Natural Walk Introduces Community to Another Side of Campus

Posted: May 6, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Andrea Weeks leading botanical tour
Assistant Professor Andrea Weeks provided an overview of campus flora during an Earth Week botanical walking tour.
Photo by Colleen Kearney Rich

The chirping birds had to compete with the grinding and beeping of construction equipment, but that didn’t diminish the quality and wonder of one of the first botanical tours of Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

Hosted by Mason botanist Andrea Weeks, the walking tours were a welcome addition to this year’s Earth Week. Weeks, an assistant professor of plant systematics in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and director of the Ted R. Bradley Herbarium on the Fairfax Campus, has an infectious desire to share Virginia’s flora with its inhabitants and encourages an appreciation of the natural campus.

At what was probably the height of the wind-pollinated trees and grasses season, Weeks led groups on the hour-long tour that took plant lovers along the creek behind the Student Apartments to Mason Pond and around part of Patriot Circle.

“I like my plant tours to involve all five senses. If we can smell it, we’ll smell it. If we can eat it, we’ll eat it — but not this one,” she said as she passed around some skunk cabbage and encouraged the group to smell it.

Assisted by graduate student Kristen Baird, Weeks pointed out and provided opportunities to examine up close a large number of species of plants and trees, indicating which was native and which was invasive.

English ivy: invasive. “If you see it in your garden, growing up the sides of the trees, rip it out,” she told the group. “It will strangle the tree.”

Poison ivy: native, and Mason has a lot of it.

She also pointed out what were technically “flowers” since many of the plants were flowering. She also explained how the plants and trees played a role in the lives of settlers and early Americans.

According to Weeks, Virginia is one of the best places in the country for diversity of plant species because of the wide range of terrains, from the mountains to the coastlines and the moderate temperatures of the mid-Atlantic region.

Weeks is one of a number of researchers in Virginia collaborating to produce a definitive source on all the flora in Virginia called “The Flora of Virginia”, a manual that has been seven years in the making. The extensive holdings of the Ted R. Bradley Herbarium have been integral in building the checklist of plant species for the manual, which is expected to be published in 2011.

Although this particular walk was tied to Earth Week, Weeks plans to offer more tours in the future. “I really do enjoy giving tours. One of the best parts of this job is to be able to introduce people to the plants they see every day.”

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