Useful plants to teach the science curriculum

Information sheet

This list of plants may be helpful to teach certain areas of the science curriculum. Some can be found in the school garden, whilst others grow in the wider landscape.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): Science

Apple (Malus domestica)

This tree has very visible changes throughout the seasons from blossom to fruit. It is useful to show cross pollination and bee studies. The flowers of this tree are perfect for dissecting, collect them in April-May when the tree is in bloom. This plant is also ideal for studying plant families. Can you discover who the apples relatives are?

Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale)

This common weed shows all the stages of a plant life cycle early in the year and within a relatively short time. It has a visual and well known method of seed dispersal. Question; is there any scientific theory behind the number of blows and telling the time? The plant is adapted to survive with its swollen root and will propagate asexually from a root cutting. The leaves look like lions teeth (Dent de lion). This can facilitate a discussion on how plants get their common name?

Field Maple (Acer campestre)

This native tree is a relative of the sycamore tree. The field maple is smaller and commonly used in hedging. Its winged fruits can be used to demonstrate a wind seed dispersal mechanism

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

This well-known garden plant is adapted to live in dry conditions. Its' silver leaves reflect the sun. What allows its leaves to do this? It is good for doing a bee species survey with students.

Marram Grass (Ammaphila aranaria) for coastal areas only

A xerophyte especially adapted to survive in sandy, loose soil with drought and harsh windy conditions. It is often used to stabilise sand dunes. Use this to study the movement of sand dunes over time.

Mint (Mentha species)

There are many different varieties of scented mint available. This is a reliable plant for taking tip cuttings, which will readily
root in water. You can also extract plant essential oils from mint plants. Can you identify the plant chemical that makes mint, toothpaste and chewing gum minty? 

Oak (Quercus species)

This native tree supports a vast amount of wildlife and is very useful for teaching food webs and chains. Its seeds (acorns) are carried and buried a distance from the tree by mammals. This means the seeds can grow in a lighter area away from the parent tree.

Pelargonium species 

This plant is adapted to grow in dry conditions. Its cuttings root very easily with no cover, an easy way to demonstrate asexual reproduction to students. Some Pelargonium species are scented. Do you know why they are scented? What makes them smell so much like lemon, cola, rose or oranges?

Radish

A fast growing and reliable plant which is useful to test different growing media, fertilizers or growing conditions. It germinates at lower temperatures and the seed leaves are large and easy to see for experimental purposes.

Rose (Rosa species)

Single roses are ideal for examining flower structure. The development of fancy varieties over the years has produced many hundreds of varieties. This can demonstrate plant breeding and how fashion influences flower colour and shape.

Strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa)

This familiar plant often shows both the fruit and flower at the same time. Its runners are a good example of a plant reproducing asexually.

Sunflower (Helianthus annus)

This fast growing annual is useful for recording growth and collecting data. Experiment to find ways of reducing slug damage to seedlings. Sunflowers demonstrate heliotropism where they follow the sun. Once flowered the seeds can be collected and sown the following year - a good example of a plant lifecycle. Sunflowers attract a vast variety of wildlife throughout its lifecycle. Investigate the wildlife that visit sunflowers. Do the wildlife that visit it when its flowering change when it is in seed? 

 


Use these plants with caution

Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

This wild plant grows asexually by runners. The flower shows the nectary very clearly at the base of the petals. When present in a lawn it indicates boggy ground as it prefers damp growing conditions. All parts of this plant are poisonous.

Daffodil (Narcissus species)

This bulbous plant can be used to show asexual reproduction. White flowering varieties such as 'Mount Hood' or 'Silver Standard' can be used to demonstrate transpiration and capillary action in flowers using coloured dye to change the petal colour. The bulbs and some parts of the plant are poisonous.

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus)

This plant has adapted as a climber. It has leaflets which have turned into tendrils and wings on the stem to compensate for the loss of surface area. As a legume it has nodes on the roots, which can fix nitrogen in the soil. The seeds are poisonous.

Willow (Salix species)

This tree can be easily propagated by hardwood cuttings taken from November to March and rooted in compost, sand or water. Willow is the natural source of aspirin. It has been studied by scientists for centuries and illustrates how plants aid medicine. What other plants have contributed to the medicines we use today? Be aware some species of willow are poisonous. 




Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

This evergreen tree has prickles to protect it from predators. This makes it prickly to hold. The higher up the tree the leaves have less prickles as herbivores cannot reach that high, this is a form of plant adaptation. It is dioecious, having male flowers on one tree and female flowers (and berries) on others, in this way holly is always cross pollinated. 

Nettle (Urita dioica)

This plant has tiny hairs that sting and irritate the skin. Look at the leaves under the microscope to see why they sting. It is an adaptation against predators. Study the structure of the hairs, what is unique about them? Nettles are a food source for particular butterflies and moths and is therefore a part of their life cycle.



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