Gardens around UC Berkeley

by Akiko Segawa, Japan, ELP 2014
Written on July 14, 2014.

In the last week I got opportunities to visit gardens around Berkeley. Today, I’d like to write about something I found in those gardens.

UC Botanical Garden
In this field trip, we tried biological water quality monitoring. In order to collect samples, I went into a stream in the garden and put a net and then disturbed the riverbed to catch all organisms there. By collecting and identifying organisms living in the environment, you can know the condition of the stream. Some species are highly sensitive to pollution, while others tolerate it. I found dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs and many other insects/worms there. Both dragonfly and damselfly nymphs need 4 to 8 ppm of dissolved oxygen for survival. From this monitoring, it can be said that the stream is in fair to good condition.

My interest in environmental issues spans as far back as I can remember. As a child, I loved swimming in rivers and springs near my home and I still love sceneries with rivers, lakes or something related to water. So this fieldwork was very fun for me. I used to collect insects in streams for monitoring as a member of an environmental club when I was in elementary school, so that experience reminded me of my childhood. At the same time, I learned new terms such as shredders (organisms that eat leaves that fall into the stream), collectors (organisms that gather particles of organic matter from the water) and predators. Come to think of it, this interest in water fascinated me to study science. It was a very good opportunity to motivate me again to study chemistry, since chemistry is deeply related with water issues

Rene Zazueta’s Home, Spiral Gardens and Edible Schoolyard
In this field trip, I found that each participant had a different knowledge of plants, since vegetation is very different from country to country. What surprised me the most was Physalis. Physalis here in Berkeley is a yellow-orange fruit that looks like a tomato and is covered with a papery calyx. Physalis is also very common in Japan, but the calyx, not the fruit, has a vivid orange color. Moreover, the plant is toxic and used as abortifacient. So, it was the first time for me to eat it, but it was very sweet and tasty. I especially liked its tropical sweet smell. I heard that Physalis in supermarkets never smells like that because they are picked green and imported all the way from tropic countries. The same things can be said for blackberries and bananas. I also learned that blackberries in trees have a very good flavor, but you can never enjoy the scent if you buy them in a supermarket.

Another story I learned is about bananas. Bananas in supermarkets are not as sweet as those on trees, since they are picked when they are still green. One way to make bananas sweeter is to scratch their peels and keep it for one day. By breaking some parts of the peel, the sugar in the peel moves to its body. I want to try this method as soon as possible. Actually, peels of bananas includes so much sugar and this makes it difficult to compost banana peels.

Identifying Aquatic Insects from Your Pond