Nature Coast Master Gardeners (NCMG) teamed-up with sixty-five children and a dozen adults during the 2022 Levy County Library Summer Program. In cooperation with Darlene Slattery, Levy County Library Director and Layce Hallman, Library Office Manager, NCMG visited five branch libraries during the week-long program. The traveling roadshow provided ninety-minutes of fun and educational activities.
Goals of the event included discussing factors influencing seed germination, functions of roots, stems, leaves, flowers, introduce horticulture vocabulary, and plant-insect-human interdependence.
Backyard Plant Biology
Guests examined portable herbarium specimens, identifying similarities and differences in pressed roots, leaves and flowers. They were curious to know how we pressed the plants and made the books. We asked “what is an herbarium” to which one responded “a place to buy herbs.”
The NCMG portable herbarium documents and holds information about plants in Dixie, Gilchrist, and Levy counties. It is a collection of dried plant specimens mounted on archive safe scrapbook paper. Each bound book covers one season: spring, summer, autumn or winter. It documents plant diversity, and our collection is designed to be handled. Since 2019, thirty-two specimen have been added to the Florida Atlas of Vascular Plants and seven new Levy County vouchers (specimen) have been added to University of Florida Herbarium. During off events, the Portable Herbarium volumes are housed at Levy Extension Center, Bronson.
Encouraging children to follow natural curiosity they squeezed and teased leaves of sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) and oregano (Oreganum vulgare), releasing fragrant
essential oils. Many commented on the pleasing scent, reminding them of pasta sauce.
Using magnification lens, children explored the short, dense and somewhat spiny hairs on okra and the herbarium specimen, bull nettle (Cnidoscolus stimulosus). The latter is covered with stiff stinging hairs.
Open-ended questions, beginning with how or what, facilitated comparing leaf textures of sweet corn, oak (Quercus spp.), sweet basil, and dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium). NCMG guided conversation on binomial nomenclature, the reason that scientist use two names to identify a specific plant. Eupatorium compositifolium and Eupatorium capillifolium (image right) are commonly called dog fennel or yankeeweed.
After identifying seed dispersal methods, children pulled gaillardia seeds tufts from freshly collected seed heads. Children packaged seeds in herbarium-grade glassine envelopes to take home. Bella, aged nine and a half, asked “how long does it take seeds to grow [germinate]?”
Future gardeners carefully handled roots and stems of Cuban oregano (Coleus amboinicus). Also known as Indian borage, and broadleaf thyme, Cuban oregano is a member of the mint family. One youth asked, “are all plants with square stems mints.” This was an opportune time to distinguish between common names and the scientific names. Adults were provided sowing and growing directions. Slattery and Hallman handed-out marionette and classic Italian cakes at the conclusion of the program.
Guests are encouraged to explore local gardens, parks, preserves and nurseries with curious youngsters. Active minds and busy hands sought out books related to gardening, plants, soil, trees, bugs and water during the mid-program stretch break. Participants designed and took home a laminated bookmark sporting the UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener logo and a QR code linking to UF/IFAS Levy Extension web page.
Perhaps we’ve sown a seed and one of these future botanists will collect, curate, support UF hebaria, or cryo-conserve plant material from around the world. Let me know how that goes. Until then – Happy Gardening!