Evolution Garden


Neighboring the Kent State Stark Certified Wildlife Habitat, which is the center of several Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation and other grant-funded environmental projects, we propose to develop a Plants through the Ages garden, highlighting evolutionary changes in flora through time. Using primarily Ohio native plants, the evolution garden will feature the plants that originated in three time periods:

1. Invasion of Land
2. Jurassic World
3. Flowering of the Earth

The evolution garden is one component of our Green Space Initiative where we provide experiential learning opportunities to our undergraduate students, local K-12 students, and the public.

Evolution gardenA variety of educational materials will be developed that target specific audiences. Faculty in multiple courses in biological sciences, environmental studies, and geology at the Stark Campus are planning to integrate the evolution garden and experiential learning exercises into their course curricula. Undergraduate research assistants will assist in designing the professional signage for the garden and will create two guidebooks -- one for elementary school children and another for the general public; develop a garden website and social media accounts; and create a smart-phone app with links to the evolution garden flora and related information. Middle school students will also be involved in the initial garden planting through a program developed by undergraduate environmental studies students. This will introduce them to environmental factors and geologic time periods associated with the evolution of flora, green space development, and environmental stewardship.

The evolution garden will enrich the environmental hub of the campus and offer new opportunities to a growing menu of hands-on STEM learning experiences offered to our students and the public. Additionally, the evolution garden will be a green space that is always be accessible to the public on the footpaths of the eastern edge of campus. 

Plants donated by TN Nursery.
TN Nursery

Some plants were donated by:
Jason Veil, Curator, Secrest Arboretum
Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, Wooster, Ohio - facilitated by Dr. Kim Finer

Kent State University at Stark has become a regional leader in STEM education and outreach. Our campus, in part through Dominion and other local grants, has developed a premiere outdoor experiential education program utilized by STEM undergraduates, college students in general education science courses, and local K-12 students. The campus already hosts a Geological Time Scale Walk, a Planet Walk, a Wired Wetland Research Area, a wind turbine, and raised vegetable gardens. Groundbreaking for a greenhouse begins in Spring 2018. These facilities support our expanding outreach activities and programs in geology, biology, and environmental studies, which have grown with the new LEED Gold-Certified Science and Nursing Building and local focus on shale gas. Our STEM faculty are eager to meet the challenge of supporting the campus's growth in STEM education by providing innovative active learning and field experiences and high caliber undergraduate research opportunities.

Evolution gardenPlant ecology is critical to earth, biological, and environmental sciences, as plants oxygenate the atmosphere, absorb the key greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air, and are directly responsible for human food supply. Plants are on the front line of changing climate conditions, shifting their ranges to adapt to new conditions. We propose to develop a Plants through the Ages garden, showcasing changes in and the impact of climate change on flora through time. A preliminary layout in consultation with a professional horticulturist and the campus grounds crew has resulted in an attractive plan keeping the plants in "order" of their appearance in geologic time. The garden is divided into three sections, beginning with Invasion of Land, including mosses, lichens, and ferns and their allies. Jurassic World will highlight major evolutionary developments, such as seeds, cones, and trees. Flowering of the Earth section will showcase the evolution of flowers, featuring deciduous trees, flowering perennials, and grasses. Plant response to environmental changes will be a major focus in addition to evolutionary processes, the role of plants as food and oxygenators, and climate impact on plants and their sustained human populations. A large portion of the selected plants are native to Ohio, scaffolding on the recent movement to plant native plants to attract insect pollinators and other native wildlife. Enhancing the evolution garden will be rocks collected from Ohio that correspond in age to the time of appearance of various plants in the geological record. Dinosaur footprints will enhance the Jurassic World section: T. rex was here! 

Interpretive signage will emphasize evolutionary innovations and the impact of climate on plant diversity. Arboretum signs will accompany each plant, with the common and scientific names and the location to which they are native. Two student interns will design garden guidebooks with one geared to a general audience, summarizing the evolution and importance of the plants in each area of the garden, and a second prepared for elementary school students. A coloring book featuring plants and the animals that lived in the different ages will also be prepared with input from our Art Department. The guidebooks will be designed either in a booklet or pamphlet format and available to download from the campus website. Two student interns will help install the garden, supervising and developing a program for a group of middle school students, who will assist with the installation. Student interns will photographically document the garden at installation and monitor its changes during the first year, which will be posted to a garden website and social media accounts and maintained long term by geology students.

Evolution gardenEducation and outreach using the Plants through the Ages garden will reach myriad audiences. Kent State Stark STEM courses in Biology, Geology, Geography, Education, and Environmental Studies will use the garden to illustrate principles of evolution, Earth's diversity, and changes in plants over geologic time. Specific courses utilizing the garden will include How the Earth Works, Earth and Life through Time, Invertebrate Paleontology, Mass Extinctions, and General Ecology and Evolution. Students in introductory geology classes will have an interactive assignment with the evolution garden, as they do with the time and planet walks. Our Environmental Studies program includes a garden course, which has focused on edible plants but will include horticulture and greenspace development with the evolution garden. Students will become familiar with native plants, which will support native insects and other fauna. Thus, courses in Biology could examine plant biology and ecology with living specimens.

Already more than 2,000 K-12 students visit Kent State Stark annually for outreach experiences. A K-12 educational program utilizing the garden will be developed by student interns, in consultation with our Education Outreach Coordinator. The evolution garden will be introduced at the Kent State Stark 2019 Earth Day community event. Because the garden will be open to the public, scouting groups and other children's organizations could make use of the garden and the other walks for field trips and merit badge opportunities. Gardening and other civic clubs could also enjoy the garden. The Geologic Time Scale walk is already designated as an "EarthCache" through the Geological Society of America, with visitors from the area and even from out of state. 

An evolution garden is sustainable, and Kent State Stark has committed to its maintenance. It is not anticipated that the garden will require care beyond normal horticultural attention. It is anticipated that the garden will be used almost immediately, and as the plants grow, they will be maintained and replaced as needed. Evaluation of the garden's educational impact will be accomplished through student exercises and outreach opportunities. 


Carrie E. Schweitzer, Ph.D.
Professor of Geology
023G Science & Nursing