He recalled once, while working in another botanical garden, how it hit him on what he needed.
“I was showing high school kids around a greenhouse,” he said. There was an Easter lily in bloom, so he started talking about the male and female parts of the flower – which in the minds of the students means sex, he noted.
“And this girl looked at me, she said, ‘You mean the plants are alive?’ And so they equated… sex with being a living being. And it kind of amazed me that somebody didn’t know that. I don’t know what they thought plants were, but they didn’t think that plants were living beings.
Lauritzen Gardens planners felt it was important in Nebraska to show crop seeds and not just flowers. In a cupboard displayed in the veranda of the garden, there are pots of different seeds to compare the sizes.
Jenkins said the cabinet represents a variety of things, including diversity in shape and color, and encourages people to think about what it can become. “I think that’s really important. And I think it’s great that certain things like corn and sunflowers are recognizable right off the bat,” she said. However, people might really need to think about other seeds — like wheat — especially if they’ve never seen a wheat seed in their past, she explained.
Jenkins said the way seeds grow is amazing, especially as people think more about what they eat, how they are grown, while appreciating the beauty of crops and plants.
“It’s extremely important for children to know how food grows,” she said. “More and more since the start of the pandemic, people are more and more aware of growing their own food. And as food prices go up, I think people are more and more interested by how they grow theirs It would be interesting to see if we become As the years go by I think it’s especially important to be able to show many different ways how crops grow, how different foods grow you eat, whether it’s field crops or otherwise.
Locklear mentioned another exhibit the garden held last fall when the children saw sunflowers in their prime.
“We pulled a 12 foot tall sunflower out of the ground, just a wild one. And then we got sunflower seeds, which are like, you know, maybe a quarter inch long. And so, for that children see that this gigantic plant grew in one year from a small piece of seed, that everything this plant needed – except water and sunshine – was contained in this seed. It’s another amazing story in the plant world,” he said.
“If kids can connect the dots between … farmers who have to plant seeds and germinate them and nurture those plants, that would be a great lesson,” Jenkins said.
LEARNING FROM FRAGILITY
Another important part of the exhibition at the Botanical Garden was to highlight the fragility of plants. Highlighting three ecological zones – Sage Meadow, Catherland Chalk Bluffs and Sandhills Eruption – the garden over a few months showed how plants, animals and insects adapt and grow through the seasons and even after difficult times. such as wind erosion, drought, low temperatures, and forest fire.
If visitors returned to the exhibit multiple times, they could see how plants grew and different things were added, showing how plants survive and how areas bounce back. Some rare native plants have also been highlighted, such as the eruption penstemon.
For Locklear, it was an opportunity to show a region where he works a lot on the Great Plains. In his conservation role, although he focuses primarily on Nebraska, he travels extensively – his region extends from the Dakotas to Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as the eastern parts of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.
IMPORTANCE OF FIRE
The exhibit on wildfires and prescribed burns was timely, as this winter and early spring saw persistent drought across the Great Plains and numerous wildfires, including in the south-central and western from Nebraska.
Jenkins said the exhibit shows that fires can be a natural tool to help rejuvenate the prairie and ward off invasive species and give natural plants a place to grow. “(Fire) gets rid of a lot of woody stuff that, if not burned over time, could create catastrophic burns,” she said. “We wanted to draw attention…that fires aren’t necessarily bad, that in fact your plants are resilient.” Fire can be a natural way to manage the earth and keep it healthy.
Locklear explained how in parts of Nebraska, historically, there was tension between woods and grasslands. In really wet years and cool climate, the forest would win. In dry years, the prairie would gain and the trees would die. However, woody forest plants have encroached heavily on the grassland and are preventing natural plants from growing and affecting diversity.
“So running the fire through there periodically opens up barriers, and you get a lot more wildflowers,” he said, adding that there’s a natural progression with plants entering a burnt area. Natural plants produce tons of seeds, which benefits birds and insects and creates a healthier environment.
“I mean, it’s tough. You know, it’s bad when it damages private property and stuff. This area (south-central Nebraska) has a lot of issues with the red cedars of the Is that invaded, especially like the canyon areas out there in that part of the state, where they came from the canyons all the way to the prairie.
“And so they’ve used prescribed burning to try to push that back. And ranchers are doing that because they want more grassland; they’re losing pasture to woody plants. So fires can help a little — – they can reinvigorate, but they’ve also probably burned some very high quality pasture.
Elaine Shein can be reached at [email protected]
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