One of the requirements for new Scouts is to be able to identify or at least “show signs of ” 10 plants and 10 animals native to your area, so our Scout Troop has instituted what we call “10 Plant and Animal Hikes.”
We usually get new Scouts in the Fall or Winter and when Spring rolls around we schedule a 10 Plant & Animal Hike. It is usually a 5-10 mile hike in our neighboring State Park, and it has totally become one of my favorite outings to go on with or without the Scouts!
Percy Quin State Park, right in our own backyard is the perfect place for this sort of hike because there are a wide variety of environments represented, including parkway, lowland hardwood, swamp, upland pines, and lakeside – so it is not difficult at all to find 10 plants and 10 animals. In fact, we could probably find 10 plants and 10 animals without ever getting out of sight of the parked car – but we usually stretch the hike out to 5-10 miles just to get some exercise and variety.
The plant life is so varied at Percy Quin that it can be overwhelming to try to learn ten at a time, so we usually start with common names of the broadest of categories, like:
- pine tree
- oak tree
- magnolia tree
- poison ivy
and get more detailed and specific as the Scouts go on more hikes over time.
I personally like to set myself a goal to learn one new plant every time I go on a hike. That seems doable and manageable.
Over time, as you visit these environments over and over and see them in their different seasons and cycles, they become like old friends. Pretty soon, you are strolling through the woods saying things like, “Hey! There you are, Ilex! It’s good to see you again. I see you have some babies springing up over there. Hey! Here is good old Styriflua! Those new leaves are looking good, old buddy!”
This past weekend, though, I had the pleasure of walking several hundred acres of hills and ravines at Topisaw Creek in northern Pike County with a Forester and a Biologist. I tried to shut up and keep up and pay attention, and I learned a ton!
I saw several old buddies, including good old Lampropeltis getula holbrookii – the speckled kingsnake. This time he was sitting about 6 feet up in a youpon tree surveying his domain and looking for his next meal.
…and Illicium floridanum, or Florida anise. The Forester I was with told me a story I’d never heard about these guys. When they bear fruits, they are small, star-shaped fleshy things. He said he collected several of them when he was a child, just because they looked cool, and set them in his window at home. Over the weeks they dried and he forgot about them.
Sometime later, in the middle of the night, he was awakened by a loud POP and something hit his window. He initially thought someone had shot a gun, but the window was unbroken and they couldn’t figure out what had made the noise. This happened throughout the night, something popping and plinking against the window.
It wasn’t until the next day they figured out that the dried anise fruits were explosively expelling their seeds. He said that those little guys could fire a seed 5-6 feet!
And I made several new woodland friends, including Mayapple (a kind of Mandrake), Hawthorn (whose leaves look like parsley and they are one of the first white blooms you see in the Spring), and Witch hazel!