Bernheim at 90: Bringing Bernheim Home with You

By Wren Smith

Every place you visit and love becomes a part of you. You might say that those places go home with us. They become, as Bernheim’s Education Director Whitney Wurzel  likes to say, part of our hearts’ geography. Loved places shape the way we see the world. They add focus and heighten awareness to our own backyards and neighborhoods. Sometimes that awareness translates into action.

Imagine that you are on a guided hike at Bernheim led by one of our amazing Volunteer Naturalists. Let’s say you encounter your first spicebush caterpillar disguised as a bird dropping. Your guide gathers your group around to admire this larva and its clever adaptation, after all not many creatures want to eat bird droppings! The naturalist then crushes one of spicebush leaves and invites you and the other hikers to inhale the bracing fragrance.

While doing this she explains that this caterpillar will grow, molt and enter a stage that resembles a little green dragon wearing big false eyespots. These are designed to scare away would be predators.

Next the naturalist shows you photos of this stage along with an image of the beautiful spicebush butterfly this “little dragon”will become. You and your hiking companions learn that our native spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) are the only hosts plants that the spicebush butterfly can successfully lay its eggs on, the only thing the larvae can eat.

Further down the trail, the naturalist points out a group of  pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba). You learn that pawpaw provides the only food source for the lovely zebra swallowtail butterfly. Without this tree there’d be no flying zebras.

You learn a bit about the opossums, raccoons, and other wildlife that fatten up on the sweet puddling like fruit that many humans enjoy too.


Later you venture over into Bernheim’s Edible Garden and spend time marveling at all of the monarchs drifting colorfully among the milkweed patches in the Monarch Waystation. You learn more about the importance of planting milkweed for the monarchs, and you think how much you would miss these creatures if they disappeared.

While we discourage people from taking physical things from Bernheim, we hope that new insights, memories of a day well spent, will be something you take back home with you.  When these insights and memories turn into action on behalf of loved places our hearts’ geography expands.




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