For the past 21 years, the Missoula County Weed District has provided the Leave No Weeds program to area fifth-grade, elementary students as an opportunity to explore the importance of biodiversity and the role it plays in healthy plant communities.
This has been done through a combination of classroom instruction and outdoor field trip experiences. Students build on concepts they learn in the school of habitats, ecosystems, and biodiversity while expanding their knowledge by learning to define and label native, non-native, and invasive plants and their relevance and impacts on ecosystems.
The Leave No Weeds program encourages students to use personal experiences and ideas to help further their connections to how and why plant biodiversity benefits the choices they make and the other species that rely upon biodiversity for daily life needs. What they recognize is that everything from the food they eat to the trails they hike to the wildlife they love seeing is all interrelated because of plant biodiversity. The students soon realize that when non-native, invasive species become established reliant species are impacted as well as their experiences.
In the words of Charlie Brown’s teacher, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah-wah….Speaking from experience the best way to teach about the benefits of healthy plant communities and biodiversity is to get the kids outside! By moving, smelling, and examining native and invasive plants on the local landscape kids learn to connect the classroom instruction to real places and draw conclusions of their own.
With fifth-grade energy, students hike to the saddle of Mt. Jumbo while learning to identify native flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees. Traditional native uses such as medicinal uses and culturally significant food sources are taught along with unique plant features and associated stories that will help them remember the plant names. As a form of stewardship and giving back, also cheap labor, the students participate in a weed pull. They compete to see who can get the longest spotted knapweed root, then examine the extracted roots, and seed heads looking for the larva of biocontrol agents. The exercise is finished by revegetating the disturbed ground with native grass and flower seeds donated by the city to hopefully outcompete the invasive in years to come.
The success of the Leave No Weeds program is possible because of partnering organizations and of course the power of youthful, conservation-minded 5th graders and their equally dedicated teachers! We look forward to continuing this program and expanding conservation education at our future 2.5-acre gardens at the Rocky Mountain Gardens and Exploration Center slated to be open next spring.