Polk Central fifth graders participated in the RootED program during the 2021-22 school year, studying Laughter Pond and considering the ways it could be improved.

Students learned about aquatic ecosystems and the producers (plants and plant-like organisms) in a pond ecosystem, and made recommendations for the plants that need to be removed and the plants that would add value to the ecosystem.

The group was assisted by RootED coach Lance Bledscoe, Conserving Carolina Southeast Stewardship Manager Pam Torlina, Conserving Carolina Natural Resources Manager David Lee, Polk County Recreation Coordinator Laura Baird and Quible WNC Office Manager Joel Lenk.

The RootED program, a community of educators, students, coaches, and partners working together to solve local and regional challenges, helped teachers Jeanne Ferran and Stephanie Luedi (Polk County Middle School) Karen Rhodes (Polk County Early College), and Andrea Walter (Polk Central Elementary School) prepare their students for tomorrow by engaging them in solving the challenges of today, right in their backyard. 

Here are the recommendations of the winning fifth grade class: 

We are Polk Central Fifth Graders, and we want to help our community by fixing Laughter Pond. We are doing this project because it will make the pond a healthier and more beautiful ecosystem. We are proposing to remove invasive plants and replace them with native plants.

The reason we want to remove invasive plants is that they are choking out the trees and stealing sunlight. For example, English ivy is weighing down the trees and causing them to fall over in storms, and wisteria wraps around the branches and stops them from growing. Invasive plants spread quickly and prevent native plant growth. For instance, kudzu can grow one foot a day, which is up to 60 feet per season!  

We propose to plant native plants where we remove invasive plants and in the open areas. Native plants (Joe Pye weed, Colorado blue columbine and native chrysanthemum) attract butterflies and their larvae. Butterfly larvae are an excellent source of food for baby birds. Oak, crabapple, and ironwood trees increase oxygen levels and provide shelter for birds and other organisms. /Alder, silky dogwood and arrowwood viburnum would hold up the banks of the pond to reduce erosion and provide excellent habitat. Grasses and small plants, like violets and goldenrod, attract local herbivores, including rabbits, box turtles and grasshoppers. Native plants also attract native pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and moths./ To protect the plants along the edge of the pond, we recommend adding more docks and walkways which will also decrease erosion by keeping people from walking on the banks of the pond. Furthermore, animals and plants can live under the docks so they can hide from predators, lay eggs and stay cool in the shade of the docks. 

We need native plants at Laughter Pond to make the ecosystem a better place for the organisms that live there and the people who want to fish, birdwatch, picnic, and go on field trips. Thank you for reading about our research. Please contact us if you have any questions. 

Polk Central Elementary School, 5th grade science class (Green Group) 

Recommended native plantsReasons why
Water mintCleans the water, provides sturdy bird habitat
Arrowwood viburnumAttracts birds and pollinators
Oak tree (genus quercus)Its acorns provide food and the trees provide shelter
Serviceberry (amelanchier)Wildlife eats the berries and provide shade for animals and other plants 
IronwoodHas deep and shallow roots to prevent erosion
Carolina willowProvides excellent habitat in its branches and  leaves
CinquefoilImportant for bird nest and  habitat
Geranium Good for pollinators
Silky dogwoodThe flowers benefit native pollinators and the fruit is attractive to birds
Joe Pye weedProvides nectar for butterflies, moths and other pollinators
Colorado blue columbineBright color attracts butterflies, other insects and hummingbirds
Invasive/Nonnative plants to remove (at least 5)Reasons why
Multiflora roseForms dense thickets that crowd out native species
Japanese HoneysuckleOutcompetes other plants for water, sunlight and other needs
WintercreeperCan grow 2 feet per day
English ivyChokes out trees
Burning bushSpreads seeds very fast
Chinese SilvergrassExtremely flammable and spreads easily
KudzuStrangles plants and grows up to one foot per day
WisteriaChokes out the trees and spreads quickly
PrivetDisplaces native vegetation