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Winter Mix and Match Nature Study

Wildlife Viewing Sign
This post is a mix and match post with lots of different interesting things we are studying. I am trying to get through all the photos I have taken in the last month to close off our winter studies before spring comes.

Sweet gum forsythia and river willow
I brought in some branches of various trees and bushes in January and we have been watching them as they unfold. This is such an easy project that I encourage you to give it a try. Any woody plant will work and we are trying some new ones this year.

Here are some instructions you might want to read: Bursting Blooms

bud sweet gum
This is the sweet gum as it starts to unfold. Edit to add that this is a maple and not a sweet gum.

Now this is my mystery tree branch (perhaps a Quaking Aspen) that I brought home from my romp up in the mountains. The branch was broken off on the trail and I decided it might be interesting to bring it home and see if it would sprout leaves. It had buds at first and then the buds burst open to reveal these catkins.
bud catikin leaves- Aspen?

Leaves on branch-Aspen?
The catkins then dropped off and the leaves are now sprouting bright spring green leaves and I am still not 100% sure this is a Quaking aspen branch.

Forsythia blossom
This is the forsythia bush twig that I brought in and it is so pretty in yellow. I must be tired of the winter drabs because this yellow really cheers me up.

seeds trumpet vine and crepe myrtle
These are just two things that have been sitting on the nature shelf that someone brought in to look at and study. We haven’t had time to really research them much, but they are interesting none the less. The crepe myrtle bush has some interesting seeds and the pods have become really hard as they dry. The seed pod from the trumpet vine is filled with thousands of seeds with wings. They are amazing actually.

Now for a few outdoor things that I would like to share.

buckeye with sprout
This buckeye seed has broken open and sent out a pinkish root. They are striking to see as we walk along the trail.

acorn with sprout
The acorns are doing the same thing right now as well. This black oak acorn has sprouted.

acorn sprouting 2
Here is another photo of an acorn sending down a root. Amazing to see in real life. Just think, a gigantic tree can grow from just this little acorn and one little sprout.

Manzanita Blossoms 2
One last photo with some manzanita that is ready to bloom. I love the delicate pink buds that will soon be blooming all along our walking trail.

I think that catches me up with photos from the camera. We are trying to keep up our daily walks and I am feeling the change of the seasons coming. The air is different.

I encourage you to try the Bursting Blooms activity with your kids and to get outside for a few minutes this week to enjoy the day.


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California Buckeye: Outdoor Hour Challenge #38

This week our challenge was to find an elm, hickory, or chestnut tree. In doing research, both in the Handbook of Nature Study and in our field guide, we discovered that a tree that we have an abundance of in our area is actually know as the California buckeye or the California horse chestnut. (Aesculus californica) This tree is more like a tall shrub that grows to between 4 and 12 feet tall.

“The Ohio buckeye is our most common native relative of the horse chestnut. Its leaves have five leaflets instead of seven. The sweet buckeye is also an American species and grows in the Allegheny Mountains.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 649

So we were off to find a buckeye tree to observe this week for our nature study.

My trusty assistant helps gather a fruit to observe and then leave on the ground.

This time of year the buckeye has no leaves so we had to look for the trunk and the fruit of the tree to identify it. In the spring this tree is covered in blossoms and fill the woods with clouds of whiteness. In the summer the trees turn brown and are not quite as lovely.

There is one big difference between a buckeye and a horse chestnut, the seed is highly poisonous so don’t eat it!

Here’s what it says on
“California Indians made flour from the poisonous seeds after leaching out the toxic element with boiling water. The ground, untreated seeds were thrown into pools of water to stupefy fish, which then rose to the surface and were easily caught. Chipmunks and squirrels consume the seeds, but bees are poisoned by the nectar and pollen.”

I really enjoyed this challenge because our whole family learned something about a tree we see in our own neighborhood but we didn’t know much about before this study. I am going to sure to read up on the elm and the hickory to see if I can find some local connections as well.