Bioblitz 2011 (debrief)

November 3rd, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Bioblitz 2011 has come and gone, and like last year I find myself still thinking about how awesome it was a week.5 after the fact.  It’s a lot to pull together and 10 days seems about right as far as decompression goes.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but bioblitzes tap into so many different fibers of my genetic memory.  One of the things that has stuck with me since grad school is Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligence theory.  Gardener considered the standard IQ test limited and proposed 8 different kinds of intelligences to describe the ways people can be smart.  Originally, he only identified 7, but he went back several years later to add “naturalist intelligence” to the mix.  Self-diagnoses suggests I show strong tendencies toward this type, and I dare say many of those who attended UWBG Bioblitz 2011 last weekend express these character traits as well: “would rather be outdoors than in”, check; “can pick objects out of patterns”, check; “knows the names of plants & animals”, check; “observant of surroundings”, check.  All of us can find a little naturalist intelligence in ourselves, evolution wouldn’t have it any other way, but we seldom have golden opportunities to exercise such muscles as a bioblitz presents.

But aside from the obvious appeal to my nature-nerd side, this bioblitz hit me on a human level as well (Gardener’s “interpersonal intelligence”).  At one point on Saturday, I found myself on a mushroom team with a pair of traveling mycologist/photographers from Massachusetts, an energetic immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia, a Serbian visiting from Portland, a UW student from the French Alps, a family of four that included two inquisitive young boys, and the daughter of Fujitaro Kubota, of Kubota Gardens.  What brought this group together on this predictably soggy but clear fall afternoon?  I can’t be sure, but my hunch is that when these people heard about the opportunity to participate in biological inventory of the WPA, it triggered a response from their “naturalist intelligence” and like a moth to a flame could not help but be there.  Either that, or they were bored and in the neighborhood.

The highlight during that particular field session was the discovery of a stinkhorn fungus just off of Azalea Way.  The stinkhorns are a group of fungi that produce a smelly, slimy substance designed to attract flies.  The fly visits the source of the smell (a combination of gym socks and rotting fish), is covered in the spore-laden slime which later dries while the fly is in flight and in this way is dispersed far and wide.  Seed dispersal is a key concept discussed in our Plants 101 & 201 fieldtrips, but when we talk about spore producers like ferns and mosses, we typically teach that surface moisture is the only method of dispersal.  Stinkhorns obviously evolved a different approach every bit as advanced as the seed producers who rely on animals to get around.  I will never again sell these fascinating forest dwellers short, they are anything but primitive.

Noah showing Nikko the stinkhorn he found

Other highlights of the event included an illuminating dinner-time presentation from doctoral student, Rachel Mitchell, who spoke of the importance of and threats to biodiversity.  One thing that resonated from Rachel’s talk was the concept of redundancy – a characteristic of healthy ecosystems.  Rachel’s research focuses on meadow habitats where very similar but different grasses fill similar niches and serve similar functions.  Redundancy is an insurance policy that makes an ecosystem more resilient to environmental changes.  A slight change in temperature, for example, may be enough to affect one species of grass but not another, so while one species may crash, the ecosystem as a while continues to function properly.  This concept alone is enough to warrant our efforts to preserve biodiversity in the world.  To paraphrase E.O. Wilson, biodiversity is the fabric that holds the web of life together and when we tear at this fabric we risk having the whole web fall apart.

After the talk, we took to the water in search of the Arboretum’s nocturnal residents.  With help from our fearless leaders from Agua Verde Paddle Club, we paddled around Foster & Marsh Islands in small flotillas.  It didn’t take long to find what we were looking for as the first of many loud smacks echoed across the water.  All told, we accounted for 13 beavers, the bulk of which were hanging out by that funky metallic sculpture on the north side of 520.  The beavers’ tail slappings were punctuated by the occasional pterodactyl-like squawk of Great Blue Herons sent awkwardly skyward by our presence.  I felt a little bad about causing such a raucous and disturbing these and the other shadowy creatures of the marsh with our poking, but then again it’s only once a year.  The “owl-prowl” that followed our aquatic excursion was less eventful – only managing to scare up one brief conversation with a Barred Owl, but it was a lot of fun none the less.  On our way back to the greenhouse, we happened upon 3 of the chubbiest raccoons I’ve ever seen climbing straight up a Douglas Fir near the Visitor’s Center.  These ring-tailed residents have obviously figured out how to take advantage of our numerous trashcans.

raccoon signs: a dug-up hornets nest

The following morning, despite sideways rain at dawn, I was astonished to find a dozen eager birders ready to take the kayaks back out to observe the wetlands in the “daylight”.  They were rewarded for their tenacity with freshly made bagels from Bagel Oasis, and a nice list of birds that you can check out here on ebird.  The remainder of the day was devoted to mushrooms, insects and plants (those lists are still being compiled).  I would be remiss without sending out a big thank you to the Puget Sound Mycological Society for their participation, as well as to all the UWBG staff members who came out to help.  While there weren’t any earth shattering discoveries from the plant teams, it was a great opportunity to a) have a chance to engage with the public, and b) take a close look at our grounds in a non-work capacity.  After all, the mission of the UW Botanic Gardens is Sustaining managed to natural ecosystems and the human spirit through plant research, display, and education.  So not only does Bioblitz strike multiple chords with me personally, but it beautifully supports our reason for being.  We’ve decided to alternate yearly between spring and fall events to capture a more complete picture our biodiversity and avoid over-taxing our pool of specialists, meaning the next UWBG Bioblitz will be held in spring of 2013.  Stay tuned and I hope to see you there.

Bioblitz 2011: update

October 11th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

With a little over a week away from Bioblitz 2011, the various taxa teams are starting to form, but we still need eyes, ears and hands in the field!  Below please find a new schedule of when we’ll be looking for what. To sign up and join in the fun, contact Patrick Mulligan at or call 206-543-8801 and talk to Lisa Sanphillipo.

Space is limited; first come, first serve!

All teams will depart from the greenhouse (a.k.a. “Science Central”) near the Graham Visitors Center.  Participants must sign a waiver, so please come a little early and dress appropriately!

Friday, October 21

3:00 – 5:30 PM Birds Plants Mammals

5:30 – 7:00 PM

dinner; ecology presentation by UW Ph.D. student Rachel Mitchell

7:00 – 9:00 PM

Mammals (by kayak)

Night-time Insects

9:00 – 11:00 PM “Owl Prowl”


Saturday, October 22

7:00 – 9:00 AM Birds (by land)

Birds (by kayak)


9:00 – 11:30 AM




12:00 – 2:30 PM Plants Fungi Mammals
2:30 – 3:00 PM

Show & Tell



Russian Flora & Viburnum

September 27th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Valentin Yakubov, David Giblin, Tony Allison

I had the opportunity to attend two “brown bag lunch” presentations over the past week.  The first was delivered last Friday by a visiting Russian botanist named Valentin Yakubov.  Valentin is a leading scientist at the Institute of Biology and Soil Science, part of the Russian Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Science. Valentin is a specialist when it comes to the flora of the RFE and was brought over with grant funding from a private foundation as part of a continuing partnership between Vladivostok Botanic Garden and the UW Botanic Gardens.  Over two trips, Valentin curated well over 1,000 specimens and according to David Giblin, UW Herbarium Collections Manager, did 3 months of work by a normal botanist during a span of  about 4 weeks.  The man is a machine.  The purpose of this most recent visit was to identify the  last remaining unidentified specimens collected during a past project centered on the flora/fauna of the RFE.  Here’s a brief description of that project:

“From 1996 through 2003 researchers from the University of Washington Herbarium (WTU) participated in the International Kuril Islands Project/International Sakhalin Islands Project (IKIP/ISIP;  A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to the University of Washington enabled this multi-year partnership with Russian and Japanese researchers to document the distribution and diversity of multiple organismal groups (e.g., insects, vascular plants, bryophytes, lichens, mammals, fish, mollusks) of these undersurveyed areas of Far East Russia.  WTU researchers made over 10,000 vascular plant, bryophyte, and lichen collections over the course of the project.”

David Giblin, was in attendance last Friday, and said that finally having all of these specimens identified and cataloged feels like a giant mill-stone has been removed from around his neck.  His gratitude and respect for Valentin’s expertise and incredible work ethic were readily apparent.   Valentin’s presentation featured a slideshow of plants he’d collected this past summer on Kamchatka Peninsula.  For me, a non-taxonomist, the remarkable and enjoyable thing about the presentation was watching this small gathering of American taxonomists “geek out” over the similarities/differences of Russian and Pacific Northwest plant species.  A big shout out to Tony Allison, Garden Guide extraordinaire here at the UWBG, for his stellar translating skills, and another big shout out for Latin – the language of science! If so interested, check out WTU’s online database where you can explore their collection digitally.


V. laurestinus

The 2nd presentation on “Viburnum Diversity and Evolution” was given on Monday by Michael Donoghue, a visiting professor from Yale University, whose life work (and current sabbatical) is focused on the genus viburnum.  Here’s how his friend, Dick Olmstead of the Burke Museum, described the talk:

“Michael has been a leader in the application of phylogenetic inference to understanding plant evolution.  He and his students have developed a number of widely used methods for studying things such as quantifying diversification rates, interpreting historical biogeography, constructing huge trees from diverse data, using phylogenies to interpret the evolution/assembly of plant communities, etc.  Viburnum has been the subject of much of his research over the past 30 years.”

I only understand about half of that description, so my main reason for attending was due to the fact that Viburnums constitute one of our core collections here at the Washington Park Arboretum (WPA).  We can boast 44 different species making ours the 5 largest collection in the U.S. Prior to today’s talk, I knew nothing about this genus, and now I know a little more than nothing.  It turns out that they are fascinating; fascinating enough to lead Michael Dirr, renowned plantsman and author to say that “a garden with viburnum is akin to a life without music or art” and fascinating enough to keep Dr. Donoghue’s attention for the past 30 years.  And that was part of his underlying message – that in order to make the truly fascinating observations and discoveries about a specific part of the natural world, sometimes it takes a lifetime of looking.  Dr. Donoghue lamented somewhat about how this long-term approach to scientific research is becoming less and less common, but encouraged the UW students in attendance to do as he has done and find a specific piece of nature’s puzzle to keep in a back pocket for continued pondering.  I guess another way of looking at it is that if you study something for a few decades, eventually you’ll become the leading expert on that thing.

The three latest areas of research that Dr. Donoghue is involved in with various graduate students are: 1) the Viburnum Leaf Beetle and their arrival from the Old World (Europe) to the New World (New England); 2) the presence of extrafloral nectaries and domatia in many species of viburnum that create a symbiotic relationship by providing habitat for leaf-cleaning mites; and 3) how leaf shape variability among viburnum are correlated to environmental conditions (i.e. ovate/deciduous/toothy leaves evolved under cool temperate condition; narrow/evergreen/smooth leaves under tropical conditions).  This last one is especially interesting to paleoclimatologists seeking to better understand the Earth’s dynamic climate.

To learn more about Dr. Donoghue’s research, follow this link to his lab’s website:

And to learn more, period, stay tuned for future brown bag lunches and by all means check out the list of upcoming classes offered to the public by UWBG


WPA Fall Guide Training

September 26th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Lisa & leaves








Each fall, the Washington Park Arboretum Education and Outreach Program provides training for new and veteran guides who lead school field trips and/or Weekend Walks. This fall, guides learned firsthand about current plant-related research at the University of Washington. Hyde Herbarium Collections Manager and School of Forest Resources (SFR) graduate student Katie Murphy spoke about fall plant physiology and offered pointers for leading groups in the field. SFR graduate student Shawn Behling, whose research focuses on plant morphology, gave an inspiring walk and talk on forest ecology. Shawn has a keen eye for seeing how a plant’s architecture reflects its environmental conditions (and vice versa) and we enjoyed watching her “geek out” at the myriad tree/plant forms contained within the Arboretum.








Joyce LeCompte-Mastenbrook, doctoral candidate from the Department of Anthropology, and active volunteer at the Bernie Whitebear Ethnobotanical Garden at Discovery Park’s Daybreak Star Center, joined us last Tuesday and facilitated a lively discussion on Coast Salish culture to prepare guides to lead our very popular “Native Plants & People” fieldtrip. One of the new tid-bits I gleaned from Joyce was how important a role “networking” plays in Coast Salish culture. This networking was crucial in establishing good relationships among various groups that, among other things, enabled trade between upland and lowland villages. We wrapped up training on Thursday with a review of our “Wetlands 101 & 201” fieldtrips followed by a ducks-eye view of our Foster Island Wetland, courtesy of Agua Verde Paddle Club. The highlight of the paddle was watching a Great Blue Heron ingest a fish that looked way too big for its mouth/throat. You can check out some low-quality video footage here:
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer guide, it’s not too late! Email: for more information.

Bioblitz 2011

September 9th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan


The UW Botanic Gardens is pleased to announce BIOBLITZ 2011, the 3rd installation of a long-term citizen science experiment aimed at measuring and tracking biodiversity within the Washington Park Arboretum – a 230 acre collection of trees founded in 1934 making it Seattle’s 4th oldest public park.

Bioblitz 2010 was held last May and attended by over 100 volunteers comprised of scientists, both professional and aspiring, of all ages and interests. Approximately 400 species from a variety of taxa groups, including a potentially new species of Philodromus crab spider.

foster island phil1The Fungus Among Us”, a special edition held in partnership with the Puget Sound Mycological Society and focused entirely on mushrooms was held in October, 2010. Close to 80 volunteers collected approximately 500 specimens during four 3-hour shifts.

With these base line numbers, we now have some idea of who is calling the WPA “home”, but these two surveys provide only snapshots of the ever changing story being played out upon this piece of urban green space. In order to gain a deeper understanding of this special place, we strive to duplicate our experiment and turn these snapshots into a movie. Our mission at the UWBG is to “sustain managed to natural ecosystems and the human spirit through plant research, display, and education.” You are invited to help us fulfill that mission by taking part in this unique event.

What: Small field groups surveying various habitats for different taxa groups during six 2.5 hour shifts over a 24 hour period.

When:  October 21 – 22

What time:

Friday, Oct. 21st                                                            Saturday, Oct. 22nd

  • 3pm-5:30                                                                     7am – 9am
  • 5:30 – 7pm (cookout dinner/lecture)              9am – 11:30
  • 7pm – 9pm                                                                   12pm – 2:30
  • 9pm – 11:30                                                                  2:30 – 3pm (show & tell)

Who:  Anyone and everyone, no experience necessary, just a healthy curiosity.

Cost:  FREE

How:  RSVP for specific shifts to or call 206-616-3381


How does your garden grow?

August 29th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

The following was submitted by Angela Williams, one of five UW student interns who worked with us this past spring through the Carlson Leadership Center. Angela and co. were tasked with transforming the long neglected “Back 40” located between Plant Donations and the Greenhouse at the Arboretum into a vegetable garden…

“As a student majoring in public health nutrition, I’ve worked in many food-related service learning/volunteering positions in the past several years. My recent experience as “Greenhouse and Garden Caretaker” at the UW Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, however, was by far my favorite position ever. I so looked forward to my Friday shift each week; it was a welcome break from the classroom as I was outside working in the fresh air tending to the garden. I could hardly wait to get there each week to see how much the plants had grown. Seeds that I had put in the ground only weeks before had evolved into beautiful spinach, kale, pea, beet and tomato plants!
It really was a pleasure working with the staff; Patrick and Cari were so responsive and knowledgeable. They provided great leadership and support, yet also allowed me to work independently and use my own creativity; such as deciding what and where vegetables should be planted. They taught me a variety of organic gardening methods that I have already put to use in my own garden.
I find it especially rewarding to know that the garden I helped establish will be used as a learning garden for field trips and summer camps. It makes me happy to know the sustainable, organic produce grown in this garden will provide many years of delicious education for the thousands of children that visit.”


August 10th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan





















We had rolled into Terney the evening before after dropping our various chauffeurs at the “wilderness lodge” on the edge of the nearby Sikhote-Alin Zapovednik.  The drive into Terney was gorgeous – rolling hills of deep green forests and fields spattered with various sized bodies of water reflecting the grey sky overhead.  It felt a bit like the Oregon Coast.  The town itself felt different from the other towns we’d passed through.  It was clean and bright and all the roofs were similar and newish.  Terney is home to a large Japanese timber company which accounts for its prosperity.  It’s also home to a branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society, started by an American guy named Dale Miquelle in 1992.  WCS is primarily devoted to research and protection of the Amur Tiger & Amur Leopard.  Their headquarters, a cozy little home/office perched on a hill overlooking the town, was our base – the most comfortable base we’d had yet, complete with tiger striped blankets & towels, and a super high-tech shower from the future.  Our host, Anna, was the only staff member around and the first true red-head we’d seen in Russia.  Anna made me notice how many different noses there are in the world – hers was very cute and elf-like.

After settling into our new digs and a delicious dinner featuring fresh baked bread, we headed over to another organization’s space, Uragus, where we would be presenting the following morning.  On this night, however, it was our turn to be presented to while nibbling on the compulsory tea and sweets.  The speaker, and our primary contact in Terney, was yet another passionate woman named Galina.  She and her husband Serge (a former ornithologist for the zapovednik with the most amazing eye brows I’ve ever seen) had founded two organizations, one for adults the other for children, both dedicated to ecological conservation.  Uragus, the adult version, was named after a very common bird native to the area.  Among the various projects these organizations had started was an ecology club that went on hikes and camping trips in the region that included trail building; summer ecology camps for kids; an ecology olympics that sounded like a lot of fun; student/teacher workshops with all 10 villages located in the Terney region (2 of these villages are inhabited by the indigenous peoples known as the Udege); and last but not least a mini-arboretum that surrounded the building in which we now sat.  We talked until 11:30 before finally calling it a night.  The forecast was for rain in the morning so we went to bed not knowing if we would have much of a crowd when we awoke.


We had little reason for concern.  Russians are a hearty lot and like Seattlites, a little rain is hardly discouraging.  But before our schtick, we were to take a tour of the garden that Uragus had planted with the help of kids and community members.  Our tour guide was a little girl with a bright pink shirt and a long red stick for pointing at things (or snapping our attention).  She was incredible.  If only I could recruit American kids like her to help lead our Weekend Walks.  It was a tough act to follow, but Tony and Sally knocked it out of the park and as we had come to expect, the kids who participated in the ecosystem challenge demonstrated a deeper understanding of ecological concepts than most adults.  My favorite part about this particular session was how the small group of slightly older kids (teens) helped out the younger ones in figuring out the ecosystem puzzle.  Bandura would have been pleased with such effective modeling.




























Afterwards we took it outside for some games.  We were short on time, the kids wanted to run and we were dealing with a pretty big age spread.  So we played a few rounds of “bear, salmon, mosquito” followed by a little “maple seed mix-up” during which I learned the Russian word for “tree” (dierova).  We were joined, un-expectedly, by Helaina and the kids that had basically kidnapped me the day before.  It was good to see them, and a nice feeling to have been missed.  We returned to our base at the Wildlife Conservation Society where we were joined by Galina for a delicious lunch of soup, salad and bread.  We brainstormed how we could help and get Vlad BG involved and came up with a few ideas, the most simple of which was to provide them with plans to install a cattle guard in their front gate to protect their garden from the “free-range” cows and goats that roam the town.


Our time in Terney had been too brief, but there was still so much to see and do.  First on the list was a crappy little art museum back in Kavalerovo, and who should we find as our tour guide – Helaina, showing up yet again like a dirty penny.  The first piece I saw as I entered was an intergalactic landscape scene complete with space station (Russians love space).  I knew I was in for it.  Featured prominently in the gallery were works by a local sculptor.  When I say local, I mean 5 minutes down the road.  So we went to his house and toured his garden.  Oleg was not only an artist, but also a proprietor of a “banya” (sauna).  I use that word “proprietor” loosely as I don’t think we actually paid anything, but sauna we did!  It was terrific and if I could choose one aspect of Russian culture to bring home, it would be the banya.


p.s.  If anyone out there is interested in collaborating for some sort of artist exchange, I know a Russian sculptor who’s dying to show some work in Seattle.











Kavalerava to Ternei

July 27th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

We were put up for the night in some friend of a friend’s apartment who was out of town for vacation or something.  These kinds of details are too much to care about when going full bore and everything has to be interpreted.  The important part was that it was dry, the floor was flat, there was enough bedding to make a pillow fort, and I had bought the right power converter at the airport so waking up to music on the laptop was possible.  Tony was stoked to hear the Stones as we prepared for our day; Sally was perhaps less stoked, but she’s tough.  Nadya’s mom would compliment her later over breakfast telling her that “she’s a woman who could stop a horse”.  Our first sheduled appearance was at the school where Nadya’s mom is a teacher.







After a leisurely tea complete with various cakes and delectable edibles (Russian’s love their sweets), the morning began with a presentation from our hosts.  The woman delivering, Alexandra, had a nickname, “The Encyclopedia”.  She was rad.  And she wasn’t even a teacher, she was a retired volunteer (what would we do without retired volunteers).  Alexandra told us about the school’s 3 big projects that she had spearheaded and seen to fruition:  the arboretum; the ecology trail; and the natural history museum.

First the arboretum:  through much petitioning and hoop jumping, the school had convinced the city of Kavalerava to let them take the abandoned, ruble-filled lot that was their back yard and do with it what they wanted.  They turned it into a contest and put out a call for designs.  An 8th grader won, and with some help from a local professional, a mini-arboretum was born.  Featuring over 80 species of mostly native trees & shrubs and several concept gardens gardens (medicinal herbs; plants of North America, etc.), it was an incredible example of teamwork and determination to behold.  The ecology trail is about a mile long, features a variety of ecosystem types and winds up at the towns most prominent feature – a granite monolith defying the forces of erosion and jutting chin-ward to the sky.  The natural history museum had 3 exhibits:  Minerals; the Sea of Japan; and Geologic Excursions (which is what they call fieldtrips).  The benefits Alexandra pointed out that had resulted from these combined projects were, increased scientific knowledge, community engagement and biological preservation.  Brilliant!  I want to steal that and make it our new tagline.  What did we have to teach these people?









But teach we did and Tony and Sally both played their parts masterfully.  I think Tony may have been channeling some Mic Jagger from our morning inspiration.  The students demonstrated ecological comprehension beyond their years as the ring of teachers, some visiting from nearby schools, and adults nodded and leaned into eachother’s ears.  I loved simply observing.  Kids, no matter where they’re from, will always express their kid-selves with their antics and mannerisms.  Russian kids have a very distinct way of raising their hands – the one arm shoots forward and up like a sword blade and the other immediately goes to supporting the now raised elbow, as if they’d been trained to wait with their hands up indefinitely.

After the “Ecosystem Challenge”, a program that Mts. to Sound does in the classroom with 4th/5th graders, we headed outside for some games.  There were about 40 kids, ages ranging from 8 – 14 so Tony and I divided and conquered.  He took the younger group first and then we flip-flopped after 15 minutes.  I had Nastia and tall Katia doing their best to translate for me as I got the kids to play forest succession game we like to call “the forest succession game”.  It was awesome for me because I got to learn how Russians play “rock, paper, scissor”.  The game is the same, but the lead up before you throw is 5 times as long, it’s like a sonnet.  The kids eventually got what was going on, and more importantly, so did Nastia and I could see her wheels turning as she thought of how to tweak it for native Russian trees (I had used PACNW natives).  With the younger kids I just wanted to play, so split them into teams and had them part-take in an “amazing animal form relay race”.  The message about finding your niche in life and adapting to change was completely lost, but we found ourselves burying the smallest race contestant in grass, so we got the enjoyment part.











We headed back inside for a brainstorming session on how to partner with Vlad BG, ate more cakes, drank more tea, and then it was back on the road.  Destination, Ternei, a little village 5 hours north along the coast.  As I walked to the parking lot I was still buzzing from all the kid attention (and special Russian tea), and somehow got ushered into a van other than ours.  Helaina, “the English teacher at the school”, was heading the same direction with 5 of her young students, a couple older ladies and a bear of a man behind the wheel to stay the night at a wildlife preserve.  She figured it would be a great chance for her students to practice English and I went along with it.  They turned out to be really great kids, and really nice people (with matching camo) and we bonded.  At one point we stopped for lunch at what resembled a school cafeteria and I was “rung up” with an abacus for the first time in my life.  My grand total was about $2.50.  I found out later that Sally had also ridden solo, but in another jeep, and Tony had ridden with our hosts from Vlad BG and Ivan or driver, a former military pilot.  It was comical, but this is what I had come to expect in Russia – relax, go with it.

Mother (and father) Russia

July 22nd, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan









We had made our presence felt in Vladivostok, now it was time to take our act on the road.  First stop:  Userisk, a large town due north, to present to a group of college students at the Pedagogical Institute.  These students were a mix of Geography and Ecology majors.  I majored in geography as an undergrad and almost all of the electives I took in grad school had to do with ecology, so I felt right at home.  Before going on, we had a sit down with the director of this 101 year old university and a few of his professors.  We learned that pedagogically speaking, Russian schooling is based more on the German system than the American one.  Students are in large part still viewed as empty vessels needing to be filled with knowledge by their teachers.  I illustrated this mentality by taking a bottle of water and pouring it into an empty cup (the things we do to communicate when language isn’t an option).  One of the professors picked right up on the analogy, took another empty cup and pretended to throw the water out under the table, mimicking a common response from students who are force-fed their education.  We all had a good laugh.  He went on to tell us that educational reform is happening in post-Soviet Russia, but as with all large movements, it just takes time.

I started my talk with a 5 minute crash course on the geography of Puget Sound (as requested by the professor) and then dove into the “what, who, why, and how of EE” that I presented the day before at the conference.  During the “what” I explained how EE has been such a difficult thing to pin down in the U.S. in part because in English the word “environment” can have a plethora of meanings depending on who you ask.  The word “education” is equally divisive.  So when you put the two words together, one can see how difficult it could be to arrive at a clear definition.  This logic doesn’t work in Russian.  They have a very specific word, “ekologia”, that they use for environmental education and it’s very similar to our notion of ecology.  So while this started us off on a slightly confusing foot, it did lead to an interesting discussion and help turn our presentation into more of a dialogue.

I ended my part with a challenge.  In one of my slides, I showed a brief timeline of educational reform in America that included only a few noteworthy dates.  One was the launching of Sputnik in 1957 that led to the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  This was the act that provided federal funding to states and helped make public education accessible to everyone (keeping America competitive with the USSR).  The next major reform I discussed was the “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001 which in turn led to the more recent “No Child Left Inside Act”.  The main motivation behind the latter is to help ensure America’s leadership position in the emerging “Green Economy”.  So the challenge I laid down for these Russian teachers in training was to ask if they were willing to sit idly by and watch us take that lead.  The most challenging issues we face today are global ones; I figure a little healthy competition of who can be greener can only be good for society – certainly better than “who can have the bigger nuclear arsenal”.

By the time Sally finished her part of the presentation on the Mountains to Sound Greenway, the students were ready to jump out the windows of our now breathy conference room.  We’d talked straight through lunch, so we called it a day and said dasvidanya.  We had a 5 hour drive ahead of us to Kavalerava (Nadya’s hometown), and in addition, had been invited to visit a “nearby” natural history museum located at the edge of a large zapopriendik (protected area).  The woman who ran the place, and managed the associated EE program, had been in attendance the day before in Vlad, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So while it was out of our way and put us a little behind schedule, it turned out to be really cool and I’m glad we did it.  The drive out there was our first real chance to get a feel for the forest in Primorsky Krai.  It reminded me of where I grew up in Shenandoah Co., Virginia.  Lush green pastures set amidst rolling tree covered hills carved by meandering streams.  It was hard to imagine tigers and leopards in such a setting, but sure enough, when we arrived to the museum, we saw them in the flesh.  Granted they were poorly stuffed and somewhat dusty, but it was still quite impressive.  And the big cats are but a smidgeon of the biodiversity in the Russian Far East.  Housed within this quaint one room exhibit must have been several thousand specimens representing all the various taxa groups and collected on site.  Mongolian bears, wild boars, little deer with vampire fangs, countless insects, and a rich stock of birds and reptiles as well.  We’d learned the night before from Alexander that Russia has something called “The Red Book” listing all their threatened/endangered species.  It turns out that a majority of these species are endemic to Primorsky Krai, and a fare number of them were on display for us here in the boonies.










We left the museum, now really behind schedule, and high-tailed it to our next destination.  Nadya’s parents had arranged a fancy dinner to welcome us, but we had one very special stop to make before hand to meet Nadya’s grandparents.  “Salt of the earth” is the best phrase I can come up with to describe them.  These are the Russians that live in the pages of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, skin leathered by years spent in the soil, backs and hands as strong and capable as adults half their age.  We had found “mother (and father) Russia”.  I have no idea what they must have thought about their granddaughter showing up with us to their little plot in paradise, but I could see the pride swell in both their eyes as they embraced.  We sat and gorged ourselves on freshly made crepes topped with strawberries, cream and honey and time suddenly ceased to exist.  It came out that Nadya’s grandfather had once been in a choir, and so naturally we asked for a song, and just as naturally, he sang one.  His bellowing voice filled our little kitchen concert hall belying his 80+ years – a haunting melody about a white daisy that still echoes in my head.  In the dying light, we left their farm reluctantly and arrived to dinner around 11pm to find Nadya’s parents fuming.  It was obvious that they had been waiting for some time, and that we were the only reason the restaurant was still open.  Part of me felt bad, but most of me didn’t care, our delay had been worth every heartfelt note.

We’re Big in Vladivostok

July 21st, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan








We woke early and excited (and maybe just a little nervous).  Today was our big day where we were the featured presenters at an environmental education conference organized by Vlad BG.  We’d seen this event on our itinerary prior to the trip and not thought much about it, but now it was being billed as a much bigger deal that several higher-ups would be attending, the U.S. Consulate for Vladivostok among them.  There would also be a couple TV crews.  I suddenly regretted not brining a dress shirt or tie.  Oh well.

The conference was being held in the auditorium of the nearby Institute of Marine Biology.  Vlad is a major port serving this part of the world, and a fishing hub to boot.  As such, marine biology is much better funded than botany, and this favoritism was reflected in the well-kept building beautifully perched on the shoreline overlooking Peter the Great Bay.  The interior was bright white, pristine and filled with natural light.  The auditorium was smallish, but the stadium seating allowed for at least 200 people.  There were about 60 in attendance for the conference.

Our colleagues from Vlad BG were up first, filling everyone in on their efforts to establish an EE program, and referencing their visit to Seattle.  It was a good segue into my presentation on the UWBG.  I’ve done a version of this presentation during the last few guide trainings, and could almost give it in my sleep, so I hadn’t felt the need to rehearse.  Delivering a talk through a translator, however, is a whole different ball of wax.  Fortunately, my translator was Tony, who knows the garden every bit as well as I do, so whatever gaps I left, he filled in.  It was very much a tag-team effort and as if by design, we finished exactly at our allotted time 45 mins.  There was 30 mins. carved out for questions, and to my surprise, the audience used every second of it – they were captivated!  It felt good to have come through for our hosts who had kind of gone out on a limb to have us there.











We took a brief lunch break and were then given a tour of the museum housed on the top floor.  It was modest in size, but really cool, featuring sections of a Blue Whale skeleton and countless other sea creatures large and small.  My favorite part was this hokie little video illustrating how whales evolved from land animals (I’ll try to attach it).  After our tour, it was time for Sally and I to give our joint talk titled, “Environmental Education:  Theory and Practice”.  I presented the first half going over the what, who, why and how of EE.  This was followed up by Sally using the Mountains to Sound Greenway as a case study and then back to me to talk about EE at the Arboretum.  To our great delight, the audience was very interested in all of it.  During the intermission afterwards people were gushing at how interesting my part had been and one woman even asked where I was published.  I felt like a rock star, especially b/c I had given a rough version of this talk during guide training last spring that nearly put everyone to sleep.

After our joint presentation, Sally presented more in depth on the Greenway.  She had managed to send her slides over well enough in advance to have them translated into Russian, and so tall Katya, one of the Vlad BG staff, was the one to actually deliver the information.  It was so robotic and quick, though, that Sally pretty much re-presented everything during the Q&A session.  While they have protected natural areas in the Russian Far East (“zapopriedniks”), this concept of working with business interests to link together large tracts of land as wildlife corridors is a new one for them.  This foreign way of doing things was beautifully illustrated by a question from Pavol who asked, “So how do you force the businesses to compromise with you”.  After Sally, there were a slew of very brief presentations from various groups doing EE in the region, including a high school student who spoke about how they were promoting “tiger day” at their school.  It was not the last we would hear of tiger day.

The conference ended around 5pm, there was another hour or schmoozing and picture taking, and everyone could finally take a big breath of relief.  We had done it and it was a complete success.  But our day was not over, not by a long shot.  It turned out that we now had a meeting to go to with an organization known as the Phoenix Foundation located in downtown Vlad.  I would have been pissed about this if not for the character we would meet when we got there, Alexander, my new hero.  He’s a former botanist turned biology teacher turned EE activist who is sharper than a tack with the energy of a Jack Russell on speed.  The small outfit of which he is a part (I think they are 6), is dedicated to stopping poachers, raising awareness of Primoria’s incredible biodiversity, and developing educational materials for teachers to use in the classroom.  They’re also responsible for making tiger day something of a national holiday around these parts.  To top it all off, he took us up on the roof for a bird’s eye view of Vlad.