Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Plants really do receive less attention than animals.

This was determined in a study of attention “blinks” by Benjamin Balas and Jennifer L. Momsen. Experiments confirming this physiological component of plant blindness can be reviewed in Attention “Blinks” Differently for Plants and Animals.

Using an established research protocol in the study of visual cognition, Balas and Momsen investigated the ability of individuals to detect plant and animal images presented to them in rapid succession. The protocol they used is a measurement of “attentional blink” which they describe as a “phenomenon in visual perception in which detecting the first of two targets in a sequence of rapidly presented images compromises the ability to detect the second target for a short time” (Balas & Momsen, 2014). They go on to explain that this compromise occurs because the first image captures the visual attention of the viewer. Because it takes time for a viewer to disengage from the first image (and free up visual attention), subsequent images appearing too close to the first one tend to go unnoticed (Balas & Momsen, 2014). That is, “attention blinks” (Balas & Momsen, 2014).

Balas & Momsen (2014) recruited 24 psychology students to take part in this study. Half were asked to detect plant images and half were asked to detect animal images. Students were placed in a darkened room and viewed image sequences on a MacBook laptop computer. At the end of each sequence, participants were asked to respond to questions about what they observed. Specific details about the research procedure and statistical analyses used by Balas & Momsen (2014) are described in their paper.

Data collected by the authors indicate:

  • Attention is not captured by plants the same way it is captured by animals.
  • Participants are more likely to miss plant images.
  • Participants more often report seeing plant images when none were present in the image sequence.
  • Participants’ attention to plants is delayed, suggesting “attentional resources are deployed differently for plant targets” (Balas & Momsen, 2014).

These results demonstrate a measurable difference in how humans perceive plants and animals and suggest that plant blindness may be a result of delayed attention, instead of reduced attention (Balas & Momsen, 2014).

So what does this all mean for educators?

Because plant blindness has a physiological base, Balas and Momsen (2014) offer these suggestions to educators:

  • Explain to students that plant blindness exists.
  • Incorporate engaging active learning opportunities about plants into your lessons.
  • Integrate plants into life science lessons and stop treating botany as a separate subject.
  • Add auditory and visual learning components to your lessons. Do not rely only on text and images.

The article by Benjamin Balas and Jennifer L. Momsen is available for free through an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License. Click on the link below to download a PDF copy of this article.

Literature Cited

Balas, Benjamin and Jennifer L. Momsen. 2014. Attention “blinks” differently for plants and animals. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 13(3): 437-443. Retrieved from http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/3/437.full.pdf+html.

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WeirdWildWonderful The American Society of Botanical Artists, The Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California and The Huntington Botanical Gardens present

A Weird, Wild & Wonderful Symposium
July 23 – 26, 2015

in conjunction with the exclusive Southern California showing of

Weird, Wild & Wonderful

The Second New York Botanical Garden Triennial Exhibition of 46 captivating paintings and illustrations of exotic specimens by invited members of the American Society of Botanical Artists at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Garden in San Marino, California.

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Cutting edge research meets botanical art in a new exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The exhibition Inspiring Kew offers a historical perspective about how scientists at Kew have inspired artists. The exhibition features botanical paintings from the 17th century, as well as artwork by contemporary artists Rachel Pedder-Smith and Laurence Hill.

Many of you are familiar with the work of Rachel Pedder-Smith. Today I would like to introduce you to artist Laurence Hill.

Laurence Hill takes a systematic photographic approach to botanical art. Hill’s life-size presentation of the genus Fritillaria is not only beautiful to look at, it is a lesson in biodiversity. Titled Fritillaria: A Family Portrait, the composite image he created is composed of 80 Fritillaria and provides “insight into the biodiversity of life” (Hill, 2014). His digital photographic image stretches across 5 panels and is 10 meters long and 1.4 meters high (~33 ft. x 4.5 ft.). Specimens in the image are arranged according to the molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus as described by Peter D. Day, Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, and Laura J. Kelly (2014).

In the color booklet accompanying his exhibit, Hill describes his collaboration with Dr. Ilia Leitch and her research team at Jodrell Laboratory. He also presents a dendrogram explaining the taxonomic relationships between Fritillaria species and includes a replica of the 10 meter-long image now on view in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (the fold-out image is 1/10 the size of the original). This booklet can be purchased at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery for £2.50. It can also be purchased from Laurence Hill for £2.50 plus shipping (convert currency). Transactions will be processed through PayPal. To order the booklet from the artist, please contact Laurence Hill.

Laurence recently presented the first of two gallery talks about his work. His next gallery talk will be on November 5, 2014 at 2 pm. Seating is limited and reservations are required. To reserve a seat, please contact the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.

About Laurence Hill

Laurence Hill manages Fritillaria Icones, a searchable photographic database assisting with the identification, research and conservation of Fritillaria. This very informative database is an Open Access Web-based resource.

Laurence maintains a living collection of Fritillaria and has worked on Fritillaria Icones for many years. He graciously took the time to discuss his project and what educators will find at Fritillaria Icones.

Over several years I have been building a living collection which I systematically photograph and post online. This new dataset provides a supplement to other taxonomic resources, e-vouchers for published work and insight for many other botanical disciplines.

My living collection of Fritillaria, a genus of about 160 taxa, has over 700 accessions which are photographed at four stages through their annual cycle:

  • The bulb just after root growth has starts
  • The whole plant and a dissected flower at dehiscence of the anthers
  • The capsule just before seed dispersal showing it both whole and dissected
  • The seed just after germination

These images are dated, scale bars added and then formatted into PDF’s with accession details. Each PDF is put online with the URL incorporating the accession number and not the species name. This acts as a form of DOI or universal identifier so in the event of any taxonomic revision the image specimen set will continue to be associated with any reference.

These image sets can be used for species identification, delineation and classification but they also show:

  • Root structure
  • Period of growth
  • Photosynthesis period
  • Flowering point relative to other species
  • Mode and tempo of bulb renewal
  • Vegetative growth
  • Reproductive output
  • Seed type

Most herbarium specimens record a plant in flower and botanical illustrations prioritise the parts thought to be taxonomically important by the consensus of the day. I have chosen these four time points with Fritillaria to record a wide set of non-prioritised data. As photographs the information they carry is constantly open to re-interpretation. As a record of a botanical collection they have a phenotypic value and also service the interests of disciplines. Many of my accessions have been sampled for genetic research, both DNA sequencing and genome size, and these PDFs act as e-vouchers both for published work and online databases.

By combining images and textural information including synonyms and common names plus appropriate embedded metadata, the images on Fritillaria Icones have an enhanced visibility to internet search engines. Information, no matter how valuable, that lacks visibility will be underutilized.

My project is an example of how living collections in botanical gardens should be systematically recorded with photographic protocols established for genera or families. Databases need to move beyond random single images to embrace a more structured approach using horticulturists specifically trained to record the plants in their care. This would be an additional resource both to the taxonomic community but also to physiologist, genetics’ and non-traditional uses of taxonomic information.

These two PDF’s have the complete compliment of images.
Fritillaria amabilis
Fritillaria pontica

The information found in Laurence’s beautiful and informative database is available for educational use and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Literature Cited

    Day, Peter D. and Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, Laura J. Kelly. 2014. Evolutionary relationships in the medicinally important genus Fritillaria L. (Liliaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 80:11-19

    Hill, Laurence. 2014. Fritillaria: A Family Portrait.

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Plant projects can be overwhelming. I had a school plant project once that was, quite simply, a hassle. I did not think there was enough direction and many parents didn’t like it either.

Since then I have seen other people’s children struggle through plant projects. There must be a better way, I always think. I may have found a better plant project in the literature. What I like about it is that it encourages the exploration of different plant communities instead of requiring the collection of specific plant species. It also invites students to include a plant they find especially interesting.

Teacher Catherine Hibbitt writes about this plant project in
A Growth Opportunity. In her article, Hibbitt describes how her project is more than a traditional plant project and explains how her students also learn project management skills, learn how to conduct research, and learn about biodiversity, patterns in nature and ecology.

Hibbitt (1999) explains her project begins with students visiting a field site to record as many observations as they can. Students write and sketch about what they hear and see. After sharing observations with each other, students are led into the collection phase of the project during which they collect, study and describe tree leaves. Students also collect other plant types and eventually prepare herbarium specimens and present their collections to the class. The herbarium collections created at the beginning of the school year are used as a foundation for lessons in plant reproduction, plant behavior, plant chemistry, plant products, writing and natural science illustration (students create posters and postage stamps).

The instructions for this plant project can be found in Hibbitt (1999).
Get a copy of this paper at the NSTA Store for 99¢.

Example of an Ongoing Plant Project

Two years ago we learned about a plant project in the Chicago area dedicated to encouraging an interest in native plants. Scientific illustrator Kathleen Garness is completing the illustrations for this project. I am happy to pass along news about the plant guide she is helping to create.

Kathleen says the project team has updated the plant families’ page on the website of the Field Museum of Natural History. They added information about six plant families to the collection: the Cyperaceae, Iridaceae, Juncaceae, Poaceae, Polemoniaceae, and Violaceae, bringing the total up to twenty. The project team hopes to add five more families during the next year.

Botanists Linda Curtis (author of Woodland Sedges of Northeastern Illinois) and Morton Arboretum’s Andrew Hipp (author of Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedges) edited the Carex family page; Stephen Packard (founding director, Audubon Chicago Region) edited the Grasses page; Kay Yatskievych from the Missouri Botanic Garden edited the Iris page; Rebecca Collings from the Field Museum edited the Phlox family page; and Dr. Harvey Ballard Jr. edited the Violaceae.

The guide Common Plant Families of the Chicago Region is available online for free. The pages of this guide are standard 8.5″ x 11″ pages, fit easily into a 3-ring binder and are easy to laminate. Artists, naturalists and educators in the Chicago region are encouraged to bookmark the guide’s website.

Go to Common Plant Families of the Chicago Region

Literature Cited

Hibbitt, Catherine. 1999. A Growth Opportunity. Science Scope. 22(6): 34-36


Kathleen Garness takes botanical art into the community

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Farmer's Market Fullerton Arboretum

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© 2005 ArtPlantae Artist's Herbarium, Hippeastrum flower

© 2005 ArtPlantae Artist’s Herbarium, Hippeastrum flower

Here is a wonderful idea that can be used at schools that do not have the room or the funds to create a garden.

In 2004, undergraduate student Stefanie Lawniczak and professors D. Timothy Gerber and Judy Beck pilot tested a program enabling teachers and students to have direct access to plants at their schools. This program was created around three of the twelve principles of plant biology established by the American Society of Plant Biologists (#4, #7, #12) (learn more, get bookmarks).

Lawniczak et al. applied the National Science Education Standards to these principles and created five themed plant displays. The themes they chose to address were: Environment, Plant Families, Plant Organs, Growth & Reproduction and Plant Origins. Displays were placed in the media centers at three elementary schools and were left in place for 10 weeks. The theme of each display changed every two weeks. Teachers were invited to use display plants as subjects for their classroom studies and students were invited to drop questions in an “Ask a Botanist” box. At the end of the 10-week program, teachers received surveys and were asked to share their thoughts and experiences. Lawniczak et al. received positive feedback from teachers, as well as helpful recommendations about how to improve their displays.

Learn how each themed display was created and get a list of the easy-to-find plants (e.g., orchids, geranium, Hippeastrum) used in each theme.

Order a copy of Plants on Display at the NSTA Store for 99¢.

Literature Cited

Lawniczak, Stefanie and D. Timothy Gerber, Judy Beck. 2004. Plants on Display. Science and Children. 41(9): 24-29

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Susan Minton, horticulturalist, retired professor and member of the Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators, will give a gallery talk at Drawn to the Details, the botanical art exhibition at Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens. Susan will explore some of the fascinating characteristics of plants that inspire both artists and horticulturalists.

Here is a sneak peek at Susan’s presentation Captivating Colors, Fabulous Forms:

A common thread that binds gardeners and botanical artists is a fascination with plants: how they look, how they grow, what makes each species unique. For all of us, but perhaps especially for artists, it is often easy to be so entranced with their colors and shapes and textures, that we forget how amazing they are from a botanist’s perspective. Scientists are continually uncovering new and wondrous details about how plants function, what purposes their particular (and often peculiar!) characteristics serve, and the many ways they interact with their environment.

Plants have inspired artists and gardeners for centuries. Learning about them will enhance your work and enrich your experience, both in the studio and in the garden.

You are invited to attend this special presentation.

Captivating Colors, Fabulous Forms

Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens
October 12, 2014
2-4 PM

Get Directions

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