Field of Science

Conifer Fun

The laboratory spent examining conifers (yesterday) is always quite a bit of fun. Even among biology students most think conifers and evergreens are synonymous. The worst even think pine and conifer are one and the same thing, as in, "See the pine tree", while pointing at whatever evergreen conifer it may be. And a local merchant got quite annoyed at me for pointing out that the basket of seed cones being sold were not "pine cones" but spruce cones, and suggested the Phactor had no way of knowing! Well! So that's why it's so much fun to provide my students with a generous supply of conifers of various sorts, and let them key them out to genus. Language is a problem. If precise, it's too technical; if more descriptive, then it's too imprecise, but that's the price you pay for trying to construct a non-technical key for wider usage. You wouldn't believe what different people think is "ferny" or "soft & flexible" or "broad". In particular part of the fun is betting on which among them will be bored, impatient and non-observant, or observant and thoughtful. It tells you much about their potential. One very bright young lady is quick on the uptake, but this has bred in her a frightful impatience with anything that isn't immediately clear or evident. Still most did quite well and two even commented on the sense of accomplishment they enjoyed for figuring these things out, and a recognition of the the tremendous utility of identification keys, and the ability to identify things where other people failed to see differences. On the whole a most satisfactory result. Still saved one curve ball for later when they'll have to decide what kind of plant this is and they are presented with Scaidopitys, which lurks in our garden and is so different looking it stops most people dead in their tracks.

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