My Favourite Plant
adapted from The Peatlands Pack
To encourage children to explore the detail of an individual plant, and compare the variety of structure and form within a species as well as between species. This activity encourages both attention to detail and an understanding of the bigger picture, looking at the place of individual species within the landscape.
This activity can be done either in the school grounds (even a small area of mown grass will reveal a range of species) or on a site visit. You do not need to know the names of plants to do this, but extending this activity allows you to explore the language of naming species.
Did you know?
The botanical or scientific names of plants and animals are derived from past languages, including Latin, Greek and native ancient languages. This is because common names are often misleading and vary in different areas of the country and the world. For example, a bluebell in Scotland is usually called a harebell in England. Sloe and blackthorn are the same plant (Prunus spinosa). What Americans call a ‘robin’ is a different species from our ‘robin’! Finally, not all creatures have a common name.
Thus scientific names are used to avoid confusion. These are unique throughout Britain and the rest of the World.
Carl Linnaeus, an 18th century naturalist, devised the scientific system that we use today, where he classified plants by giving them two names, the first name being the genus and the second the specific name. Put together they provide a name that only that species can be known by.
Before the activity
Create handout sheets in the following format or adapt the template from ‘My favourite plant’ activity in The Peatlands pack (see downloads);
Children may find a hand lens useful for the close-up section. Provide digital camera(s) if the photography rather than drawing option is taken.
Write title on sheet: My favourite plant
Instruction: Choose a plant and take a look
Divide each sheet into 4 boxes, each box titled:
- My plant in the landscape
- My plant and its neighbours
- My plant close-up
- One leaf of my plant
Give the children time to explore and examine the different plants in the habitat they are studying. Give each child a sheet to complete. This could either be completed by drawing the relevant image, or using digital cameras, to complete each of the 4 sections. Either way, each child collects a personal record. Can each child then find a partner in the group that has chosen the same plant? Encourage the children to compare their images and discuss the variety found within one species eg petal colour, leaf shape, height variation. How many different plants (species) were drawn? This is a measure of the biodiversity of the habitat sampled. Is the variation within species less than between species?
The number of species found could be recorded graphically.
This can lead to an exploration of how and why species are named. First, either singly or in groups of children who have studied the same plant, look at the features of your chosen plant. Make up your own or collective descriptive name for it eg ‘hairy leaved dragon head’ for example, combining imagination with an eye for detail. Now using a plant key, see if you can find its real name. Is this as descriptive as the made-up name? Discuss how the plant’s unique Latin name will allow scientists to share a common language for naming things.
This activity could be replicated in different habitats, to give an understanding that some habitats are more species rich than others.
Use it as an activity to discuss the current biodiversity of your chosen area eg school grounds, and ways this could be improved. This could be as simple as ensuring some areas of grass are mown less frequently to allow a wider variety of species to flourish.
SNH Education and Teachers Resources series:
Schools Out - Fieldwork made easy: Peatlands
The Peatlands pack provides topic-based activity sheets for fieldwork on peatlands. The pack also provides guidelines to assist teachers (or other leaders) in planning school excursions for fieldwork activities in the countryside