Are earthworms poisonous?
The students at Jellick Elementary School had a valid concern before digging into the rich earth at the Rowland Heights campus April 22.
Lucky for them worms aren't dangerous - an acre of ground might contain up to a million of them.
In fact, horticulturists note that the little creatures help aerate the soil to let plants get more water and air. They tunnel deep into the subsoil, mixing it with the topsoil above.
Several earthworms made an appearance as the students reached into the dirt. They became objects of interest as the students studied the creatures with no legs or arms.
Fortunately, these seemed to be humble American earthworms. The Australian Gippsland Earthworm grows up to 12 feet long and can weigh more than a pound. No worry, mate!
While worms don't have eyes, they can sense light, especially at the front end. Worms move away from light because if exposed too long, they become paralyzed.
So after everyone got a good look, the cold-blooded creatures were carefully returned to their underground homes.
"We thought this would be a great way to celebrate Earth Day," said Principal Helene Zimmerman, as she wiped some dirt off her hands.
"We couldn't have done it without the generosity of Lanter Landscaping Service," the gregarious gardener said.
Owner Jesse Lanter said he was glad to help, having grown up in Hacienda Heights.
"When many of the students couldn't afford $2 for a plant, I decided to go ahead and provide one for each kid," Lanter said.
The landscaper had a busy morning supervising the installation of nearly 500 new plants. Every student from kindergarten to the sixth-grade got a chance to get their hands dirty.
Some of the plants populated the new reading garden, others spruced up the front walk. The youngest students naturally got the close-in areas, while the sixth-graders hiked to the hinterlands to plant their namesakes.
Each plant sported a plastic ID with a student's name on it. Call it Adopt-A-Plant Day.
Nancy Buck's sixth-grade class trekked to the back fence edging the athletic field.
Soon they were on their hands and knees prepping the phontina.
The kids carefully inserted the garden trowels. While they knew earthworms can replace a lost segment it all depends on where it is cut. For example, it's easy for a worm to replace a lost tail, but almost impossible to replicate a lost head.
Alicia Vle, 11, said it was easy to bury her plant because Lanter's crew of six had spent the previous day digging holes for everyone.
"It's a good way to spend Earth Day," noted 12-year-old classmate Keyla Pena.
Ubaldo Martinez agreed. The 11-year-old was looking forward to seeing his plant grow.
Buck said her class was very interested in ecology. They are studying ways to recycle materials to help the planet.
"We'll use the plants as part of our science curriculum," Buck said.
The students' enthusiasm caught the landscapers off guard.
"I was really surprised how excited they were about planting something," said Junior Banuelos. "Everybody really wanted to help."
As the gardeners watered the new landscaping, the students returned to their classrooms, confident their new friends the earthworms would tend to the tiny plants.