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Take a closer look at our forest floors

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Last year was the United Nation’s International Year of the Forest and it was such a great theme that I want to continue the focus on forests.

While Bermuda doesn’t have what most people would call forests, we do have stands of trees and shrubs, and in some cases they’re quite large. Most people probably pass them regularly without even “seeing” them, not to mention thinking about them.

We’re so caught up in our day to day existence that we neglect to look at, and appreciate, the world around us. We don’t see the forest OR the trees, yet these trees sustain us and are part of a community that we should all get to know better. Here is the perfect way to do just that and you don’t need to be, or have, a child to do this.

Unleash the “naturalist” in you and find a group of trees with broad leaves (like allspice, fiddlewood or cherry not casuarina) in a reserve or along the Railway Trail. Take a magnifying glass, get down on your hands and knees (beware poison ivy and animal waste) and, using a stick, gently explore. What do you see? What do you smell? What does the soil feel like? What shapes are the seeds and leaves? Are the roots taproots (like a carrot) or fibrous. What colour is the soil? Is it sandy?

You will probably see a layer of leaves and twigs. Among these might be some seedlings. Beneath the leaves you might see humus (decomposed plant material), earthworm casts (looking like small irregular lumps of soil), insects such as earwigs (pictured), ants, crickets and beetles, churchworms and other millipedes, centipedes, rolly pollys (pillbugs), sowbugs (pictured), snails, slugs, eggs and seeds. And underneath it all, soil in which there are probably lots of earthworms. And even though you don’t see them, bacteria and fungi are also there. All of these organisms play key roles in creating and maintaining healthy soil.

Earthworms, millipedes, rolly pollys, sowbugs, bacteria and fungi all eat dead and decaying plant matter (such as leaves, twigs and bark) and are vital to the cycle of life by converting the plant matter into something the roots of the plants growing in the soil can absorb and use to grow. These plants, in turn, become food for other animals, bacteria and fungi and the cycle continues.

In getting down to have a close look, you realise that what you are actually looking at isn’t just dirt it is a living skin or coating on the earth that needs to be looked after.

If you enjoy this exploration, you might want to explore another “forest” floor to see if it is different or the same as the first one you explored. You could even repeat your exploration at a different time of the year to see if anything has changed.

And if you want to learn even more, consider creating a forest floor (micro-habitat) terrarium, see page 19 of the Green Pages (Kids Go Green) to get started.

However, it’s important to note that you should not collect from a nature reserve and don’t collect anything rare or endangered. You’ll get weeks, even months, of enjoyment, an appreciation for forests and soils and an understanding that we need to value them and keep them healthy.

Leaf litter and seedlings under a fiddlewood tree.
Sowbug, earwig and soil.

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Published February 02, 2012 at 10:45 am (Updated February 02, 2012 at 10:44 am)

Take a closer look at our forest floors

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