Four Decades of Wildflower Study at Sandy Spring Friends School
by Laurel J. Flyer, Sandy Spring Friends School
November 29, 2010
For more than 44 years Biology students at Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) have completed a spring semester project on wildflowers. Started in the 1960s by long time SSFS Biology teacher Doug Smith, the project has students collect and identify wildflowers found on campus, and in other areas of the Mid-Atlantic region. Rare specimens are photographed and common species (which most people would identify as weeds) are pressed in an album. They label each page with common, family, and scientific names, collection date, habitat descriptions, geographic location, name of the collector, and source of identification. We use Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide as our primary source for identifying specimens. The project’s objectives include understanding flower structure, classification, and the natural history of our beautiful campus, but my favorite outcome is an increased awareness and appreciation of the forest environment.
Every year students comment that, after completing the project, they look at their surroundings from a new perspective when walking in the woods. They see things that they would not have noticed before. They may recognize the impact of an alien species on the native plants. They might appreciate the rare flowers, such as ladies slipper, showy orchis, and trillium that we are lucky enough to have growing on our campus. They love becoming the experts on wildflowers in their family. Some families have embraced the project as a hobby, and have continued to study wildflowers throughout the years, wherever they go.
The project has not changed significantly in all these years, except for our ability to use new technology, such as digital photography, data bases to keep track of each collection, and, for the first time this year, a video procedure section for the lab report. Doug Smith was an excellent field botanist, and when I first came to SSFS after he retired, with cell and molecular biology more my specialties, I thought about eliminating the Wildflower Project. I am so glad that I did not! Botany has traditionally been an area of study of importance to Quakers, and the list of Quaker botanists is long. As each new class of Biology students starts the Wildflower Project by walking out into the woods in February to find blooming Skunk Cabbage (sometimes through the snow), or finishes by picking a mayweed as their last specimen just before the project is due, I feel as if we are making a spiritual connection to those early Quakers.