Autumn 2014 Newsletter

Young Naturalist Program to Start Soon!

9-12 year-olds who enjoy exploring nature join their peers in this once-a-month, 9 month program. Outdoor session topics include Pond Study, Insects and Spiders, Maple Syrup Science, Owl Prowl, Spring Wildflowers, Birds, and Frogs and Toads. Participants are expected to attend most if not all of the monthly sessions. A $70 program fee covers the cost of all field equipment including a field pack and field guides to various plants and animals.

The registration deadline is Friday, October 5. To register, FOLLOW THIS LINK.

Program session dates (Saturdays 9:30AM-12PM): October 11; December 6; January 10; February 14; March 7; April 25; May 9; June 6. The owl prowl session will take place from 6-9PM on Friday, November 7.  

Fall Public Programs


“Spiders in the Spotlight” Saturday, October 4; 7:30-9:30 PM

Come see these eight-legged stars perform in their best silken evening wear as we shine the light (flashlight, that is) on their spinning talents. Nighttime is the right time to watch the performance art of web weaving. Bring flashlights and prepare to be caught in a web of amazement.

"Owls Before Dawn" Saturday, November 15; 5:00-7:30 AM (that's right--AM)

Do you give a hoot what owls are up to in the pre-dawn hours? If so, join us on an owl prowl in the wee hours of the morning. Fewer airplanes are flying overhead into Detroit Metro Airport at this hour, hopefully making it easier to hear and be heard, and the owls may be eager to grab one last snack before heading to bed for the day. You may bring a flashlight, but we will only use them sparingly (if at all) so as not to interrupt our night vision.


Burr!—But Not Because It’s Cold!

The change from summer to autumn is bittersweet: an end to leisure time and vacation and a return to school and work. Leaves fall, temperatures fall, and we put on our sweaters and fleece jackets to go for invigorating walks in the crisp, chilly air. Taking in the changing colors of the brilliant autumn leaves, you may wander off your path and right into another autumn event that will stick with you: burrs!

If you have worn a sweater or fleece material into a patch of burrs, or had your furry friends run through the same, you know what I’m talking about. Burrs are the amazingly effective, and potentially annoying, adaptation that some plants use to recruit others to help spread their seeds. You’ve probably heard the famous story about Swiss engineer George de Mestral's 1941 hunting trip in Switzerland—while walking his dog in the mountains, he accidentally brushed up against some cocklebur plants, and by the time he got back home, dozens of the round, spiky seeds were clinging to his wool trousers (and his poor dog's fur), which led to the invention of Velcro!

The burrs from Giant Burdock (Arctium lappa) are familiar to many people and are similar in appearance to cockleburs. As with Velcro, the seed head is covered with numerous hooked spikes adapted to grab onto soft substances such as fur or fabric. Inside the seed head are about 30-40 individual seeds ready to spill out and spread when the offending burr is ripped open upon removal. The plants can’t move themselves around, but their “seed suitcases” can move around on the bodies of other living things. This method of seed dispersal, when seeds are distributed externally by animals, either stuck to their coats are carried off and cached, is called zoochore (pronounced zoo-kory); (endozoochore is internal seed dispersal by animals—need I say more?) A smaller but no less effective burr grows from the tiny white or pale blue flowers of Virginia Stickseed (Hackelia virginiana). From these petite flowers come fruits that are round and wider than the flower, but less than ¼ inch in diameter. Divided into four nutlets, they are covered with dense Velcro-like prickles on their outer surfaces.

These Velcro qualities can be found on individual seeds, equipped with hooks on their outer covering. Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) seed capsules are fringed with hooked bristles. Other unwanted hitch-hikers are the seeds of Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana Canadensis). Small, white flowers are sparsely, but evenly, distributed along a long, slightly hairy stem. At the base of each flower, there is a 2-celled ovary that is green and covered with. Each flower is short-lived and replaced by a small bur-like fruit covered with stiff, hooked hairs, containing a single seed. These miniature but mighty burrs embed themselves tenaciously on whatever fuzzy surface they encounter.

There are also some burrs that are more needle-shaped rather than the rounded, hedgehog looking burrs. Seeds from four species of Beggar’s Ticks (Bidens frondosus, B. vulgatus, B. tripartitus, and B. cernuus) feature a rough textured exterior with two prongs at one end. (The genus Bidens comes from the Latin bis, meaning ‘twice,’ and dens, meaning ‘tooth,’ referring to the two barbs on each seed.) White Avens (Geum canadense) is a native perennial of dry upland woodland sites. The white flower, in five parts, blooms in mid-June standing about a foot or so tall. The round clusters of seeds that develop from the blossom are smooth coated and have only one hook, making them less persistent in their “stick-to-it” attitude than other burrs.

So on your next autumn walk, look over your warm, woolly-wear clothing to see if you have any “carry on” luggage in the form of seed suitcases. You’ll be sure to say “burrrrr”—but not necessarily because it’s cold…. - Dorothy McLeer

Reflections of the EIC Sustainability Interns

In 2011 the Center established the EIC Sustainability Internship program. This program allows for promising UM-Dearborn students with an interest in sustainability to learn about and assist with the management of the Center’s sustainability projects, which include:a community organic garden, a mushroom garden, rain gardens, an urban apiary, and on-site composting. Each intern is also expected to develop their own project to help make the Center more sustainable. Some examples of past student projects include the construction of a greenhouse using 1,300 plastic water bottles and a composting bin for treating organic waste using cockroaches! This year’s Sustainability Interns are Julia Fobes and Jennifer Shockling. ---David Susko, EIC Director.


Julia Fobes

I came to the University of Michigan as an adult transfer student, and as an Environmental Science major, it wasn’t long before I was introduced to the Environmental Interpretive Center. I was first formally exposed to the Environmental Study area during Field Biology class, and I took other related classes in the EIC building. I wanted to learn even more about the natural areas and the sustainability initiatives that have been implemented here, so when I heard about the summer internship that was offered, I decided to apply, as it seemed like it would be a great experience for someone with my interests and goals.

As interns, we have assisted with managing the campus honeybee hives, wild mushroom cultivation gardens, an organic garden plot, and also preparing and planting two new garden areas. There is an incredible amount of labor involved in managing such large areas of land! Working in the bee yard made me not only overcome a general apprehension of bees, but gain a new fascination with them. In the face of pollinator declines and biodiversity losses, I decided to create my sustainability project around bees. I wanted to provide a habitat and opportunities for further research on an even greater number of species. I decided to build an observation box for tunnel-nesting, native solitary bees and wasps. This will serve the purpose of providing shelter while allowing the contents of their nests to be easily viewed. I hope this project will offer opportunities for environmental education and research in the years to come.

Having worked for many years before coming to the Center, I would say that nothing compares to the satisfaction and meaning I find in the work I do here. It’s truly been a pleasure to be surrounded by people who share a passion for the natural world. I’ve learned as much from my own personal experiences as I have from others around me. I don’t even mind so much that sore muscles and mosquito bites are part of the package. The Sustainability Internship has been a valuable and unforgettable part of my college experience, and I look forward to continuing my journey on campus in my next year of school.


Jennifer Shockling

In the winter of 2012 I began working towards my Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Study at UM - Dearborn. I selected the Urban Service focus area because I want to help foster healthier relationships between communities that exist in nature and those constructed by humans. I spent my senior year working with Dr. Orin Gelderloos as a Research Assistant, studying the natural area’s soil composition, water quality, and woody and herbaceous vegetation.

I learned much during my time ‘off trail’ in the 300+ acres surrounding the Environmental Interpretive Center, but I felt as though I did not know much about the Center itself. I wanted to learn about their sustainability projects and what factors impact stewardship decisions. I felt that the Summer Sustainability Internship would be a great way to learn more.

During my internship I have had the opportunity to learn about growing wild mushrooms in mulch beds and from plugs in logs. I have learned how to establish healthy habitats for native bees and honeybees, and how to process honey. I am continually taught lessons about the value of preparation and the work required to successfully maintain rain gardens, organic vegetable gardens, and restoration prairies.

I am very happy with the work I have accomplished on my own sustainability project, a vertical wall garden created from discarded shipping pallets. I hope that the project will demonstrate how much can grow in a small footprint, while helping to solve the problem of water pooling around the demonstration building behind the Center.

The most valued aspect of my internship has been the opportunity to develop friendships with the other staff members at the Center. Working in an environment with people who truly love what they do is inspiring. Each staff member involved in the Center, including maintenance staff, regular staff, program staff, and Julia Fobes, my fellow intern, has openly shared their talents and knowledge with me over the summer. I am grateful to them for being an integral part of my experience.

Nectar and Insect Host Plants in New Sensory Garden

Visitors walking, jogging and biking along the Rouge River Gateway Trail between the Environmental Interpretative Center and the Organic Garden will discover a new project in progress—a sensory butterfly garden! University of Michigan-Dearborn alumna Mary Fastiggi (pictured below) was granted the Edward J. Bagale scholarship to plan and install the garden as a space for students and the public to enjoy and learn about butterflies and pollinators. The garden beds include both host plants for caterpillars of resident butterfly species and showy flowers for nectaring sources for adult butterflies.

Many volunteers, including UM-Dearborn students, staff & alumni and members of the public, have been hard at work helping to weed, plant and mulch the site. In July, participants in the EIC’s Stewardship Saturday event, including Crestwood High School’s National Honors Society, helped to prepare the site and plant perennial flowers. National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has contributed to the garden by sponsoring two raised beds, planted by visually impaired and blind youth (shown here) who attended the NFB’s Summer Science Spectacular program hosted this past July at the EIC. And soon, to better enjoy the beauty and hard-work of all involved—an alumni sponsored bench will be installed at the site. Thank you to all the volunteers who are helping to turn this space into a new and exciting butterfly garden. Stop on by to see the progress as this project continues to grow and take shape through next spring!

An Eventful Summer for the Sprouts Kids!

The Sprouts gardening program for children and their adult guardians has been very successful this summer after getting off to a very cold and rainy start. The children have planted peppers, tomatoes, basil, sunflowers, and marigolds in their individual raised beds. The community raised beds within the children’s plot are planted with corn, beans, zucchini squash, butternut squash, watermelons, chives, and potatoes. Recently, the Sprouts planted two blueberry plants and mulched the bed with pine needles they collected.

Throughout the summer the Sprouts have participated in activities such as screening compost, identifying insect pollinators, and hilling potatoes. They have also learned different features of plants, how to work as a community towards a common goal, and how they can make a difference in the health of their garden habitat.

The children and chaperones involved with the program are a pleasure to work with and we are all looking forward to a bountiful harvest at the end of the season! – Jennifer Shockling and Mary Fastiggi, Sprouts program leaders.

Boy Scout Eagle Projects Contribute Positive and Lasting Impacts

Eagle Service Projects by local Boy Scouts play a crucial role in ensuring that everyone who explores the Environmental Study Area has a comfortable, enjoyable, and rewarding experience. This past spring and summer, the Scouting spirit of community and conservation came forward once again in the form of four dedicated and successful Eagle project efforts. We are so very grateful for the lasting legacy the following young men have contributed towards the betterment of their community and to the health of local nature.

Ethan Kendra: Habitat Restoration Planting

Ethan and his group of Scout volunteers began the rehabilitation process for a patch of open woodland habitat by transplanting native plants into a cleared space which had previously been overtaken by a host of invasive plants. The planted area is now on a much healthier ecological health trajectory for the future. We have already noticed a host of bumblebees and other native bees frequenting some of the wildflowers in bloom there.

Drew Seewald: Trail Definition and Restoration

10 inches of snow cover on the ground and falling snow did not deter Drew and his group from lining several heavily used foot trails with logs in order to better delineate the trails and protect adjacent habitat from being trampled and eroded. The project even included shoveling large areas of snow from the ground to “find” the existing trail so as to allow the logs to be properly and effectively placed. The logs were secured using spikes. The spring thaw revealed a highly inviting and comfortable set of paths which have already been used by thousands of school children and others.

Aaron Hayes: Leopold Bench Construction and Installation

Visitors to the Environmental Study Area will now find several wonderful benches on which to rest and enjoy observing wildlife at Fair Lane Lake. Aaron built and installed these very serviceable and durable benches, based on a design by the famous conservationist Aldo Leopold. Aaron’s group of project volunteers also spread a thick layer of wood chips onto an extensive portion of the footpath which leads from Jensen’s Meadow to the stone bridge at the southeast corner of the lake.

Zack Lewandowski: Habitat Restoration Planting

The well-known Hickory Meadow, which is an important highlight of the Jens Jensen landscape, was the site of Zack’s native habitat restoration planting. An edge of the meadow had been taken over by a large, dense clump of invasive multi-flora rose bushes, which were removed by the EIC as part of our habitat management. The replanting included several native hawthorns, which were highly favored by Henry Ford as nesting sites for birds.

Zack (middle in red t-shirt) and his project assistants get busy with the restoration planting. The shagbark hickory tree that defines the Hickory Meadow can be seen in the background.

We congratulate Ethan, Drew, Aaron, and Zack on a well-earned acheivment of Eagle!

Sowing the Seeds of Habitat Restoration

Stewardship Saturday volunteers Martha Gruelle recently assisted in preparing and planting a new seed bed of native bottlebrush grass into a space where invasive European buckthorn plants had been removed as part of the Center’s invasive species management. Andrew is tossing the seeds he gathered from the mass of bottlebrush grass in the foreground in this photo, which is from a restoration planting conducted last year by Boy Scout Levi White. One of the stewardship goals related to this planting is to provide a larval food plant for the Northern Pearly Eye, a local native butterfly species.


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Interpretive Center
University of Michigan – Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Road
Dearborn, MI 48128
(313) 593–5338