Published in the spring 2019 issue of the PRG
By Ann Wright
Nevada County Master Gardener
As the sun comes out and dries the drenched land, this is a good time to get out with children to enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds us. Although the wildflower season in our area is slow to emerge, there are some early flowers popping up on local trails.
Children can learn so much about our environment by a walk in the woods, our parks, or open spaces. Favorites for many locals and visitors, the trails at the South Yuba State Park near Bridgeport, are abounding with new growth. The South Yuba is flowing briskly and some of the early wildflowers that can be enjoyed as a start to the wildflower season are buttercups, Miner’s lettuce, and popcorn flowers. Children can be taught to look for the bright yellow flowers of the buttercups that seem to announce spring is coming. The bright green, fleshy-leafed miner’s lettuce is a native plant that is edible. It is believed that this plant, rich in vitamin C helped miners during the gold rush stay healthy…so children – eat your greens! It’s also fun to have children see if they can find the “butter” in the center of the bright white popcorn flowers!
The buckeye trees are also emerging from summer and winter dormancy – these trees are common in western Nevada County and have long white clusters of blossoms that are pretty, but nectar and pollen are toxic to honey bees. The good news is that wild, native bees and other pollinators visit these blossoms. Ask children to watch to see what insects visit the white blossoms. Later in the summer, children can be shown the shiny nut of the buckeye – hence the name. (This is also the state tree of Ohio – “The Buckeye State.”) Native Americans crushed the buckeye seed and used it to stun fish by tossing the crushed buckeye into the water, making an easier catch. There is also a plentiful amount of “soap plant,” a native perennial that was a commonly used by Native Americans. The plant grows from a bulb which was used in a variety of ways, including as a soap and shampoo. These bulbs were also used to stun the fish and the fibers of the bulb were bunched together to make brushes. It is interesting to point out how many uses can be found in one type of plant.
As spring arrives, more wildlife and natural gems can be seen and children can learn to appreciate the science of nature and the cultural significance of how the plants and insects were used by local native people. Enjoy gardening with the children, including what grows in nature’s own gardens!