Wild Over Wildflowers

By Eve Pranis

As part of a statewide educational program to develop a thematic science program; attract butterflies; and replenish wildflowers in the state, GrowLab students and teachers in Delaware went wild over wildflowers this year.

With guidance from resource educator Stephanie Wright, material donations from Dupont, and support from everyone from a Brownie troop to the state Solid Waste Authority, 150 classrooms raised a range of wildflowers indoors and out. While non-GrowLab classrooms directly sowed seeds outdoors, GrowLab schools were able to start, observe, and care for them indoors.

"Since we're aware of a decline in monarch butterflies in the state" reported teacher Emily Barkert, "we were particularly interested in reestablishing plants that would attract them." A local Brownie troop collected enough milkweed seeds and a state wildflower expert collected enough Joe Pieweed seeds for 150 classrooms. Local nurseries and garden clubs donated other wildflower seed mixtures.

Participating students learned, firsthand, some lessons about adaptations for survival. After having no germination success with milkweed seeds, Emily Barkert's third graders considered the conditions these seeds would ordinarily undergo outdoors. They tried freezing some of the seeds to simulate cold winter conditions, and were rewarded with successful germination.

Once flowers were large enough to move, students transplanted them outdoors. "The kids were so excited to watch these flowers grow and to care for them," says Emily. "As each one blooms -- poppies, black-eyed Susans, bachelor's buttons -- the children all know whose it is, and share in the pride and excitement. We had already studied life-cycle stages. Now they apply that to their own flowers...noticing how their fruits form and how they disperse. It has really helped kids sharpen observation and discrimination skills. They can tell the difference between garden weeds and their own planted wildflowers."

The wildflower project also resulted in an exciting partnership between the wildflower classrooms and the state Solid Waste Authority. The waste authority has developed a "compost" made from solid waste and sewage sludge, processed under heat to kill weed seeds and pathogens. This nutrient-rich material was used for indoor experiments, with outdoor gardens, and in an innovative wildflower "turf"-type mat.

"Kids handled their first failure with the experimental soil well," said one teacher. "They brainstormed what might have been the problem, adjusted the soil, planted again, and had success. They understand that this process is an important part of real science."

Other state solid waste programs have developed nutrient-rich growing media from waste products. Consider contacting the appropriate agency or corporation in your state. It could lead to an engaging gardening project that helps students explore waste recycling in a real-life context.

For information on wildflowers and native plants in your region, visit the The Web site of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (www.wildflower.org). You'll find downloadable "factpacts" about wildflowers in eight bioregions in North America, a searchable database of regional and state native plant societies, and much more.

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