Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve
March/April 2015 Newsletter
IN THIS ISSUE:
Walking trails are open to the public every day from dawn to dusk.
Bunker Interpretive Center (BIC) hours
Closed weekends and holidays.
Admission to the trails and BIC is free.
1750 East Beltline Ave. SE
Wetlands & Woodlands Summer Camps
Presenting the final First Saturday programs of our series! These programs are free, and appropriate for families with children ages 4-12.
More Upcoming Programs & Events
Mark your calendar to save these important dates:
You might find this neighbor at the preserve and near your neighborhood!
Meet Your Neighbor: Virginia Opossum (Didelphia virginiana)
Description: The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial–pouched mammal–native to North America. About the size of a big house cat, the common opossum has white fur on its face and a varying blend of white, gray, and black fur over most of its body. A great climber, the opossum has sharp claws and a naked, prehensile tail that helps it with balance and can grip branches. This animal is nocturnal.
Be a Good Neighbor:
Man is the Virginia opossum’s top predator, partly because the animal is misunderstood. They have received a bad rap, due to their undiscriminating appetite, and hissing defense mechanism. Opossums are actually harmless, beneficial visitors to backyard wildlife habitats. They're quiet, they don't dig or claw, and they don't eat flowers or chew up the vegetable garden. Instead, they eat unwanted rodents, snails, and insects, munch on fallen fruit, and clean up our garbage, if we've left it accessible. Opossums are not aggressive, and their low core body temperature makes them highly resistant to disease (including rabies). However, if you wish to persuade an opossum to leave an area, first try minimizing attractions like pet food left outdoors, fallen fruit, and hiding places. Otherwise, leave them alone and they will likely move on in a few days.
Unplugged: Connecting with Nature
The landscape has been monochromatic for so long, you’re probably excited for color. Try getting a sneak preview of Spring by cutting budding branches, and “forcing” them to leaf out or bloom early. You can also record the experience with your young scientists!
When temperatures rise above freezing in February and March, take a walk around your yard and look at the twigs on various trees and shrubs. Observe the buds on the branches. When spring arrives, these buds will burst forth as either leaves or flowers. Typically, flower buds are round and fat, whereas leaf buds are smaller and pointed. Together, figure out what type of bud you are looking at by preforming a little bud surgery. When cut open, a flower bud will reveal miniature flower parts on the inside. A hand lens can be helpful for viewing the parts of twigs and buds.
Next, use a sharp hand clippers to cut one to three foot branches, taking care not to disfigure the plant. Place the ends of the branches into a container of clean warm water, making sure to first remove any buds or leaves that lie under the water line. It the branch is really woody, you may want to remove an inch or two of bark from the base to enhance absorption of the water. You can add a floral preservative to the water to help control bacteria. Place the twig bouquet in cool place away from sun light, and change the water regularly so it doesn't become cloudy. Depending on the species and when you cut the branches, forcing the buds to open may take one to eight weeks. While waiting, young scientists can make weekly observations and journal about the process. You can measure and record the buds' size, develop theories about the factors that make the buds open early, identify the types of branches, and make sketches. For a winter twig identification chart and other educational resources, visit our Pinterest page.
Finally, once the buds burst enjoy your arrangement by setting it in a bright-but-cool spot, out of direct sunlight.
Here’s a quick list of West Michigan trees and shrubs you might find in your backyard that work well for forcing: forsythia, redbud, crabapple, spirea, dogwood, honeysuckle, red maple, willow, and flowering cherries.
Providentially, late winter is the best time to prune deciduous trees and large shrubs. Forcing cut branches provides a much-needed splash of nature in your home for both pleasure and scientific discovery!
Calvin College | 3201 Burton St. SE | Grand Rapids, MI, 49546 USA | www.calvin.edu