Students become botanists for a day at the local zoo

The animal division of Volunteer UCF took their first trip to the zoo and became botanists for the day to help maintain the environment for the zoo’s wildlife.

“We have a very diverse group of people,” Chelsea Balkam, director of the animal unit of VUCF, said. “Everyone is doing different majors, studying different things, but just love animals.”

The 10 young men and women arrived at the Central Florida Zoo on Saturday morning ready to pick plants, equipped with gloves, water bottles, bug spray and activewear perfect for the summer weather.

Steve DeCresie, the park’s senior horticulturist of seven years, led the way, giving a tour of the zoo and what he called a “crash course” in botany.

“This will take a lot of man and woman power,” DeCresie said. “By the [end], you’ll be wet, gross and somewhat muddy.”

The VUCF group’s first task: to weed and spread pine straw in a dragonfly garden.

“Your mission, should you decide to accept it. Just make dragonfly pond look beautiful,” DeCresie said.

The group followed DeCresie to the pond, who explained the process that focused primarily on ecology, but also hydrology, land use, some biology and zoology aspects.

The pond system has been there since 2005 and is part of a farm-water filtration system, which includes a pipe that connects to the St. John’s River. DeCresie takes care of the 117 acres of swampland in the zoo.

DeCresie gave the students a lesson on how to identify the wide variety of vegetation they would be picking, such asphasey bean, dog fennel and bidens alba.

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