School greenhouse raises, donates cypress trees for coastal rehabilitation efforts
Science teacher Mary Hoffmann stands amidst the cypress trees she and students have readied for planting along Louisiana’s coast.
Mary Hoffmann has been a science teacher at Hahnville High School for the past nine years. During her time at the school, she has taken on an intense environmental science curriculum and is the local 4-H sponsor.
In 2012, Hoffmann decided to add more of a practical element to her teaching after she received a grant from Entergy to build a greenhouse on Hahnville’s campus. Shortly thereafter, Hoffmann and her students began growing cypress trees that would be planted in problem areas on Louisiana’s coastline in an attempt to prevent erosion and even build land mass.
Hoffmann said she has used the problems on Louisiana’s coast and the promise planting cypress trees represents in her coursework.
“The plants have an unusual root system. The roots are called cypress knees and they trap and hold sediment that allow the land to build up,” she said. “That is something I take to my classes and they go and look at the cypress trees and I explain to them what their function is in the environment.”
Not only is Hahnville’s greenhouse used as a tool to teach children about ecology, it is also teaching them responsibility for the environment.
“We need help to save our coastline. There is a need and you can help. A lot of people talk, but don’t do anything. I am trying to teach these kids to do something. Don’t wait around, just do something yourself,” Hoffmann said. “A lot of them have been interested in what I have been saying and teaching. They listen and take action and do something. I’ve had a couple of kids who have gone into environmental research and that makes me feel good.”
The entire idea behind the greenhouse has been to grow the cypress trees and eventually have them planted in strategic areas around the coast. To help fund that effort, Hoffmann and her students also grow other plants which they sell in order to pay for equipment needed to grow the cypress trees.
“I sell ornamental and others trees so I can buy seed, dirt and pots to keep the greenhouse running. The 4-H club assists me once a month maintaining the greenhouse and the plants as well,” she said.
After more than two years tending to the growth of around 200 cypress saplings, Hoffmann has partnered up with Nicholls State University to plant the saplings, a partnership she has been waiting on since the greenhouse’s inception.
“I am going to be planting them a lot more now that I have someone who is going to take them when they get to a certain size,” she said.
The tallest cypress trees are around four feet tall and three years old now. Those trees Hoffmann received from 4-H, the others, which are about two years old, she incubated from seeds.
Although Hoffmann admits finding a permanent home for the school’s first 200 trees is a small step, it is still a beginning. She hopes her next crop will yield 10 times that number.
“I’ve got maybe 2,000 seeds and I’m going to plant all of them. I’ve got room in the greenhouse,” she said.
Beyond producing more trees at Hahnville’s greenhouse, Hoffmann is also looking to spread the practice to lower grade levels in order to prepare them for when they are older.
“I want to get the kids started maybe at the lower elementary level,” she said. “We need to get kids to start somewhere, so maybe each school can do 100 trees a year and that will add up. Maybe other parishes will get together also to make a change and make a difference.”
After all, Hoffmann said the younger gentian will inherit the coastal problems the state is facing and should be engaged in potential remedies, such as coastal tree planting.
“The kids do a lot of research on the current issues of what is occurring. We use the computers to research what is going on today–not what happened five years ago,” she said. “I tell them if you can do something, you better do something now or Alexandria is going to be the Gulf Coast. That might be a little extreme, but it gets the point across.”
Hoffmann is seeking help from the community through the donation of materials such as plastic pots and dirt.
If you would like to assist with Hahnville’s greenhouse project, Hoffmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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