Getting Out of the Classroom – General Botany Class in Action!
April 25, 2008
On the chilly late morning of April 2, the students from Lisa Williams’ General Botany class at the Annandale Campus met at nearby Wilburdale Park. As part of the ecology portion of their class, students were meeting with members of Earth Sangha, a local environmental group, to learn about plants common to riparian (streamside) areas and the important role they play in maintaining water quality. Chris Bright, president of Earth Sangha, introduced the students to the area and briefly discussed what impacts local water quality. For example, he pointed out a nearby run-off ditch pouring water into a stream, further eroding its banks. Lisa Bright and Tommy Ventre, staff members of Earth Sangha, brought out a variety of tools – pick axes, lopers and hand clippers – for students to use in their work. Everyone then set out to clear a portion of the park along Backlick Run of locally invasive plant species such as Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), privet (Ligustrum) and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). The students wrestled with vines and clipped thorny rose canes to free native trees, such as boxelder (Acer negundo) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), from these pest plants. The vines were also bundled into large plastic trash bags or thrown into two large piles to dry for later removal from the park.
When students returned to the park two weeks later to replant native saplings along Backlick Run, conditions were much warmer. Ventre demonstrated how deeply to dig holes and also how to protect the seedlings by installing light green, translucent plastic “pipes” and then covering them with netting. The pipes, held in place with wooden stakes, allow sunlight and rain in but keep the saplings from being browsed by local white-tailed deer and other animals. The netting keeps birds from being trapped in the pipes. The soil along the stream is good, but much of it contains roots of vines and leftover stones from recently installed “rip-rap,” a stone wall encased in metal mesh that is meant to decrease further erosion of the stream banks. Students had to use pick axes to break up and move much of the stone so the saplings could be planted. About 70 saplings of plants common to riparian areas (streamside wetlands) were planted. These were mostly silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin), as well as a few chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) and flowering dogwood. A number of herbaceous woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) were planted along the edges.
Williams notes that she has always enjoyed taking students on fieldtrips but this was a different experience. She commented of the experience, “I saw my students in a new and very positive light – they were seriously engaged and interested in what they were doing. In light of the hard physical struggles two weeks earlier to remove vines, I was impressed with the students’ willingness to return to the park to plant the native saplings.” The president of the Wilburdale Homeowners Association stopped by to chat with several of the students and thanked them for working in the park. The members of Earth Sangha staff also commented that they were very impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and hard work. Additionally, most of the members of the General Botany class also volunteered to work at the Arbor Day Festival held at the Annandale Campus.
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Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America’s largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 60,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College’s Web site, www.nvcc.edu.