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).
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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.
Hibbitt, Catherine. 1999. A Growth Opportunity. Science Scope. 22(6): 34-36
Kathleen Garness takes botanical art into the community