Friday, December 19, 2008

Keying Conifers

Learning how to use a key is fun. Last week the kids in my herb class and I did this. First we learned by making a key from our selves, by dividing into two main groups to begin with. The idea is that you start with the most general, and work your way to most specific, splitting the options in to two each time (dichotomous key). First we split into boys/girls. From there we split each group up even further, until finally we could define each individual by their most absolute feature. Then we used the framework to classify two more people (the teachers of course!)

From there, we took on the world of evergreens. We put our order of questioning to work, tracking the least to most subtle details of each bough. Conifers are incredibly fascinating! And the perfect type of plant to learn to use a key from. They also make good material for a starter talk on the evolution of plant life. And it's always interesting to teach kids about 'naked seeds'.

After noting all the defining features of our green trees, we used the information to finally ID each species. We had a wonderful round table debate on the 'Blue Spruce', commonly known but not listed in my books. With a little help from our lead instructor and the Internet, we found it to be synonymous with the Colorado spruce - of which we did not have a bough.

The kids successfully ID'd at least the genus of each evergreen, in some cases they got all the way to species. Woohoo! Ok, I know the poster looks simple.... but the observational skills that get exercised in the process is a lot more noisy and fun and complicated!

The middle one is supposed to follow through to list the Norway Spruce, one of my personal favorites - the way the boughs drape along it's sides like gypsy sleeves. If you get a good blister of sap it makes wonderful salve or wound dressing. They seem to line the highways of Western Connecticut in an elegant way that buffers the otherwise preppy atmosphere.

Hopefully the kids will be examining their Yuletide tree up close this year!

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