Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp Week Six: Plants

July 14, 2020  |  Permalink

From the Tulip Poplar to the Iris, Tennessee has many incredible native plant species. This week Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp explored these and many more as the week's theme revolved around plants. We'll be looking at the beautiful things that help produce oxygen to breathe and food to eat during this week's blog post. We'll also be spending some time looking at agriculture, using plants in our everyday lives, and even learning how to identify invasive species! You can follow along with Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp at the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy Facebook page.

Dark green leaves

The first day of Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp revolved around one of Tennessee's most famous trees. If you joined us during History Week, you'd know the Tulip Poplar is the state tree of Tennessee. Characterized by yellow and orange tulip-like flowers, this tree is found in the eastern United States. There are many ways to identify Tulip Poplars, such as examining its bark, flowers, seeds, and leaves. Some say the Tulip Poplar's leaves look like a cat, a fox, a wolf, or even a raccoon. Tulip Poplar's have also proved to be great supplies for log cabins and wood cabinets and drawers. It's safe to say the Tulip Poplar is one fantastic tree!

Many plants are also found abundantly in our diets. Tuesday, Jr. Ranger Camp activities explored one of the most popular edible plants—the tomato. While most people consider tomatoes to be vegetables, they're botanically a fruit. This fruit is found in many foods we often eat daily, including pizza, pasta sauce, and some juices. The tomato has been around for a very long time. Tomatoes can be traced back to before 500 BC. It's been discovered that ancient civilizations in Mexico and Central America dined on different varieties of the popular fruit. After the Spanish arrived in Central America in the 1500s, the tomato became available worldwide as the Spanish brought the fruit to places such as Asia, the Caribbean, and eventually Europe.

Tomatoes growing on a vine

At Wednesday's live Virtual Jr. Ranger Zoom gathering, Jr. Rangers learned about the many products we use every day that are made of plants. From chewing gum to sponges, plants are everywhere! Through an at-home scavenger hunt, Jr. Rangers had the opportunity to explore plant-based items in their own homes.

After learning about the functionality of plants in our lives, Thursday allowed Jr. Rangers the opportunity to observe how plants, and more specifically trees, grow. Just as humans regularly intake water and release it, trees go through a similar process called transpiration. Transpiration describes the process of water entering a tree through its roots, traveling through the roots to the leaves, and then exiting the leaves through evaporation. Transpiration is essential to tree growth as water provides essential nutrients to help the tree grow strong and healthy.  

Trees with sunlight

The last day of Virtual Jr. Ranger Camp explored two different categories of plants—native and invasive. While many of the plants we see in our backyards or state parks are native to the area, sometimes species that are not native, or invasive, end up in our ecosystems. How do these plants get here? Sometimes humans bring them in on purpose to try and control other aspects of the ecosystem, and sometimes invasive species can sneak in through boats or other travelers. One of the most prominent invasive species in Tennessee is Kudzu. Kudzu is originally from Japan and was initially planted to help combat soil erosion in the south. However, now Kudzu has taken over many of our southern ecosystems, threatening native biodiversity. From studying invasive species, we can better understand how important it is to preserve our native ecosystems.

As seen through this week's camp activities, plants are critical to our daily lives and ecosystems. Without plants, we wouldn't have oxygen to breathe, tomatoes to eat, or beautiful trees and flowers to observe!   

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