In a Nutshell Blog
A Living Laboratory
Each year Oakhill Day School students take amazing trips to the Everglades, the Northern Woods, the Omaha Zoo and many other places to observe ecosystems and animals. These trips are exciting, but they are limited to a specific time of year. In addition to off-campus trips, how can students regularly study biodiverse plants and animals?
Bring the biodiversity to Oakhill Day School!
It started with a look at a lawn. Third graders from 2018-2019 found only worms, garden centipedes and one species of grass in a patch of turf grass. They were given a challenge to increase biodiversity of the area. Students tested soils, observed sunlight patterns and measured moisture. They studied the needs of butterflies like Monarchs and birds like American Goldfinches. They proposed plants to install and hypothesized how the increase in plant diversity would create a microhabitat right here at Oakhill. Through Earth Day projects and Acorn Day, many K-8 students had some role to play in helping transform the space. The result was a living laboratory!
One of the main goals was to provide host plants for Monarch butterflies, which only lay eggs on milkweeds. Students selected Marsh Milkweed and Common Milkweed as some of the plants to add to our campus. By the time the perennial plants had grown and flowered, students were able to observe adult Monarchs almost daily from August-early October. In September and October, students found multiple Monarch caterpillars that hatched right at Oakhill!
“The butterfly garden helps increase the populations of butterflies, which are beautiful, and to help them lay their eggs since other areas have been destroyed,” said Huntley Harken, now a fourth grader at Oakhill.
In addition students wanted to provide food for other pollinators. During student surveys in fall of 2019, more than 20 species of butterflies, skippers and moths were found, including Common Buckeyes, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Orange Sulphurs, Fiery Skippers, and Pearly Crescentspots.
The butterfly garden has also been the host for a range of other arthropods. Students were able to observe these animals in the wild and study their interactions. Second graders were able to study the life cycle of several unique plants as they moved through parts of their life cycles. Fourth graders observed how different pollinators used different flowers and how the shapes and sizes of both pollinators and flowers were important in their ecological relationships. This is just the beginning!
One of the other benefits of the butterfly garden is that it helps rain water infiltrate deeper into the soil and reduce stormwater runoff to a nearby storm sewer. The plants that students selected, such as Common Ninebark, have deep root systems that allow water to percolate through the heavy clay soil.
One patch of wildflowers and shrubs creates so much: a home for butterflies, a best practice for improving water quality, and a living laboratory for Oakhill students!
Check back next Tuesday for another update from the garden!
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