As of Nov. 25, the students of the Junior Master Gardener program at the Hilltop Arboretum in Baton Rouge were well on their way to earning fall course credits, which included learning about mushrooms, fall plants and insects.
“Does anybody know what makes a bug an insect?” asked Jim Barry, who taught the lesson on insects.
Several of the students were already familiar with the term thorax, one of the things a bug must have in order to be classified an insect, along with a body made up of three segments, six legs, and one or two pairs of wings.
The level of knowledge didn’t surprise Peggy Coates.
“We’ve got a bright group here, and maybe one future entomologist,” Coates, who directs the arboretum, said, when Jonathon Dequeant, one of the program participants, was able to answer nearly all of the questions on this segment before the lesson.
“Clearly he’s done some observation,” she said.
Angelina Culotta, who is fonder of drawing than she is of insects, drew her own fire throwing insect with suction cups for feet on all six of his legs. She named her insect the fire suction monster.
Though students in the Junior Master Gardener program have had the opportunity to work with soil, planting and caring for a garden during the summer session, the mantra of the fall camp is observe, don’t disturb.
On their nature walk around the grounds hunting for mushrooms, Coates pointed out various plants blooming or otherwise putting on a holiday show.
Morgan Bellanger spotted the first mushroom growing on a tree stump, but no one touched it.
They are learning to be careful with mushrooms found outside the grocery store, Coates said.
Coates pointed out a holly bush with red berries and pointed leaves, and all eyes stayed fixed on the ground when she asked the students to look for a burr oak acorn around the burr oak tree.
Someone found a beautiful specimen — the acorn poking from the bottom of a fuzzy cap that covers almost the whole acorn. It’s a rare treat for Baton Rouge, Coates explained. “They don’t usually grow this far south, and they don’t produce acorns every year.”
Once everyone had collected a burr oak acorn for their brown paper collection bags, they move on to find magnolia cones, large cow oak acorns, and a huge group of mushrooms that has turned brown, probably killed by a frost earlier in the week, said Richard Babin, who walked ahead of the students on the hike.
He pointed out a maple tree with red and orange leaves, a Japanese magnolia and a cone from a spruce pine.
Coates found the big red blooms of the giant Turk’s cap, purple berries of poke weed, and the red and yellow caps of the Chinese lantern plant, which, with permission, some of the girls picked to press later in their flower presses.
Parker McQuidy found perhaps the most elusive green on the grounds, however, when he ran up to Coates with a $10 bill.
“Look what I found!” he said as he put it in his brown paper bag.
After a lunch lesson on the common fungi in our food, the group made insect nets for their next expedition around the nature path.
For information on the Junior Master Gardener program, or any of the programs at the Hilltop Arboretum, visit the arboretum’s website, sites01.lsu.edu/wp/hilltop.