Paperwhite Pinwheels and the Joy of Winter Plants

The Friday before the winter break can be a nightmare for teachers and parents alike. The anticipation of the holiday makes children restless and the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations can be stressors for all. These were the thoughts I had prior to gathering the Dirt Girls for their weekly garden session on Friday afternoon before winter break. I wondered how I would keep them engaged. I found the answer in paperwhites!

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Forcing paperwhites indoors provides fragrant winter greenery.

Each year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I notice paperwhites blooming in a hard to cultivate area between my driveway and my neighbor’s driveway. I typically notice the smell before I notice the diminutive flowers.

Like all bulbs, paperwhites form underground “buds” from which new plants grow. Unlike plants that make seeds (called sexual reproduction), bulbs produce a modified stem that can be separated and replanted (asexual reproduction). I dug up and divided my paperwhites after they bloomed last year and had been storing them in a cool dry place since then. I remembered paperwhites can be be forced indoors, so that became my lesson that Friday afternoon.

I cut about a dozen flowering stems and gave each girl one to observe. They discussed with a partner using the “I notice, I wonder, It reminds me of” routine. They shared insightful sensory observations and made connections to other plants they knew, such as orchids and, appropriately, daffodils.

I told them the Latin (also Spanish) word, Narcissus and showed them a bulb, asking them to ponder whether the bulb was a root or a stem. They then danced around like paperwhite fairies, using their stem as a pinwheel wand. Did I mention it was also pajama day at school, when kids get to watch Polar Express while sipping hot chocolate?

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Paperwhite Princesses with pretend “wands.”

After I regained their attention, I had them dedicate a holiday card and then invited them one-by-one to plant two cups with bulbs in pebbles, as is the habit for gardeners wishing to “force” blooming indoors.  The girls took home their paperwhite bulbs–one to gift and one to watch over the long winter break.

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