Plant reproduction can be as sensitive a topic as human reproduction.
This was made clear to me years ago at the, then, L.A. Garden Show when a gentleman disapproved of me displaying the book, Sex in Your Garden. He shook his head, made the “tisk, tisk, tisk” sounds and told me I shouldn’t have this book out on display. It was the word “sex” in the title that prompted his reaction. If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is a light-hearted and very anthropomorphic look at how plants attract pollinators. It contains text and images drawing similarities between how plants and humans call attention to themselves.
Even though it has been years, I always think of this gentleman when talking about flowers, fruit and reproduction. It is easy to talk about sperm, eggs, ovules and seeds when speaking with adults (although I usually have to give them a few moments to digest the fact that there are ovaries in their fruit bowl).
It is talking about plant reproduction with young audiences that always gets me thinking. What is saying too much?
If you’ve ever felt compelled to launch into an explanation of double fertilization while dissecting flowers with kids (even though you know you shouldn’t), here are some resources that may stop you from going over the cliff.
In How Do Apples Grow?, author Betsy Maestro and illustrator Guilio Maestro provide a comprehensive look at how buds on an apple tree develop, how the buds bloom and how flowers attract bees. They discuss flower anatomy, fruit development and explain what we’re eating when we eat an apple. They explain how apple trees make their own food and close their story where they began it — with flower buds on a bare apple tree. This life cycle book for botanists ages 5-9 addresses some big topics. Here is a list of vocabulary terms and concepts explained in this book:
- leaf buds
- flower buds
- pollen grains with male cells
- ovary with female cells
- pollen tube germination
- fruit development
- seeds as fertilized female cells
- apple varieties
Maestro also touches upon seed dispersal and decomposition. The supporting watercolor illustrations by Guilio Maestro are colorful, labeled clearly and are easy to understand. Together Maestro and Maestro do a nice job of making flower development, pollination and fruit development very observable processes.
Just as Maestro makes fruit development observable, Helene J. Jordan brings seed germination and development out into the open in How a Seed Grows. The seed growing activity in her book enables students to see how seeds change beneath the soil and how seedlings grow above ground without investing in those growing chambers with the glass sides. Jordan’s clear instructions are supported by the informative gouache and colored pencil paintings by illustrator Loretta Krupinski. While Jordan’s book was written for children ages 4-8, the seed-growing exercise is appropriate for older children. It helps explain how seeds become plants and brings the life cycle of plants full circle. Plus it really lends itself to exercises related to botanical illustration.
Here is a list of vocabulary terms and concepts introduced in
How a Seed Grows:
- watering for growth
- writing numbers for identification
- seed germination
Jordan also includes directions to an experiment children can do to investigate the resources plants need to grow.
We can’t talk about seeds, flowers, pollinators and fruit development without showing how all these things are related. A great book that ties up all the loose ends is The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller. She introduces young readers to pollinators they might not normally consider and introduces them to wind pollination too. In her colorful 48-page book, she also introduces readers to seed pods, seed dispersal, herbivores, carnivorous plants, parasitic plants, angiosperms and familiar products derived from plants.
If you ever find yourself wondering “how much is too much?” when preparing an activity for young audiences, browse through children’s books about plants to get ideas about how to teach less, better.
Heller, Ruth. 1999. The Reason for a Flower. New York: Penguin Putnam.
Jordan, Helen J. 1992. How a Seed Grows. New York: HarperCollins.
Maestro, Betsy. 1992. How Do Apples Grow?. New York: HarperCollins.