Orchids & Tulips: Learning About Botany & Habitat

Flower Shows Offer Lessons in Botany & Habitat

Every winter, the Pioneer Valley’s greenhouses burst into bloom despite the cold weather outside. Bulbs, planted in the fall, come to life and bloom just as the dreariest time of year begins to relent. Not only do these first blossoms bring hope towards the end of winter with their color and fragrances, they present a seasonal opportunity for families to learn together about habitat, the life cycle of plants, and the structural nuances that differentiate one species from another.

Beginning in February and continuing through the first few weeks of March, three different annual flower shows will be open to visitors. The first of the three is the Amherst Orchid Society’s annual show  in Northampton.

Following the Amherst Orchid Society’s show, both the Smith College Botanical Garden in Northampton and the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden in South Hadley will show off extensive collections of flowering bulbs in their greenhouses.

BOTANY

A visit to any (or all!) of these shows can support or inspire a love for flowers and learning about botany. Have you ever learned about Darwin’s experiments with orchid fertilization? Learn together using Kristan Lawson’s Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities. A topic most appropriate for older students, Darwin’s work involved examination of natural selection and its role in the co-evolution of orchids and specific insect species, and learning about the experiments will help students to better understand the inter-relatedness of the natural world (and they’ll learn some important history, too!).

For younger students, and examination of how seeds and bulbs grow and bloom may be more appropriate. Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed is a classic for youngsters curious about where plants come from, and though it tells the story of a flower growing in nature (and very much exposed to the elements), the growth process is still the same! To see it for yourself, acquire some easy-to-grow bulbs to sprout indoors – paper-whites are a beautiful option, and they’re easy to grow if well monitored! Check out this DIY post that walks you through how to make a container out of upcycled materials to grow your paperwhites.

HABITAT

Another study that a visit to the bulb shows might inspire is one of plant habitat. Why is it, children might wonder, that the bulbs are blooming even though nothing else in nature seems to have woken up? What is it about greenhouses that allows plants to bloom when there is still snow on the ground? Ask questions and learn what makes a greenhouse different from outdoors to better understand the different needs that species of plants have. Bobbie Kalman’s Plants in Different Habitats offers support for learning about this topic! Families can even experiment with plant habitat at home by creating their very own terrarium (or literarrium , for interdisciplinary studies!), within which a specific habitat will exist for your family’s science learning pleasure!

If you head over to the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College in Northampton, be sure to check out their audio tour for youth and adults.  While it might not be available during the bulb show, it’s a terrific community-based educational resource to explore with your kids to learn about botany and habitat when the show isn’t taking place.

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