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The Girl who Kicked the Spore’s Nest

For many, fall is best appreciated for the beautiful display of leaf color and irresistible weather – typically mild, sunny and dry here in central Indiana.  This fall, however, conditions were right for recognizing an old favorite in the landscape – giant puffball mushrooms.  We’ve found many of these delightful specimens throughout the IMA gardens; they keep popping out all over the place!  Giant puffballs are often found in more open woods and grassy areas, which makes them both visible and easily accessible.  Sadly, a good number were kicked apart prematurely by folks attempting to explode the trillions of spores encased inside the ballooning gleba (white mass that houses the spores) and release a puffy cloud of spores into the air.  I realize it’s irresistible, the desire to destroy these alien-looking, spongy bubbles.  How can one deny an urge that so exemplifies the spirit of a child’s delight with nature?  Yet I know that the anticipation was met with a rather anticlimactic squelching; the spores were not yet ripe.  The result was a disappointingly flat pile of flaky white chunks that just doesn’t garner the same reaction as that of a soaring spore cloud.

Result of dropping immature giant puffball mushrooms off the Interurban Bridge.

The mushrooms were fresh and new, with firm white flesh that is at its best for flavor and edibility.  It’s not until the puffball has turned brown, discolored and inedible, when the outer flesh has started to break apart, that they are primed and ready to be sent sailing through the air.  I wish people would wait until the mushrooms are ready, when they aren’t as visually appealing, so other people can enjoy seeing them in the garden and perhaps have the opportunity to share something unfamiliar and intriguing with their kiddos.  Please consider this before acting on perfunctory impulse.

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Making Bee Candy

One of the favorite winter chores in the horticulture department is taking a morning to conjure up a little treat for our sweet-toothed bee friends.  During the coldest months of the year, our bee hive is trying to keep itself invigorated by feeding on the honey reserves stored up during the growing season.  In order to generate enough heat to survive, the bees huddle together around the queen bee, keeping in constant motion.  There is constant movement between those on the inner, warm part of the huddle, and those who take their turn in the colder outskirts.  The idea of adding a candy board under the lid of the hive is to supplement essential honey reserves and make it easily accessible to reach the sugar source.  The following story (told in pictures) is of the simple process of turning sugar water into bee sweets.

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Mean, Green, Carbon-Cleaning Machines

In recent years the IMA has made a commitment to the Indianapolis community to become more conscientious stewards of the environment in its pursuit of fulfilling the museum’s mission.  This has been a worthy challenge for an institution to take on within the confines of the museum itself, but we also have the unique position of having 152 acres of gardens and woodland that give us an advantage over many urban institutions when measuring our carbon footprint.   In an effort to evaluate that advantage, we turned to a software analysis tool created by the USDA Forest Service called i-Tree.

The intention of i-Tree is to allow communities and other users to assess their current urban forest cover, create awareness and educational opportunities, and guide application for better management of those trees.  It has frequently been applied on a city-wide scale, but can also analyze an entire state’s urban forest, or a small, local city park.  The results are based on field data collected from random plots, accounting for tree species, height, trunk diameter, and canopy characteristics.  The data is then entered into the Urban Forest Effects (UFORE) analysis model, which calculates the amount of air pollution removed, carbon sequestered and stored by the trees, and sustained economic benefits.

100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park

To elaborate on the terminology of carbon sequestration and storage, a brief review of plant photosynthesis may be helpful.  Photosynthesis is the process of converting light energy to chemical energy in the form of sugar (glucose).  Carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) molecules are broken down with energy from the sun into glucose (C6H12O6), a usable energy form, and oxygen (O2), which, lucky for us, is expelled into the environment as a waste product.

Simplified diagram of the photosynthetic process, from

Eventually, that glucose can be reorganized into different forms: sucrose, starch and cellulose.  Each of these sugars is made of a different 6-carbon compound, which are used as sources for plant energy, or stored as organic compounds to develop plant growth and the structural form of the plant (i.e. the inner wood of a tree).  Think of these terms when discussing carbon sequestration and storage, where you can associate sequestration with removing carbon from the air for the process of photosynthesis, and associate storage with the amount of carbon that has been accumulated in the size development of the tree.  This is important, because if the tree were to die, all that stored carbon would be released back into the air or soil as the tree decomposes.

The carbon cycle as it relates to the environment (found here).

Fallen trees litter the woodland floor of 100 Acres.

The results of measuring carbon sequestration and storage have more meaning when you can understand, in part, how they fit into the plant’s life cycle.  Now that you know some of the conditions and terminology, you’re ready to hear what we found about our own, IMA urban forest!

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Congrats, 100 Acres!!

It looks like we aren’t the only ones who are excited about the environmental efforts being made in 100 Acres!

Trees in 100 Acres

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Setting the Record Straight: The Truth about 100 Acres

Patty Schneider joined the IMA Horticulture staff 2 ½ years ago, fresh out of the University of Wisconsin. This is Patty’s first post for the IMA blog! Patty’s passion for horticulture and the well-being of our environment is hard for her to hide and it’s a pleasure to work alongside her as we labor together in the gardens of the IMA.  We look forward to future thoughts from her as the IMA continues to strive for proper environmental stewardship.- Gwyn Rager

In 1972, when the IMA received the piece of land now known as 100 Acres, the area had already been affected by human use and abuse. Original disruption occurred when the site was used for farmland, until at least the 1940s. In the 1960s, the land was a staging area for highway equipment used for the  construction of the 38th street bridge, which spans the White River. The lovely, tranquil lake that so inspires viewers and artists alike began as a gravel quarry for highway construction, that later filled with flood water from the river.

1937 aerial photo of land in agricultural use

Late 1960s aerial photo of land post 38th St. construction

1971 photo of museum prior to construction digging

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About Patty

Title: Horticulturalist Interests: Eating, reading, getting to know people, and thinking of outrageous ideas Favorite Movies: It’s got to be intelligent or hilarious. Props if it makes me think AND laugh. Favorite Music: Anything that makes me feel; I need to have a connection with music to fully appreciate it. It can be pretty ambiguous, really… Favorite Food: Cheese, homemade pizza, apple cider, pretzels (especially soft ones) and my grandma’s recipe for homemade ham and bean soup. Yum! Something Extra: I have an opinion about everything, but I usually keep it to myself. Does that make me a wuss or just polite? I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, which was pretty much the best thing ever. Also, my first love is being out in the boonies. If I weren’t so social, I think I’d be a hermit somewhere in the Cascades.

Patty has written 10 articles for us.