Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nature Study and Scientific Method

Mini Bell Pepper
Today while we were walking our dog through our complex, Skittles made a discovery. He found some pretty bright orange seeds at the base of a fern. They looked like Mini Bell Peppers. The first thing that we did was look them up in our Audubon Field Guide to Florida but they were not in there. I looked up the fern that we found them under. It is a Coontie Fern but it did not say anything about seeds. Hmm...??? So I went onto the computer to look it up. I saw that there was such a thing as Mini Bell Peppers and decided that must be what they are and someone threw them out into the shrubbery for some strange reason.

Coontie Fern seeds

Our next step was dissection. I thought if it was just a Mini Bell Pepper then we could cut it open and compare it to a regular Bell Pepper. I began to cut into the skin but did not get far. Right under the skin was a large seed. It was hard as a rock. I tried to peel the skin off of the seed but it was tough and sticky! I gave it a sniff. It smelled AWFUL!!!! Clearly this this was not a Pepper! 

So, what was it?

The internet was no help and neither was the Field Guide. So, we went back to make some more observations. At the base of the fern, there were black and brown cones sticking up. When we looked at them further there was an orange color peaking through the cracks in the cones sections. We hypothesized that the seeds came from this fern. We were not certain though and the Field Guide said that this plant was rare so we didn't want to start picking it apart for our own study. Rather than make a conclusion based on one plant we walked through the neighborhood and found a few more. 

The other ferns in the neighborhood had the same cones sticking out of the bottom but they were shut tight. Finally we found another one with a ton of seeds at the bottom and a half opened pod. We were able to confirm that the seeds came from the Coontie Fern. 

We sketched some pictures of the fern and the seed. Then we went upstairs to find out more about the Coontie Fern. Here is what I found out. If you actually clicked on the link you probably read that this fern is POISONOUS!!!!!!  We spent all day handling, cutting, and sniffing a POISONOUS seed!!!! I did some more research and the poison won't just give you an upset tummy. NOPE! It is a neurotxin!!! So we threw them back where we found them and washed our hands thoroughly! 

Next time I will be more cautious when it comes to discovering nature. It made a neat entry into our nature journal though. 

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