Break the students into small groups, each with a chaperone or group leader. Give each group leader a map of the site, including the location of the bathrooms at the back of the rain forest. Each group also gets a set of directions for the following activity. The first exercise can be done on the way to the restrooms. If time allows, the second exercise can be done after their visit to the bathrooms and on their way to the exits. Set a time to meet outside the doors where the group entered.
- Activity 1: The Rain Forest
Visit the Jungle/Rain Forest. As a small group, gather at a spot, close your eyes, and listen. Feel the air. What do you smell? Share your responses.
- How is this environment different from the one in which we just came from?
- How will the environment here be different if we came back in 6 months.
- Why is the rain forest essential to the earth?
- Why do you think it might be important for places like the Botanic Garden to recreate such an environment?
- How might global warming impact the rain forest?
Activity 2: The Conservatory
The Wilkes Expedition (1838-1842) spent four years, traveling more than 87,000 miles to collect specimens; these plants, pressed specimens, and cultural artifacts were among the first collections of the Smithsonian and the US Botanic Garden. There are three plants in the conservatory that are descended from the expedition. They are marked with a symbol of a ship on a compass. Find one of these plants and answer the following questions:
- Mathematics: How many generations have passed since the plant was brought back to the United States? (Consider 25 years one generation.)
- Science: Record in your "field journal" the following information about the plant. (Note that this activity is based on the US Botanic Field Journal.)
- the date and location of your observation
- a sketch and description of the size and color of the plant
- a description of the habitat of the plant
- any questions you have based on your observation
- History: Who was the president of the United States during the expedition? What was going on in the country at the time of the expedition?
- Geography: Examine the route of the expedition. What "new" lands did the Wilkes Expedition explore that are now part of the United States?
- In what ways was the Wilkes Expedition important to science and the country?
*The following are the three original plans from the US Exploring Expedition:
- Cycad (Cycas circinalis) in the Garden Court of Southeast Asia
- Vessel fern (Angiopteris Pacific) in the Garden Primeval in Tropical Pacific
- Ferocious blue cycad (Encephalartos horridus) in World Deserts in South Africa.
If time allows for a more thorough visit, the US Botanic Garden offers an excellent "Plant Explorer's Field Journal: A Trek through the Wilds of the US Botanic Conservatory," both online and at the visitor's desk. Students can use the field journal to explore and record their experience.