| For most of my life, I have loved gardening – being outside, digging in the dirt, watching things grow, harvesting fruits and vegetables, picking bouquets to set on the table. Through trial and error, I figured out what plants did better in pots or the ground, on the west or north side, with more or less water. But I have never been keen on science, so I really never learned WHY some things worked better than others.
When I became a Master Naturalist, I figured out that I really should know more about plants. Instead, I was having too much fun learning about birds and turtles and habitats, and I sure did not want to sit down and study a book. But in the last couple of months, Chad Huckabee has offered us a perfect way to start studying and learning plants, and I decided to take him up on his offer.
Yes, I had been helping Chad (and Janice Ainbinder and Ada Anderson) with LOTS of plants in the Flour Bluff Intermediate School garden, and I thought I knew the names of quite a few plants. But when I decided to meet with Chad for his first “class”, I was worried. He sent me a schedule, saying I would receive instruction on 25+ plants as we walked around the garden, and in the end, I would be tested on what I learned. Tested? Oh no! Going to the Bluff and walking around, looking and hearing about plants was one thing. But to be tested on what I had learned? That was a whole different story.
With trepidation, I met with Chad and Ada for my first class. Wearing masks, and staying 6’ apart, we walked through the garden. I knew the names of some things; Ada knew the names of some things. Some we both knew but there were some plants that neither of us knew. When it was time for a water break, it was also testing time. Yikes! But it really wasn’t a test as much as a review, going back over what we had seen. Phew! Passed that part OK.
Ada and I were able to go through almost 75 plants that first evening. I went home that night with my head totally full. Could I remember some of the new plant names I had learned? Could I remember ANY of the new plants I had learned? I had made notes, but were they sufficient? I had made some very poor sketches. Would I recognize plants from my sketches?
We met again after a couple of weeks. Chad started us out with a review of what we had gone over previously. That was a tremendous help. Then we went down to the Flour Bluff ISD Wetlands and got to see 25+ plants in a different habitat. The mosquitoes eventually ran us off, but I had more notes and more sketches to review when I got home. Wow! Suddenly I was up to around 100 plants that I was supposed to know. I have been fortunate the past months to be able to go to the Flour Bluff garden and to the Port Aransas Nature Preserve Birding Center and Paradise Pond and be outside, pulling weeds, earning volunteer hours. Spurge and tooth cup are two weeds that I have pulled up for years. Until a month ago, they were just weeds. Suddenly I actually know the names of some of those weeds I am pulling! Chad’s AT training is sinking in.
Most recently, Chad took five of us to Packery Channel Park to study plants – and now we are having to learn which plant family things belong to (those long, Latin names that end with ‘ceae’ that I can’t pronounce!) Janice Ainbinder, Ada Anderson, Janice Knezek, Jennifer Pshigoda, and I once again donned our masks and battled mosquitoes and heat for 2-1/2 hours to walk along the boardwalk to learn what flora was there. One plant, I would know. One plant I’d be clueless about, but one of the Janices would know. Some plants we all knew, but some were new to all of us. Chad seemed to be beaming, knowing his proteges were doing well.
And the next day I was at the Birding Center in Port A. I walked by a bush…wait! I knew that bush from the day before. It was a wax myrtle! Last week it was just a bush; thanks to Chad, I can now call it by name. (Scientific name = Myrica cerifera; Plant family = Myricaceae) Yippee for me!!!!!
Cindy Frank, Texas Master Naturalist
originally published in The STMN Naturalist Monthly Bulletin – Aug 2020
P.S. This training is not just for folks living on the island or having an interest in the Flour Bluff schools. Anyone in our chapter could benefit from it. It is a wonderful Advanced Training opportunity, plus a chance to be outdoors with one or two like-minded Master Naturalists.