A Natural Park
NOPE, you won’t find slides and swings at the Children of Indiana Nature Park (Park), but you WILL find trees, insects, signs of critters, and life around every corner. This land was deeded to all of the children in Indiana because we think YOU ARE IMPORTANT and because PROTECTING NATURE MATTERS! As you explore the land, you will learn about ways we are changing the property to make your land as healthy as possible!
My Spot Now
Depending where your deed is located, your spot may be in a hay pasture or your spot may be in a wooded area. The Park is mostly flat with a ravine running north-south through the center of the Park. The eastern part of the Park is largely an old white pine plantation where the trees were harvested for building materials. The western part of the Park is a hay pasture that is bordered on the east by hardwood forest that generally follows the ravine. There are mowed trails throughout the property for people to walk. In time, this area will be restored to its natural state as it was before the hay pastures and the pine plantation.
Making the Park Healthier
In the future, the Children of Indiana Nature Park will look more like it should with native plants and animals, thanks to the great care that many children gave to the land, and all deeds to the Park will be located in hardwood forest habitat. The Park will be a native hardwood forest with a diverse understory of native plants, and will reflect the natural features of the Central Tillplain region. The Park will look as settlers may have found the land in the area in the mid 1800's. A new trail system will also allow easy access throughout the Park.
Caring for My Land
What people do on the land affects the plants and animals that live there - sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good. People who care for the land and the creatures that live on the land are called conservationists. At the Children of Indiana Nature Park, we are planning conservation activities that will maximize the number of native plants and animals that call the Park “home.”
So many amazing animals!
Many different mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects call the Children of Indiana Nature Park home. Let’s explore what can be found in the area and what makes these critters unique. We’ll periodically rotate this list so there will always be someone new to learn about!
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
The brown mamorated stink bug is also known simply as a “stink bug.” This insect is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan. It was accidentally brought to the United States (probably through shipping material) and is now considered to be a pest to agriculture attacking orchards among other agriculture areas. They start feeding as early as May and June. Adult stink bugs are around half an inch long and half an inch wide. The bugs have a shield shaped body and are varied shades of brown.
The brown mamorated stink bug can be differentiated from others in its family by the unique markings it has including the alternating light bands on the antennae as well as the dark alternating bands on the edge of their abdomen. The stink gland is found between the second and third legs. It is also this kind of stink bug that is most likely to invade homes compared to other species.
The Luna moth is one of the largest moths in North America with a wingspan of up to four and a half inches. The wings are light green in color with “tails” on their hindwings. When Luna moths first hatch from their cocoons, the wings are small. They pump body fluids into them to make them grow larger. As adults, the moth’s body is white with pinkish legs.
As caterpillars, Luna moths will feed on sweet gum trees, persimmon trees, and walnut trees among others. This moth can be found in eastern North America and can live up to seven days and though they only lay eggs once, there can be as many as 200 eggs produced. Luna moths reach adulthood from June to July.
These moths are sometimes referred to as “Giant Silkworm Moths.” Males and females are distinguishable by their antennae. Males have larger and bushier antennae than females. Like many moths, Luna moths are nocturnal and fly at night.
Found in most of the United States, barring the southwest, gray catbirds are sometimes referred to as slate-colored mockingbirds. They have a habit of singing when hidden by undergrowth and often sound like cats. They are able to make two sounds at the same time and mimics other animal sounds with one example being tree frogs.
Gray catbirds are gray all over and weigh around one once and are between eight and nine inches in length. Habitats include woodland edges and overgrown farmland with a preference for areas with thorny vegetation and gray catbirds avoid densely wooded areas and pine woods.
These birds are secretive and energetic. They can be seen hopping and fluttering around in trees and through areas of vegetation. Males will site at the top of small trees or shrubs and sing. Catbirds do not like flying over open areas, but rather prefer short, low flights over areas with vegetation.
Muskrats are semiaquatic rodents native to North America. They are found in wetlands that provide water between four and six feet in depth. This can mean muskrats live near ponds, lakes, and swamps. Their favorite habitat are marsh areas that have consistent water levels. The reason marshes are preferred is due the vegetation that grows there providing food and materials for building nests and burrows.
Muskrats usually eat vegetation because their digestive system is made to process greens, but they will sometimes eat other animals. Every day, these animals eat a third of their weight.
Between 16 and 28 inches in length, muskrats’ tails make up half their length. They weigh between one and four pounds with brown or black fur. This fur has two layers that help protect their bodies from cold water since muskrats spend most of their time in water. They are also able to close off their ears to keep out water when swimming. Muskrats can swim underwater for 12 to 17 minutes at a time.
Muskrats usually live in large family groups comprised of a male, a female, and their young. However, if it becomes too crowded the females are known to kick the young muskrats out of the group.
Let’s talk about plants!
The park is home to a variety of plants. Some belong here (they’re called native plants) and some do not (the ones that don't belong are called invasive plants). We’ll explore the native plants here and share a little about each one to help you learn about what grows on your land. We will periodically update this list so be sure to come back so you can become a native plant expert!
Native: Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
The wild black cherry tree is an easy plant to identify. The bark, which appears broken and similar to thick burnt cornflakes, is dark grey or black in color. The leaves of the tree are long and shiny and a smell similar to almonds is released when a young twig is scratched. Black cherry trees need lots of sunlight to grow and can be found in old fields with other sun-loving tree types. The fruit of the tree can be used for jam and pie making. However, the seeds should be removed before consuming as they contain poisonous cyanide. We also do not advocate eating any plants you encounter.
Native: Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii)
Sweet cicely is a native eastern North American herb. It is a perennial which means it will grow back year after year. It is also known as Clayton’s sweetroot and sometimes as hairy sweet cicely. The “hairy” part comes from the white hairs on the stem and often on the leaves. It has yellow-green leaves and small white flowers. When the stems are broken, it releases a smell similar to licorice. The seeds have barbs on them which allows them to attach themselves on clothing, fur, or feathers. These hitch-hiker seeds are carried often unknowingly and then are able to find their way to new areas in which they can grow.
Invasive: Japanese Barberry (berberis thunbergii)
Japanese Barberry is an invasive woody shrub that is native to Japan. It was introduced to the U.S. for use in landscaping. Japanese Barberry is used as a decorative plant because of its yellow spring flowers, bright leaf color changes in the fall, and the red berries it produces in the winter. Birds spread the seeds from those berries, and Japanese Barberry then takes over forests. This plant is able to alter the acid and nitrate levels in the soil to fit its needs. In addition to making the soil suitable for itself, Japanese Barberry is also a plant deer stay away from. This gives it a competitive advantage over native plants. For these reasons, please plant a native shrub instead of the Japanese Barberry.
Invasive: Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Japanese honeysuckle is an invasive woody vine which spreads by seeds, roots, and above ground runners. It damages forests because it takes resources such as light and space from native species and outcompetes them. It forms a dense ground cover that is hard to remove. As the name suggests, it is native to East Asia including Japan and Korea. It was introduced to the U.S. for use in landscaping and as food for wildlife. Japanese honeysuckle can be found everywhere in Indiana, but is the most prominent in the southern part of the state. When planning for a garden or landscape project it is important to avoid choosing invasive plants that outcompete our native species.
Stewards of the Land
On this page we feature stories about how people work to keep native habitats healthy and wild, by caring for our lands and waters. Below is a story about being good stewards to our streams and rivers.
Freshwater Mussels in Indiana
Did you know we have mussels right here in Indiana? Not all mussels live in salt water, some live in freshwater right here in our state! They are one of the best filtration systems and where you find mussels, you find clearn water and healthy ecosystems! Read about one Children of Indiana Nature Park team member's experience on their first freshwater mussel hunt!
Click here to read the rest of the story!