Enjoy Cherry Blossoms and More Natural History Programs this March

Enjoy environmental film screenings, gain an appreciation for spiders and more this month at the National Museum of Natural History

Pink flowers bloom in front of a brick castle building across a field of green grass.
Saucer magnolias bloom outside of Smithsonian Castle in March 2020. Smithsonian Institution

As spring arrives in Washington this March, the National Museum of Natural History is gearing up for an exciting set of educational events. From moths and penguins to family-themed ocean trivia, there is something for everyone at the museum this month. 

Hear from a Paleoanthropologist About What Life was like for the First Humans  
March 14, 11:30 a.m. ET 

Amy Rector and her colleagues search for hominin teeth fossils in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Virginia Commonwealth University

What was the world like when early humans inhabited it? Although anthropologists have a pretty good idea of when and where different species of early humans lived, exactly what ancient environments were like is still being investigated.  

But thanks to the work of scientists like Amy Rector, a paleoanthropologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, we are closer than ever to understanding how these first humans lived and what plants and animals they lived alongside. Rector has spent more than 20 years investigating the places early humans lived in Africa. She reconstructs paleoecological contexts for early human evolution in eastern, central, and southern Africa, and her work has taken her to field sites in South Africa, Ethiopia, Zambia and Morocco. She studies the fossils of mammals such as hippos, monkeys and antelopes to better understand the ancient environments where early humans lived.  

To learn more about Rector’s research, tune in to this online event on March 14. This presentation, which is part of the museum’s monthly Human Origins Today (HOT) series, will be moderated by museum paleoanthropologist and educator Briana Pobiner.  

Learn about the Ocean with a Wave of Blue Programs this Month  
Science on a Sphere: March 7, March 20, March 28  
Coral Reef Tank Talk: March 6, 13, 21, 27  
Ocean Explorer Theater Spotlight: March 8, March 22  

Visit Sant Ocean Hall this month for a vast array of ocean-related programming. Smithsonian Institution

Join NMNH Ocean Educators in the museum’s Sant Ocean Hall this month to learn all about marine science. Start by attending a Science on a Sphere interactive display, where sea turtle migration, climate change and ship tracking all come to life thanks to NOAA visualization technology.  

Then, stop by for an Ocean Topics Cart Chat to learn from a Smithsonian Ocean Educator about the latest discoveries in marine science. Museum visitors can also join in for one of the weekly Coral Reef Tank Talks to learn about the wide variety of tropical species displayed at the NMNH, including saltwater fish, coral colonies, and invertebrates.  

Top off your ocean-filled month with an Ocean Explorer Theater Spotlight, featuring a deeper dive into ocean topics like animal adaptations, behavior, biodiversity or ecology. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ocean show.  

Celebrate Save-a-Spider Day with Museum Scientists  
March 9, 10 a.m. ET and March 14, 10:30 a.m. ET  

A black and yellow garden spider weaves its web in Washington, D.C. BethGuay, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There are almost endless fun facts about spiders — many spiders have eight eyes, their silk can be stronger than steel, and there are over 30,000 species of spider currently known, to name just a few. But given their fear-inducing appearance, spiders are not always fully appreciated. National Save a Spider Day was invented to bring recognition to these undervalued arthropods that plays a significant role in both the environment and in our day-to-day lives.  

At the Smithsonian, spider enthusiasts can celebrate Save a Spider Day early by joining in for hands-on observations of spider specimens and tarantula feedings to learn about spider diversity. Participants will hear about scientists doing research to learn more about spiders and will even get the chance to create their own postcards loaded up with spider facts thanks to the help of guests from the National Postal Museum.  

Visitors can scuttle over to Q?rius, The Coralyn W. Whitney Science Education Center to get your fill of spider fun.  

Join in for Screenings of the DC Environmental Film Festival  
March 21, 22, 29 at 7:00 p.m. ET  

The museum is hosting three film screenings as part of the 32nd annual DC Environmental Film Festival. The festival aims to inform and inspire people about the environment through the power of film, and will take place between March 21 and 30.  

Watch Stunning Antarctic Footage in U.S. Premiere of “Antarctica Calling”  
March 21, 7:00 p.m. ET  

The film “Antarctica Calling” showcases a beautiful, desolate scene. Luc Jacquet, “Antarctica Calling”

After spending 30 years experiencing Antarctica’s spellbinding environment, award-winning documentary director Luc Jacquet thinks he might be addicted. In his 2005 documentary “March of the Penguins,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary, Jacquet captured the hypnotic isolation of this region. Now, he is back for more in his newest documentary, “Antarctica Calling.” This new black-and-white film is visually striking and offers a raw view of life on the ice. 

Stop by the museum’s historic Baird Auditorium for the U.S. premiere of the documentary on March 21, followed by a conversation with director Luc Jacquet. This program is presented with the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital as part of the 2024 Festival. 

Attend Screening of “The Night Visitors” to Understand the Hidden World of Moths  
March 22, 7:00 p.m. ET

The Polyphemus moth is widespread across the United States and has an average wingspan of six inches. Michael Gitlin, “The Night Visitors”

For moths, often known as the butterfly’s more drab cousins, it is finally time to bask in the spotlight. The 2023 film, “The Night Visitors,” showcases the unsung beauty of these diverse and mysterious creatures.  

Viewers may be surprised to learn that there are over 160,000 species of moths in the world, 11,000 of which can be found in the U.S. alone. With their fascinating life histories, staggering biodiversity, and functional importance as indicators of climate change and habitat degradation, moths make captivating protagonists in this documentary.  

For anyone interested in learning more about moths, join in for a screening of “The Night Visitors,” winner of the 2024 DC Environmental Film Festival Flo Stone and Roger D. Stone Award for Outstanding Artistry in Filmmaking. Hang around in Baird Auditorium on March 22 for a conversation with the film’s director, Michael Gitlin, directly following the screening.  

Learn About Sustainable Agriculture and Food Justice in “Farming While Black”  
March 29, 7:00 p.m. ET  

Leah Penniman, the protagonist in “Farming While Black,” is a farmer and sustainable agriculture advocate who emphasizes the importance of African heritage in farming. Mark Decena, “Farming While Black”

Today, Black farmers make up less than two percent of all farmers, but that has not always been the case. In 1910, Black farmers owned 14 percent of all American farmland. The film “Farming While Black” examines the racism, discrimination, and dispossession behind this decrease in Black representation among farmers.  

The vibrant and informative film captures the work of Leah Penniman and two other Black farmers on Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York. Viewers who join in on March 29 in Baird Auditorium will learn about historical farming challenges, sustainable agriculture and food justice movements. For those who are eager to hear more, stay after the screening to talk with subject and author Leah Penniman and director Mark Decena.  

Check out the Cherry Blossoms of the Smithsonian Gardens  
March 23-26  

Weeping cherry blossoms and saucer magnolias that are part of the Smithsonian Gardens’s tree collection. Smithsonian Institution

As the weather warms in March, everyone knows that cherry blossom season is fast approaching.  

This year, the cherry blossom peak bloom is expected to occur between March 23 and March 26. While cherry blossoms draw the biggest crowds, other flowering plants such as the saucer magnolias will enjoy the early spring sunshine too.  

Be sure to take a stroll through the Smithsonian gardens before popping inside NMNH to learn more about cherry blossoms and plants — both local and foreign — curated by the botany department.  

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