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Learning about nature by touching it

CMJ's picture

Minh, Barbara and I visited with two upperclassmen, Sruthi and Hira on an ecological tour of the campus.. This is my account

The botanical tour was less of a tour than a catalogue of some of the native and non-native (invasive) species in Morris Woods and down by Mill Creek. I was somewhat surprised to learn that English ivy, a prolific and higly visible invasive plant, was not the only invasive plant present. These other plants, unlike ivy, were subtler in their assaults, relying on subterfuge and camouflage. Ivy is easy to spot--it has distinct leaves and its vines run everywhere, choking trees by sprouting small roots that cling to bark and crawl their way up, and acting as a thick ground cover knocking out other species. In Forest Park (a forest with the city limits) and other parks in my native Portland, OR, the spread of English ivy is an immense tragedy for many native plants, trees and animals. But what of the other invasive species we saw on our excursion? Are they wreaking the same havoc as the ivy is? Apparently, by the year 2000, 5% of native species in Pennsylvania went extinct, while 25% more are facing a similar future. However, these plants were very biologically interesting. One in particular, a bush called the privet employs a mimicking mechanism to stay alive. Somehow, it is aware of plants such as the spicebush growing next to it and can evolve quickly to convincingly resemble the native species. How this plant accomplishes this, I have no idea, but I would like to know. How does a species evolve over time to have characteristics like this? The success invasive species have in alien habitats is also quite remarkable. How is it that their chances of survival and adaptation are so much greater than those of their native counterparts? I found that after learning even the smallest bit about the native flora around us, I have so many more questions. I also have many questions and perhaps some criticisms for the way flora on campus proper is chosen and sculpted, but that rant can wait for another day and more research on the matter. 

The geological tour was quite different. I will admit to having taken very little time to prepare, but once we started off on our walk the things which were mentioned on our walk and lecture with former professor Maria Luisa Crawford seemed to spill out of me. I took this as a sign that I must really like rocks (I did have a rock collection when I was younger, a great hobby). Though it was cold, we seemed to all be enjoying ourselves as we took the uninitiated down to see Mill Creek to observe geological phenomena in real time. It really helped my memory and my comprehension to rehash all of these geological facts out again with the help of Minh and Barbara, and it was quite fun teaching others about the rocks and hills on Bryn Mawr's campus! I would like to do this again. Quite.