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Ripley junior horticulturalists learn about frogs at McLarty Study Area

July 6, 2024

Warm and sunny June weather greeted members of the Ripley and District Horticultural Society’s “For Our Youth” club as they met at the special June location, the Pine River Watershed Initiative Network (PRWIN)’s McLarty Environmental Study Area, located just outside of Ripley.

With trails, two wetland ponds, handy picnic tables and an incredible variety of trees, it was the perfect place to gather.

As the kids arrived, leader Kim Lowry entertained the group by playing different frog sounds, in preparation for our frog-catching activities. We identified Spring Peepers, Leopard Frogs, American Toads and Grey Treefrogs, but the most popular noise was the Fowler’s Toad’s weird, wailing cry.

Once the gang was all there, leader Heather Newman led the group in singing the club song while members sat at the comfortable, new picnic tables donated to PRWIN by Community Foundation Grey Bruce. Leader Kim introduced this month’s tree, the Hawthorn, and announced the club’s very special guest, former club leader Tryntje Eisen, back to teach the kids about amphibians and share her frog-catching skills! The club split into two groups, with Group A excitedly dashing to grab nets and magnifying glasses before running down the hill to join Tryntje and leaders Heather and Rhonda Curran at the pond.

Previous group members were thrilled to see Tryntje again, and new members quickly came to appreciate her enthusiasm and knowledge. The group gathered around as she shared frog facts, such as a frog’s tongue is one-third the length of its body, and that frogs can jump 20 times their own height.

The group learned about the different types of frogs that can be found at McLarty, and what a typical lifecycle looks like. Using a paper party horn tube that unraveled when blown, kids could see how a frog uses its tongue to snap out and catch prey. Best of all, Tryntje taught everyone her much-lauded frog relaxation technique: flip the frog upside down and gently rub its belly with your finger, and the frog will completely relax in your hand!

With all this newfound frog knowledge, the group spread out and began exploring with nets and buckets. The kids caught frogs, crawfish, boatmen bugs and tadpoles and shared their finds with the group before releasing all the critters back into the pond. Tryntje rewarded everyone for their spirited hunting with cute frog candies.

Meanwhile, at the top of the hill, Group B joined leaders Kim and Bonnie Earnest to learn about Hawthorns. Last year, the club studied apples, and Hawthorns are in the same family as both apples and roses. Leader Kim explained the difference between native and non-native species, as there are more than 200 Hawthorn species native to North America.

Members learned that Hawthorn fruit is edible, and that blossoms emit a particular chemical called trimethylamine that attracts specific pollinators. If you smell a Hawthorn blossom on a sunny day, it smells like black licorice. If you smell it on a shady day, it smells like dead fish. (This fact elicited many “Eww’s.”)

The berries are high in Vitamin C and are called haws; they can be eaten right into the winter and have a lot of natural pectin, which the kids remembered using when they made ground cherry jam last year. Identifying Hawthorns is fairly simple, since the thorns are so prominent and help to differentiate the tree from other look-a-likes with berries.

Leader Kim sent the members off to the trails to see how many Hawthorns they could properly identify. The top score was 33! Members wrote down one Hawthorn fact on their paper leaves and took them home to attach to their Tree Learning posters.

Once the Hawthorn hunt was over, Leader Bonnie divided the members into smaller groups and sent them off on a wonderful nature scavenger hunt. The kids looked far and wide for the assortment of objects on their lists. The only item that eluded them was an acorn, and the club discussed why that might be: were there any oak trees at McLarty? Was it the right time of year for acorns? Notable items collected included pretty blossoms, prickly pine cones, interesting stones and even tiny wild strawberries.

Everyone gathered together for snack time, and leader Kim offered the kids a taste of Hawthorn tea made from haws she’d gathered last fall. It was mild and fruity, but not everyone’s favorite.

The club ended the meeting by thanking Tryntje for taking the time to be there and sang the club song again in her honour. Even though there were some wet boots and socks from pond soakers, the group left tired and happy from the day’s adventures. Thanks to the PRWIN for allowing the club to use this marvelous environmental space.

The club will meet again in August to continue its tree-learning.

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