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Plant Classification

In this activity, students will become botanists, observing the plants around them. 

This activity aims to increase students’ observational skills, and to help them notice subtleties, but there is no focus on evaluating whether a student has achieved this. Rather, the goal to let them explore and develop their observational skills. The ability to observe patterns within nature is a great skill.

Plants come in all different shapes and sizes. Botanists use descriptions and drawings of plant parts as one of the main ways to identify a plant.

By grouping plants with similar characteristics, evolutionary trends can be observed, and we can learn more about common plants. One example is the observation that most, but not all, plants produce flowers. This would suggest that flowers are a successful trait to have. For example, if we know that blackberries, salmon berries and raspberries have similar growth, leaves, flowers, and fruit, and know that they are very closely related, we can deduce that the berries from that group are edible.

Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, had a great love and passion for collecting and studying plants. Through his observations, he created a classification of living things called the Systema Natura. For classifying plants, he grouped them by similarities in the number of reproductive parts. Although this is not the same system used now, it has led to our current taxonomy system of living organisms and expanded our understanding of nature.

Objectives

  • Identify some examples of local plants and some of their uses.

  • Increase their observational skills of natural objects.

Materials

  • Per Class:
    20-30 cuttings of local plants

  • Per Student:
    2 sheets of paper
    1 pencil

Key Questions

  • How did you group your plants?
  • How did others group their plants?

What To Do

Preparation

  1. Take cuttings from plants nearby, or find parts of plants on the ground.  These parts can be just a leaf, different sized leaves, a full branch, bark, a flower, a cone, or any combination. Pick a variety of plants.
  2. Cut only a small part of an entire plant to ensure that you do not harm it or kill it.
  3. Set all cuttings on a table for display.

Instructions

  1. Have students observe the plant parts. Give them time to look at all the plant parts. Notice common parts or shapes, and different parts or shapes.
  2. Have students draw three things they noticed that were common.
  3. Have them draw three things they noticed that were different.
  4. Discuss together what you drew and how you grouped the living things.

Extensions

  • Go on a scavenger hunt for general things to find in nature. For example, find a flower with five petals, find a cone, find a long, skinny leaf, etc.