By: Kate Luce
The IU South Bend Botany Club “tapped” into their knowledge of maple trees when they headed east to Bendix Woods for a tour of the park’s maple syrup production on March 5.
The club took to the park to learn about tree biology, maple tree tapping and the shining star of the park, maple syrup.
Late winter and early spring are the peak season for maple syrup production. With nights below freezing and daytimes above freezing, the sap is ideal for production. It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
As of now, the park has been able to produce 13 gallons of syrup this season. Many more gallons are expected to be made, as the park typically produces over 100 gallons of syrup each season.
Dr. Vic Riemenschneider, an emeritus professor at IU South Bend, is an active member in the Sugar Days Camp at Bendix Woods and has been for the past 20 years.
“Dr. Riemenschneider will lead the tour and will teach us about the biology of maple trees – how and why they start moving sap up through their trunks in late winter – and about the processes of collecting maple sap and turning it into maple syrup. Among other things, he will show us how to tap a maple tree and how to measure the sugar content of the sap,” Dr. Andrew Schnabel, professor of biological sciences and club advisor, said.
This is the first time the Botany Club toured Bendix Woods. The club toured the entire Sugar Bush and Sugar House, identified maple trees and tapped into the trees to harvest the sap.
“I thought it was very, very educational,” Hannah Shank, biology student, said.
“Not only was this an educational experience, but it gave a good look at how complex maple syrup making is. I always knew that there was a lot of sap that you have to boil down, but I didn’t know how finicky it is, how bacteria can get in it and make everything bad. It is very interesting,” Sara McMahon, biology student, said.
“The main thing I took away from this event is that there are a lot of jobs that have a rustic feel to them, where you can do modern-day biology with them” Brandon Bentley, biology student, said.
This event gained interest throughout IU South Bend. About a dozen students and faculty were in attendance, due to limited spaces and COVID-19 precautions.
“The Botany Club members were enthusiastic about putting this event on our schedule. A few other students have also expressed interest,” Schnabel said.
The club established itself in the spring of 2020, but ultimately, it was put on hold due to the pandemic. However, things are moving forward this semester.
“We are ramping up for more events this spring, as rates of infection go down, levels of vaccination go up and warmer weather allows for more time outdoors,” Schnabel said.
The Botany Club has many future events coming to campus. They plan on growing vegetables and wildflowers in the greenhouse atop Northside and distribute them to students, staff and faculty in May.
The club will attend a wildflower walk at Bendix Woods with Dr. Deborah Marr, professor of biological sciences and director of Sustainability Studies, on April 16. Marr will lead this walk.
Earth Day is coming up just around the corner and the Botany Club will attend any events campus may hold.
In partnership with South Bend Venue Parks and Arts, the club is growing native plants to be transplanted to Howard Park’s bioswales.
Their Bendix Woods trip filled up quickly, but Schnabel recommends heading over to the park to see many sights the park has to offer in the upcoming months.
“If you have never been to Bendix Woods, you should make it a priority to visit in April. It has one of the most beautiful spring wildflower displays in all of northern Indiana – a real gem! It also has a lovely mature beech-maple forest, good hiking trails, and several pleasant picnic areas, and it’s fun to walk through the pine grove that spells out STUDEBAKER and try to figure out which letter you are walking under,” Schnabel said.
Budding botanists interested in getting their green thumb on can send Schnabel an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to join and get the latest updates on the club.