TeenNat Experience: A miniscule glimpse at life at Pepperwood

Each summer at Pepperwood, two dozen teenagers rove our 3,200 acre preserve photographing plants and insects, recording measurements of redwoods, and—perhaps most importantly—deepening their connection to the natural world. Some are aspiring scientists, while others simply have a deep appreciation for nature and are only just learning about career possibilities in the sciences. Thanks to you, TeenNat provides a venue for these youth to gain new insights at a critical juncture in their lives. Now entering its fifth summer, TeenNat is creating new ways for its graduates to build on their Pepperwood experience, including offering paid TeenNat Assistant positions, and providing support in accessing local service opportunities and nationwide internships. Learn more about TeenNat through the eyes of one of last summer’s interns below.

TeenNat interns Paula (left) and Justine.

A Miniscule Glimpse at Life at Pepperwood

By Paula Nordstrom Miranda, 2016 TeenNat Intern

Thanks to the TeenNat internship program, I had the privilege of spending five weeks of my summer taking observations on the flora and fauna of Pepperwood and learning how to publish them to an online biodiversity database called iNaturalist.org. Created by a group of students at UC Berkeley, it is a website where members post photos and descriptions of living organisms they have encountered. Other community members can help identify the species. With Pepperwood’s diverse areas, there were many observations to be made.

Although pictures are worth a thousand words, the description of the observation is equally important as it defines the habitat of the organism, its surrounding, and details like its texture or smell. The TeenNat interns explored the oak woodlands, chaparral, redwoods, and the ponds and creeks. While exploring, if I found a plant or insect that stood out to me, I would use the satellite GPS to determine the coordinates, take photos, and write a brief description of its characteristics that the photos would not be able to demonstrate. Using those tools, I would later try to uncover what species it was and if not, I would wait to see if anyone on iNaturalist could identify it.

Photo of Coast live oak taken by Paula

While wandering among the grasslands, I identified the coast live oak on the property. The dark green color and prickly, rounded shaped leaves assisted me in the identification. The leaves had a waxy texture and there were around a dozen other oak trees nearby in view. The tree appeared to be young and I estimated its height to be ten feet tall. There were no acorns on the tree. As I posted the observation under coast live oak, my identification was confirmed by three other members of the community on iNaturalist.

The oak woodlands were very interesting to explore and while taking observations, I noticed a small plant. It was about two inches in height and had four square and opposite facing leaves. There was a furry texture to the light green leaves. The leaves’ veins were very distinguished and this particular plant was clumped up in a group of a dozen under the oak trees. I struggled narrowing down the identification to species, but I could identify that it was a part of the mint family using previous observations and my supervisor’s opinion.

Screenshot of Paula’s observation on iNaturalist.org

Then, a Pepperwood staff member identified it was a rough hedge nettle plant. It is supposedly a plant with a strong aroma, but I did not take note of its smell while observing. In the oak woodlands alone, there were dozens of observations that could have been made through exploration. These two observations are only a fraction of all the other observations made throughout the diverse property of Pepperwood. Many of my observations would not have been identified as accurately and narrowly, had it not been for the use of iNaturalist, which proved to be essential during my internship.

View Pepperwood’s project on iNaturalist.org.

Learn more about TeenNat.

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