable Foundation and Pennsylvania’s Education Improvement Tax Credit Program.

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

March 6, 2015

Talking about Plant Science at SciTech Days

by Melissa Harding

FullSizeRender (5)

Yesterday, we spent the day with the future scientists of Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Science Center’s SciTech Days! This twice yearly event is a chance for both middle and high school students to meet with science professionals to learn more about their careers in the growth areas of Pittsburgh –  robotics, biotechnology, eco-technology and health. The day also features a variety of workshops and educational programs, as well as a chance to explore the exhibits, all of which is linked to the Next Generation Science Standards. We were there to represent the importance of biology and the natural world in our lives, as well as to talk about careers in the environmental field.

Kate and Melissa manned a table focusing on clean air plants, which are plants that help to clean toxins out of the air. They spoke with students about indoor air quality, including some of the products that bring chemicals into their homes. Students are always surprised that the air in their home can be 2-10% worse than the air outside! They also talked about the process by which some plants are able to increase the cleanliness of indoor air. Finally, they planted philodendron plugs with students to take home with them.


Dr. Emily Kalnicky also led a workshop entitled “Biophilia: Connecting with the Environment“, in which she spoke about how a strong connection with nature leads to an increase in conservation attitudes. In addition to talking about why people choose to behave in environmentally responsible ways, she also discussed the concept of biophilia and the growing proliferation of biophilic design in the built environment. She particularly highlighted our new CSL building, including some of the natural design elements within, and how it takes a holistic and integrative approach to human and ecological wellness.

While yesterday’s bad weather did keep some schools at home, we still had a great turn-out and enjoyed our time with the students. We can’t wait until the next SciTech Days this fall!

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





March 3, 2015

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow Aurélie Jacquet

by Melissa Harding


If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

For our next installment in this series, we sat down with BIA Fellow Aurélie Jacquet. The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. 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 to public audiences. Aurélie has been a BIA Fellow for three years, researching ethnobotany and traditional herbal medicines.

We interviewed Aurélie about how she combines her love of nature, people and plants into her research:

1. Introduce yourself and your work in 5 sentences or less. 

My name is Aurélie, and I am working on a Ph.D in the department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Purdue University. I study traditional herbal medicines and their potential protective effects on Parkinson’s disease. I traveled to Nepal and I work with Native Americans to learn about the medicinal plants they use, and now I have selected a few to study in the lab.

2. Why did you become a scientist? 

I became a scientist because I realized that I could help others with my work. At an early age, I knew that I wanted to work with medicinal plants and find a way to help people by turning these plants into medicine. Science was the best answer to achieve this goal!

3. What part do plants play in your research?

Plants are the basis of my work. Everything I do involves plant and plant extracts. For example, when I go to the field to interview people, I ask how plants are used as medicine. I also collect herbarium specimens to deposit in herbarium for future references. After collecting plants, I make extracts. I basically make a tea, dry it and use the remaining powder for my studies. I also have small plants in my office, just to keep me grounded!

4. What is the most exciting thing you have ever done at work?  

The most exciting thing for me is to meet indigenous people and learn their traditions. Last year, I had the honor to be offered to smoke the sacred pipe! I witnessed the ceremony, the central importance of plants, and I am very grateful to have experienced it. It is a real gift that I will never forget.

Jacquet field photo-001

5. What skills do you use in your job? 

Because I have an interdisciplinary project, I need to use a variety of skills. During the fieldwork, I need to be able to communicate with healers and local people. Often, my questions about the uses of plants need to be handled carefully so that people don’t misunderstand my goal, which is to help find medicines and not steal knowledge. I also need to be able to write for multiple audiences. For example, I write differently if I return my research results to my participants or if I publish in a scientific journal. During my time in the lab, I need another set of skills. More than anything, I need patience and precision because I want to be able to reproduce my results several times. I couldn’t forget to mention analysis skills, because when I look at my results I need to be able to understand what they mean, find explanations and design the next experiments to be done.

6. What is your favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part of the job is without doubt to be in the field, feeling the plants in my hands, listening to stories and being remembered how precious Nature is!

7. If you weren’t a scientist, what job would you choose? 

If I wasn’t a scientist, I would be a photographer or a reporter. I would still want to learn about people, just in a different way!

8. Why is science education important? 

Science education is important because everybody need to be educated about how our world work and what need to be done to preserve it. Science is not worth much if people don’t have access to the new knowledge. I believe an educated population will be able to make the best decision for itself.

Aurélie is not only an exceptional scientist, but also an incredibly accomplished photographer who has won numerous awards for her work. She is an example of someone who combines a love of both art and science into one career. Check out this blog post to learn more about the connection between art and science!

To follow Aurélie’s adventures in research at, check out her website!

The above photos are used courtesy of Aurélie Jacquet and Phipps Science Education.

February 24, 2015

Wonderful Worms in Winter!

by Melissa Harding


Even though it was one of the coldest days of the year so far, our Little Sprouts braved the winter weather to join us in the Tropical Forest last Friday for February’s Little Sprouts program, Wonderful Worms. During our latest Little Sprouts adventure, campers learned all about worm bodies and how these wonderful little critters help plants grow. Of course, they also sang songs, met a whole mess of worm friends, and got up close and personal with some plants in the Conservatory!

To begin, campers played with dirt and “compost” sensory bins; we created a compost bin out of shredded paper, plastic fruits and pipe cleaner worms to simulate what our real vermicomposter is like inside. Our campers really enjoyed the furry, fake worms!

After singing our welcome song together, the campers explored their mystery boxes. Inside they found real worms from our worm composter, along with some shredded paper. Campers explored the texture, temperature, shape, and size of these critters. They then used flashlights to look inside them and see the food as it passed through their digestive system. After they had seen our worm friends, campers learned how worms use their muscles to move through song by singing “The Worms in the Dirt” (hint: they go “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle”.)

Next, campers and their caregivers made their own worm art using spaghetti “worms” to make tracks in brown tempera paint. This sensory activity is not only fun, but allows campers to continue to explore touch and textures. After painting, campers ate a healthy snack of apples and bananas while Mr. Steve read “Wonderful Worms” by Linda Glaser. Finally, campers climbed through the Tropical Forest hunting for brightly colored yarn “worms” on the ground.

We had so much fun and can’t wait for our next Little Sprouts program in March!

To see more images from camp, check out the slideshow below:


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To learn how to do your own worm study at home, check out this Backyard Connections post about worms!

Our March Little Sprouts program is already full, but please join us for four-day Sprouts over the summer. If you think this program sounded like fun, check out our summer camp “We Like Dirt” for a full week of playing in the mud! Please call Sarah Bertovich to register at 412-422-4441 ext. 3925 or visit our website.

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

February 18, 2015

Evening Edventure: Conservation Investigation

by Melissa Harding


A crime has been committed! Someone stole a bunch of bananas from the forest and we need a detective to figure out who did it. Luckily, at last Friday’s Evening Ed-Venture, we had 17 detectives to help us solve this heinous crime. During this mysterious program, campers learned how to be good detectives and sharpened their observational skills through a  series of challenges. They also got to take a crack at solving The Mystery of the Missing Bananas, a habitat-based mystery focused on teaching ecosystem interdependence. Not to mention, they got to spend time in the Conservatory at night! Campers had a criminally-good time and so did we.

Upon arrival, campers created a detective notebook to track their progress and to record any clues they found. Their first task was to complete a series of observation-based games to see how good they were at looking closely and listening. They also learned that detectives and scientists have quite a bit in common, both of them using their senses to observe and ask questions in order to solve mysteries, criminal or otherwise.


After our detectives were trained, they tried to solve our banana-based crime. In this mystery, campers interview plants about the animals on their suspect lists. The plants provide clues about who may or may not be guilty based on any alibis they can give for a particular animal. The goal of the program itself is to help students understand how plants need animals and animals need plants, all while playing a fun game. Campers loved the mystery and even suspected some of us as being the culprits! Finally, they all settled on the cockroach, who was the true villain.

After all the crime-fighting, the campers were pretty hungry, so we had a tropical snack of bananas and oranges. Newly fortified, the campers headed to the Conservatory, using a scavenger hunt to guide their observations. They had to look closely, read signs, and use all their senses to cross off every box on their sheet. By the time they were done it was time to head home and rest their detective eyes for the night. What a great Conservation Investigation!

If this program sounds fun, check out our next Evening Ed-Venture on March 27, Fun with Food; in this exciting program, campers will learn about healthy foods through crafts, games and cooking! To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

February 16, 2015

Home Connections: Flower Pigment Art

by Melissa Harding


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

Have some extra Valentine’s Day flowers laying around? We have the perfect use for them! 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 recently 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.


February 13, 2015

Give Nature a Valentine!

by Melissa Harding

Bleeding Hearts (4)

Valentine’s Day is not just for people; nature also wants to get in to the act. As well it should! After all, think about how much nature shows us its love every day – from the air we breathe to the food to we eat, plants and the natural world are responsible for our survival every day. While we are thinking about love in all of its various forms, lets show a little to our plant and animal friends while we’re at it.

Here are some easy ways that your family can spare some caring on Valentine’s Day (and everyday) for your natural neighbors:

1. Feed the birds: Tuppence a bag! Your feathered friends will appreciate the treat and reward you with regular visits to your yard.

Pine Cone Birds: The Blueberry Junkies
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow

2. Plants some seeds: Help plants grow by planting some seeds. You can add beauty and life to your home or spread that love to someone else and give them away!

Seed Packet Valentines: Spread seeds and help beautify someone’s home or garden. One Crafty Place

3. Reduce, reuse and recycle: While Valentine’s Day can mean buying gifts, try repurposing and reusing instead today. You will make less waste, which the Earth certainly appreciates, and have fun doing it!

Newspaper Hearts: Recycled materials are a valentine for the whole Earth! You are my fave
Heart Garland: Give your house some love, too! Maya * Made
Coffee Filter Hearts: Fun and compostable! The Artful Parent

4. Make some nature art: Nature is already beautiful, but you can help her out by adding your own artwork to the world.

Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

You and your family will really adore these fun craft and activity ideas. Spread the goodwill around to everyone (and every plant) that you love!

 Have a love-ly Valentine’s Day from all of us!

Photo © Paul g. Wiegman



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