A quick video on how to harvest twigs (like boxelder, lilac, white ash) to make parachutists. And a brief side trip to check the trail camera for flying squirrels.

Activity #2: Making Twiggie Parachutists

Skip the background info and go right to the video tutorial. And you can find more How To videos on our YouTube channel.

Twigs have a surprising amount of personality, and I’ve always got my eyes out for a Twiggie. For this activity, you’ll be out on the prowl looking for an opposite branched tree or shrub for your Twiggie Parachutist. Once you’ve found one, cut a section along the red dotted lines as in the diagram below. Flip the section of twig upside down and the paired branches can now act as arms that hold the “parachute” (a grocery bag) in place. A stout twig with some heft to it will pull on the parachute enough to inflate it as it falls gracefully to the ground. And that’s pretty much all there is to making a Twiggie Parachutist.

Steps

  • Collect an opposite branched twig (“Do the opposite of what your MA says”)
  • Cut the handles off of the grocery bag
  • Put 4 or 8 pieces of duct tape evenly spaced on the margins of the bag
  • Punch holes through the tape
  • Loop string through the holes so that each loop hangs down ~10-12″ below bag (make dogbane cordage for extra credit)
  • Put the loops around (or tie them to) the arm pits of the parachutist
  • Drop your Twiggie Parachutist from up high!

And that’s it. The video will give a clear sense of the process. Enjoy!

 

Launch Time

 

We’ve been making parachutists at Crow’s Path with kids from the very beginning. It’s hard to tell because it so seamlessly blends in, but mentor-without-borders, Sam Hubert, used Twiggie Parachutist special effects for his 2015 movie starring Gus & Toby. Enjoy!

Mentor-without-borders, Sam Hubert, in his directorial debut. “Gus & Toby Parachuters” circa 2015.

A note on twigs

Here in Vermont, we’ve got 70+ species of trees that we choose from to make our Twiggie Parachutist, and as a naturalist I always like to know what materials I’m using. Beginning to ID what tree your twig came from can be tricky, at least until you know what to look for. An introduction to tree identification would first teach you to split out the dozen or so conifers from the larger group of broad-leaf trees. Easy peasy.

To sort the broad-leaf trees, we can look at phyllotaxy, the arrangement of leaves and twigs on the branches, which gives us 2 smaller categories (see image above): those with opposite branching and those with alternate branching (there’s a third, uncommon group of oddballs, like buttonbush and catalpa, with whorled branches, where 3+ branches come emerge at each node).We’ve only got about 15 or so species of trees with opposite branches, so this makes it much easier to identify a tree with opposite branches. Just remember:

“Do the opposite of what your MA tells you”

(MA = Maples and Ash)

That works for trees, but if we’re looking at the common trees and shrubs of our region, you can always imagine a “MAD Capped Bucking Horse” (as in the image above)

  • Maple, Ash, Dogwood
  • Caprifoliacae (the family of plants that includes elderberries, honeysuckles, and viburnums)
  • Buckthorns & Buckeyes
  • Horsechestnut

And interestingly, ash are part of the olive family, Oleaceae, which also includes our ornamental lilacs and forsythia, both of which have opposite branches. Note too that buckthorns can have sub-opposite or sometimes alternate branches.

A Gallery of Phyllotaxy

Opposite branching in common buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica

Alternate branching in poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans

Whorled branching in button bush, Cephalanthus occidentalis

More on the topic

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