Thanksgiving is here again, and we at the Chicago Botanic Garden are thankful for all the pollinators who make our food possible, every day, around the world. Bats, bees, butterflies, birds, and more pollinate plants that create one-third of the food we eat.
As you enjoy a meal with friends and family, take a moment to say thanks for the little things that make such a big difference—pollinators!
Instructions: Click on the image above to download our placemat to enjoy with your feast.
The ideal printing size is tabloid (11 x 17 inches). Letter size paper (8.5 x 11 inches) will also work if you choose “fit to page” when printing.
Draw and color the foods you are eating on our placemat. Check the answer key to see who pollinated them. Then, fill the Thanksgiving plate by drawing and coloring the foods—fruits, vegetables, and spices—that were brought to you by pollinators.
School’s out. The first official day of summer has come and gone. Time for life to move outdoors.
For some kids (OK, some caregivers, too), heading out to the backyard, the beach, the parks, and the forest preserves can feel daunting—what do you DO once you’re out there?
“Hands in earth, sand, mud: building, digging, sewing, baking—these are what humans DO.”
For fun, interesting, and education-based answers, we turned to a fun, interesting, and education-based crowd: the 190 teachers, home educators, day care providers, park district staff, museum employees, librarians, and just-plain-curious caregivers who came together at the Garden recently for our first Nature Play conference in May (sponsored by the Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago Wilderness, and the Alliance for Early Childhood).
That morning, opening remarks were short, but sweet. A few thought-provoking highlights are quoted here. Then we did what any group of early childhood-oriented people would do: We all went outside to play.
At our outdoor “playground,” 19 organizations shared their fun, interesting, and education-based ideas for playing outside. You may recognize many from your own childhood.
1. Pick Up a Stick
How cool is this? In 2008, the stick was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame! It’s in great company: the jump rope, dominoes, the Frisbee, Tinkertoys and, yes, the Easy-Bake Oven are co-recipients of the honor. The possibilities of the stick are endless—it’s a musical instrument, a light saber, a wand, a fishing pole, a giant pencil for drawing in the dirt, a conductor’s baton, the first leg of a tepee, and anything else a child says it is.
2. Learn to Lash
If one stick is interesting, a pile of sticks has real 3-D potential. The art of lashing teaches kids to turn something small—two twigs lashed together—into something big: a ladder, a lean-to, a stool, a swing.
3. Find the Art in Nature
Twigs + stones + leaves + “tree cookies” + seeds = a nature “painting,” a sculpture, an imaginary animal, backyard trail markers, or utterly simple, charming drawings like the happy face made out of seeds shown with our headline.
“For children, the most powerful form of learning is with their hands.”
4. Nature as Paintbrush
Sure, you can use a standard brush to paint with, but feathers, pine needles, and arborvitae segments not only expand the creative possibilities but also feel wonderfully different in the hand.
5. Kid-Made Kites
Send the imagination soaring with a simple paper bag and a couple of kitchen skewers—in moments, it’s a kite! And then there’s the process of decorating it with ribbons and streamers…
6. Cricket Bug Box
Catch a cricket (or buy a dozen for $1 at the pet shop). Friendly and chirpy, crickets are many kids’ first experience with the insect world. Even little kids can collect the foliage, food scraps, and water-soaked cotton balls to accessorize a temporary shoe-box habitat.
“Nature is children’s real home.”
7. Lift a Log
One of the simplest of all outdoor projects: lift up a log that’s been sitting on the ground and be amazed by the tiny wildlife that lives underneath it! Don’t forget to bring your magnifying glass.
8. Make a Magic Circle
Tuck a few wooden embroidery rings into a backpack. Placed on the ground in the woods, or the garden, or the sand, they become magical circles for kids to explore. What’s in yours?
9. D.I.Y. Dyeing
Rainy days need projects, too. Natural dyes made from vegetables (beets, onions), fruits (grape juice), or spices (turmeric, chili powder) transform undyed yarn or fabric into a personal style experience.
10. Paint Chip Color Hunt
One quick visit to the paint store can send kids off to hunt for hours, as they try to match nature’s colors to the humble paint chip card. (Handy to keep in the car for unexpected delays, too).
Looking for fun things to do with the kids this summer? June is Leave No Child Inside month, so Chicago Wilderness/Leave No Child Inside has organized all sorts of ideas for you on Pinterest!
Every winter, as a public garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden turns its educational programming attention—as well as its decorations—to the only plants that stay green through the season: the evergreens. We teach class after class of school children how to identify different kinds of evergreens by their needles and cones.
It’s a lesson in sorting and classifying plants—in other words: taxonomy.
Conifer vs. Evergreen
Every year we remind students of the meanings of the words “evergreen” and “conifer”—they are not the same thing!—and every year, someone is confused. I blame Christmas trees.
First, it’s important to understand that evergreens are any plants that remain green through the winter, like pine, spruce, fir, and Douglas fir. Conifers, on the other hand, are a classification of trees that produce seeds inside cones. These trees include pine, spruce, fir, and Douglas fir. Wait a minute…those are are the same trees!
You see, the problem is that our Christmas trees tend to be both evergreen and conifer, and as a result, many of us have forgotten the difference. To help us illustrate the definitions of the two terms, let’s look at some evergreens and conifers that do not fall into the intersection of those groups.
One conifer that loses its needles, and therefore is not an evergreen, is the bald cypress. These can be very attractive when covered in snow. (The bald cypress trees growing in the Heritage Garden have been pruned at the top and look like candelabras.) The needles on these trees change color in fall—the same way deciduous trees like maples and oaks do—and drop to the ground, making them look, well, bald.
Boxwoods and rhododendrons are woody plants that keep their green leaves all winter, but they do not produce cones. Boxwoods are occasionally used in wreaths and can be found in many places around the Garden.
Now here is where things actually do get confusing. Female yews produce a bright red “berry” that might make you think they are just evergreens. Actually, when you take a close look at the hard core at the center of this berry, you would see small, closed scales like those on any other “pine” cone. Yep. Juniper “berries” are also modified cones. That means yew and juniper are both evergreen and conifer.
So call your Christmas tree an evergreen or a conifer—you will be correct either way. But it’s worth remembering what the two terms mean. Recognizing how things are alike and different is the driving force behind taxonomy and is also fundamental to understanding the natural world.
When last we saw Botanical Bill, our resident groundhog mascot, he was having a big adventure right before Groundhog Day. Since then, Botanical Bill has had a great summer—he spent it with his Marmota monax family in a burrow at the edge of McDonald Woods.
Groundhogs (also called woodchucks) usually hibernate from October to March, but Botanical Bill is getting a late start this year, since the mild autumn weather lasted so long. Now he’s got the urge to hibernate—and to look for a winter burrow in which to enjoy a nice long nap.
Turns out it’s not so easy to find a place that’s just right…
This is a treasure hunt to find trees. Follow the clues to find them with ease.
Each clue has a hint to the tree’s location, And a few facts for identification.
The numbers provided are GPS* clues, Just in case our rhyming stumps you.
When you get to each tree you’re meant to find, Read the message on the large brown sign.
*GPS coordinates give the general area and my not be exact. Use them to get in the vicinity, then look for a tree that fits the clues. (All trees can be found in adjacent gardens on the west side of the main island.) Don’t have a GPS device? You can use your iPhone or Android phone’s compass utility to follow the clues. Remember: leave any seeds you find for the critters that need food for winter!
Enter a Garden of native flowers and grasses; Walk ’round the fence and try not to pass this.
It’s tall and stately, and rough is its bark; Look up to see woody, small berries, which are dark.
If you go past the fliers, frozen midflight, “backtrack” your footsteps to the tree that is “right.”
GPS: N 42˚08.899′, W 087˚47.510′ iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’54” W 87˚ 47’31”
If these trees were shorter, this clue’d be a hard one. Follow the path through the Landscape Garden.
An evergreen trio are loaded with seeds; They form narrow cones—look up high to see.
You may cross a stream discover these gems, Enjoying the moisture, to the water they bend.
GPS: N 42˚08.879′, W087˚47.499′ iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’53” W 87˚ 47’31”
For those who love fall color it’s plain to see, Edna Kanaley Graham would have loved this next tree.
Come into the garden, where spring bulbs sleep. Look right in the entrance and take a quick peep.
This tree’s fruits (now all fallen) are small prickly balls, Star-shaped leaves are what’s left now—orange and yellow in fall.
GPS: N 42˚08.890′, W 087˚47.566′ iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’53”, W 087˚ 47’34”
Near the Circle Garden and the whistling of trains, A group of large trees makes nuts from sun, air, and rain.
Squirrels and critters think that these nuts are great; It’s also a favorite of Ohio State!
Can’t find our trees on your wander? Look down: This time of year, fruit and husks litter the ground.
GPS: N 42˚ 08.849′, W 087˚47.465′ iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’50”, W 087˚47’34”
From here, it’s off to the Enabling Garden you go; Where a smattering of these trees you’ll find in a row.
This specimen grows very large heart-shaped leaves; Long, narrow seed pods hang from its eaves.
Either side of the path they drip like fresh wax; We hope from these clues you discover the facts.
GPS: N 42˚08.810′, W 087˚47.416′ iPhone Compass: N 42˚ 08’49”, W 087˚ 47’25”
Our ephemeral signs have now been removed from each site, but here are the answers: