Saturday, November 15, 2008

A View Up High

To the tops of the trees!
Nature Class
Tree Tops Park, Davie, Florida

Thursday we entered the mystical and beautiful, lush upper world of a Florida Live Oak Hammock. Tree Tops Park, of Broward County Parks and Recreation, is one of those rare places in south Florida where you actually feel like you are "in the woods" when you are there. Upon entering the nature trail, you step into an ancient beach dune system that is part of the Pine Island Ridge System (same ridge as Long Key). On this dry, sandy, "high" ground live the Florida Live Oaks. These trees can survive far into their "hundreds' and are absolutely remarkable. Spanish Moss and Bromeliads live amongst their branches, Resurrection Fern covers their limbs like fur, birds and squirrels play chase for their fruit - the acorn- and hundreds of animals call them "home".

Most of the time while nature walking, the focus tends to be on the plants and animals that are at our eye level. Today I wanted the focus to be up high, to the tops of the trees.

As we walked along the trail we learned about the many native plants that surrounded us. Many of the plants at Tree Tops are edible in one way or another, so, we discussed how the plants may have been eaten. For instance, Poke Berry or Poke Weed: this plant is very abundant here. In the times of the pioneers it was a very important plant. It is eaten in the spring, just after it shoots up out of the ground. Because it is toxic in any other form, the spring is the only time you can enjoy it! Have you heard of "Poke sallat"? Other edibles include, acorns, Wild Coffee, Spanish Needle, Sour Oranges, Coco Plum, Elderberry, and many more.

Above the trail are the many fur-lined branches of the Oaks, providing both shade and beauty. The day proved hot and still, so the shade was very welcome. The birds seemed to be sleeping in the stillness, our only aviary friends were the Turkey Vultures out flying on the scent. As we entered further into the Hammock, we came to a little island meadow - surrounded by the trail. We stopped here to play and enjoy the beauty of the park. First, I directed the kids in a game about squirrels searching for trees to live in, unfortunately the game was very boring. So, I thought quickly and made up a new version of a Photosynthesis relay game I know of. I divided the kids into teams - squirrels, blue jays, and acorns. The little ones and a couple of moms were the acorns! The squirrels and the blue jays had to compete for the acorns by seeing who could get the most the fastest. The game demonstrated how these two animals compete for the all-important acorn. The junior naturalists seemingly enjoyed themselves despite the technical difficulties.

Next, chaos kind of broke loose. Now, there is order in chaos, so it turned out okay. After I showed the kids a Gopher Tortoise burrow (so cool!), they discovered the "Tree House". Tree Tops Park has a wonderful canopy view tower so that visitors can observe life in the tops of the trees. Unfortunately, this tower is a little on the rickety side!!! Imagine 20 kids racing to the top of it, yelling and excited and then getting to the top and realizing it moves and shakes around!! Now imagine the moms! That was the chaos. Luckily the tower remained and the kids were able to calm down and enjoy the view. The children that stayed up high got to get a good look at how the epiphytes grow on the limbs and to see the eternal lines of spider webs weaving their way through the forest.

The children down on the ground came upon the giant fig tree that is spreading its tendrils out down along the trail. This fig is not a native fig like the Strangler Fig, it's a Banyan tree. They make for wonderful playgrounds. Not only can the kids climb in among it's many arms and legs, but they can swing on their far reaching vines. There is one vine that hangs just above the railing of the ramp up to the view tower. It is set up perfectly for a child to climb up, take hold of the vine and swing. My son and I discovered this on another day and I was so excited to share it with the class. Let's just say, they LOVED IT! I had to quit my job as helper after each child had their second turn - it tired me out. What a bunch of monkeys we have in class!!!

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