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Backyard Nature Study

By Lindsay Hutton

Backyard Nature Study

You don’t have to travel to a big, fancy garden or a city far away to learn about the wonder of nature. We often overlook the amazing variety of plants, trees and animal life within our very own backyards and local gardens and parks, simply because we become used to our surroundings and forget to take a closer look.

Every plant and tree has a story. Some are native to the area where you find it, and some come from other parts of the world and were brought to local areas within the last century or two. Where a plant originally came from is also called its “origin.” With a little planning and research, you can become an expert on what grows and lives around you by doing a nature study.

Nature studies can be very simple or very complex. They can range from a collection of drawings and samples of plant and tree leaves to huge databases tracking every detail about a single species. What all nature studies have in common is they begin with some planning. Here are some ideas to get you started on your very own nature study.

Pick your space.

Check with an adult and decide which space is best to study. Some good choices are your backyard, or an area of a local park. Be sure to pick a safe place without any harmful or poisonous plants. It is also best to pick an area with lots of different kinds of plants, shrubs and trees.

Draw a map.

It doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy, but draw a rough map of the area you want to study on a piece of regular-sized paper. Make sure it is big enough to plot where each species is located.

Prepare to take samples.

Depending on how many samples you plan to take, you will need a small box or container to put them in. A shoebox or a larger Tupperware container works well for this. You will also need a notebook, a pencil, paperclips and your map.

Start sampling!

The best way to take a sample is to pick a leaf or small stem of tree, plant or shrub. Be sure not to pick buds or newer growth; always pick a small sample of a fully-grown leaf stem so as not to damage any growth. Also, be sure to ask an adult which growth is not okay to take a sample from (for example, some flowers like roses or plants grown from bulbs). For those species, you can take a picture of it or sketch it for later identification.

Plot your samples.

While you are taking your samples, plot where you found each sample on the map using numbers. Number each sample with a small piece of paper and clip it to the sample with a paperclip to keep track of where a sample was found.

Research your samples.

There are several sites online that can help you identify the plant species in your study—ask a grownup for help finding some. Also, one of your best resources is a librarian at your local public library – there are lots of books available specific to your region about local plant life.

Preserve your samples.

After you’ve identified your samples, leave them on a tray for 3-4 days, then place the dry leaves inside an old book in between pieces of paper towel for at least one week (make sure it’s a book you don’t mind getting the pages dirty!). Make sure there are several pages between each sample. Put the book somewhere safe, and place several other heavy books on top of it to ensure your samples come out flat.

Compile your study.

Use a big piece of Bristol board or a notebook to display your study. Include a map of your study area and place numbers on the map corresponding with the names of each species. Glue each sample to the page, and include the sample’s name and origin.

Share your study!

Be sure to share your project with your friends and others in the neighbourhood!