I couldn’t tell you a thing about invasive species of algae in the freshwater streams of the United States. Or if the state of Tennessee has landslides resulting from vegetation deterioration. Or if any small mammals are overpopulated due to a lack of natural predators and therefore gobbling up all the native birds, meaning I get more itchy bug bites.
It’s not that I want weird aglae, landslides or bug bites, I’m just ignorant to it all. If someone told me, for instance, that cleaning and drying off my boating equipment would stop the spread of didymosphenia geminata, also known as the much more fun term “rock snot”, and that limiting said snot rock would then keep me from twisting my ankle the next time I’m having a relaxing day at the lake, then I think I’d clean and dry my boating equipment…if I had any. It’s not that I’m unwilling to make that change in my behavior. It’s just kind of unlikely a typical U.S. citizen (without a career in environmental science) would know about an algae infiltration in my local lake.
In New Zealand, on the other hand, I know about it. By simply walking around with an ability to read or hear the many television commercials, public advertisements, informational boards and even bumper stickers, we’ve absorbed more knowledge about New Zealand’s ecological concerns than we know about those of our own country. Kiwis take their committment to preserving their country’s unique environment pretty darn seriously.
Given how much we’ve learned about the plants and animals of this country, it was appropriate that one of our service projects in New Zealand focused on habitat restoration. We recently worked with the Te Kākano Aotearoa Trust, a community-based nursery program in Wanaka committed to increasing the populations of native plants and animals in the region. The organization helps restore areas by growing plants from seed and transplanting them to natural spaces which were previously clear cut or burned to become farms or pasture land.
Andrew Penniket, the nursery’s manager, was a walking botantical textbook. “Now this here is leptospermum scoparium,” he would say to the girls, gesturing to a group of potted plants sitting under the nursery’s green netting. “It’s actually part of the Myrtaceae family.” All he got was three little blank stares. “It makes honey you can eat.” Ahhh, okay…blank stares get replaced with smiles.
We spent an afternoon getting dirty with the other volunteers as we repotted seedlings, moved gravel and hauled a dozen plants down to the lakefront for transplanting. Of course, there had to be a quick tea break and some socializing, too.
The Te Kākano Trust gives locals and tourists an easy way to learn about the area and contribute their time to this ongoing community effort. Andrew even took us by his home afterward to show the girls his sheep and garden. We left with a bag of apples picked fresh from his tree. Hands down, the best apples any of us have ever and probably will ever taste in our lives. (The downside being that every apple from here on out will be a disappointment.)
We had a beautiful day for this fun service project, and the girls learned a little bit about the local plants. Brian and I have been hearing things like “Hey, that’s the one that makes honey!” and “There’s that weird, ugly, spiky plant again!” Okay, so maybe we haven’t mastered genus and family names yet, but they definitely have more interest in botany than they did before.