Leaf hunting with line drawings

Three activities which can be used modularly, or together to create a lesson on identifying common plants and practicing use of descriptive language. This lends itself best to younger ages (UK KS1, age 6-7). With some work this can also be modified to be an activity focussing on classification for older groups.

Sorting leaves

Sort pictures/pressed/laminated leaves into groups. Then pick one group of leaves and describe what they have in common/why they were put in the same group. Focus on introducing terminology for parts of a leaf and having groups make detailed descriptions.

Leaf hunt

Scout out your leaf hunting area to see what plants are about then build up a scavenger hunt sheet. Go out hunting! 

If you are allowing the kids to pick the leaves, reinforce that they should carefully match as many features as possible so they only pick the leaves they need. Most lawn ‘weeds’ are very resilient to picking. Many evolved in grasslands where grazing and mowing are constant threats.

Another option is taking photographs of matching leaves. A small piece of paper or card placed behind leaves provides a plain background which can help with seeing leaf details later.

Sample leaf hunt sheets:

20 questions 

One student closes their eyes while the rest of the class chooses a leaf. The student opens their eyes and asks the class questions to narrow down the options and guess the leaf. This is a good way to reinforce terminology and practice using descriptive language.

Take it further

Compare, contrast, and theorize 

Some plants can have leaves with slightly different shapes. Kids can compare the leaves they found and come up with theories about any differences they spot. Remembering where they found the leaves can be useful information. This is a good exercise to get kids thinking about how a plant’s environment affects the way it grows. It is also an opportunity to recognize the limitations of what they’ve learned; plant ID can require looking at flowers and other features.

Common reasons for differences

  • They come from closely related species (ie. dandelions and their relatives, geraniums and cranesbills)
  • Lower leaves are sometimes different from ones growing higher up
  • Shaded leaves can be different from those growing in the sun, often larger.
  • Young plants/leaves can be different from mature leaves/plants

Classification Modification

Use all the leaf images, or collect as many different leaves as you can find. Students start making their own branching key sorting the leaves into groups, recording the first characteristic they used. They then take the leaves in one group and sort them again, recording the characteristics as they go.

Groups could make a diagrams of their key and compare the approaches taken. Were there strategies which led to identifications in the fewer steps than others? 

Students could also compare their keys with those in wildflower ID guides. What are the similarities and differences? Are there strengths or weaknesses in the way the guides arrange their keys?

Leaf illustrations

Feel free to download and use any of these illustrations of common lawn wildflowers.

Episode 12 – Plants at home

While were all stuck at home its a great time to get to know your plants a bit better. Take this time to get on top of those house plant care tasks. This can be as simple as wiping down windowsills and shuffling plants to new places. A good clean can sometimes be enough to get your energy levels back up.

Spring is also the time of year when plants are really starting to grow. If you aren’t noticing much growth in your houseplants by now, consider moving them to a brighter location. On the other hand, if your plants are looking consistently a bit wilted you may need to move them to a more shaded area. Have a good close look at your plants and their living conditions. Now is a great time to find them the spot where they can be happiest.

In the kitchen

If you don’t yet have houseplants and are a bit nervous about it. Start with kitchen herbs. These are useful, but also inexpensive. So if they don’t make it, no need to beat yourself up.

Many stores will sell potted herbs. Usually these are actually many many plants grown in the same pot. If you can, gently split the clump into a few sections and replant in separate pots. This will give them more space to grow and a better chance of long-term survival.

You can also grow herb from cuttings. Try saving a sprig or two from packets of fresh cut herbs. Strip off lower leaves, leaving at least 3cm of bare stem then either sit in a glass of water, or poke into potting soil up to the first set of remaining leaves. Pinch off the top pair of leaves to encourage bushier growth as well as reduce water loss. This will work with most herbs except chives.

Make the most of scraps

For salad leaves try planting the tops of: Carrots, beets, celeriac

For a second crop plant the bases of: spring/green onions, leeks, lettuce, celery

Don’t do this with parsnip tops as parsnip leaves contain sap which can be an irritant.

Potato peelings can be used to grow your own potatoes. Make sure the peel includes an ‘eye’ as this is a growth bud. The more of the potato flesh you include on the peel, the longer the young plant can go without soil as it can feed on the potato starch for energy.

Build a terrarium

Consider the plants you want to include and the size of container you want to use. Larger containers will require less maintenance and can be easier to setup as you can reach your hand inside rather than using chopsticks or tweezers to plants things. However any size or shape of container can be used.

Open containers will suit air plants, cacti, and succulents. Succulents generally have thick fleshy leaves they use to store water. These plants usually don’t do well with consistently high humidity.

Closed containers will suit many small houseplants and ferns which thrive in areas of high humidity.

Also definitely consider moss in a terrarium. They are often quite hardy and thrive in moist conditions. They’re small size also means they are great elements for turning your terrarium into a micro landscape.

Check out: Serpa Design on Youtube for great tutorials and ideas.

Send us your photos of what you’re growing!

knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

Episode 2 – Plants: To pick or not to pick

It can be tough to get people to be interested in plants. They usually don’t move or do anything on a timescale we pay attention to, so a hands-on approach can be a good way of getting others to engage with plants. In this episode we discuss reasons to allow people to pick plants, and reasons you might want to restrict picking.

Why you should allow plant picking

  • Physical/tactile connection with nature.
  • Opportunity to learn how to interact with nature in a low stakes way. Injuring or killing a plant is not quite the same as harming an animal.
  • Better condition material for pressing/crafting.
  • Foraging.
  • Fights the ‘museumification’ of nature. Which contributes to detachment from nature and disinterest in taking action to protect it. Gobster, Paul. (2007). Urban Park Restoration and the “Museumification” of Nature. Nature and Culture. 2. 95-114. 10.3167/nc2007.020201.

Why you shouldn’t allow plant picking.

  • Harm to plant
  • Harm to local environment
  • Does not emphasise intrinsic value of other living things
  • Commodification of nature

Picking principles

1. Pick for a purpose – If you are going to pick plants, consider what you are going to do with them. There may be a less destructive way to achieve the same goal. Identifying trees you might be able to take a photo of a leaf instead of picking one off. If you want to make some leaf art, fallen leaves might work just as well.

2.     Know the site – Make sure you have permission of the landowner if you are going to be picking from plants! Check if there are any protected species so you can know what to steer clear of. Having an idea of what habitats are on the site will help you narrow your search for plants. 

3.     Know the plants – Familiarity with the kinds of plants in your area will help you guide interactions. You can avoid plants which are dangerous, rare, or more sensitive to disturbance.

4.     Pick without damaging – If you do need to pick plants, make sure you demonstrate how to collect while minimizing harm to the plant and disturbance to the habitat.

Activity ideas

Catch your lucky leaf – Catch a falling leaf before it touches the ground to have luck until spring.

Leaf art – Use fallen leaves to create patterns and pictures on the ground. Leave the leaves in place to keep nutrients in the ecosystem.

Leaf hunt/Nature bingo – Choose a few picking friendly plants. Provide line-drawings of their leaves for kids to match.

Nature’s pallet – Words/colours in a bag. Take turns reaching in and pulling out a word. Everyone finds something that matches the description.

Foraging

Bramble smoothies – Fill a cup with blackberries. Mash them up and add milk to taste. 

Pick your own salad – Good leaves to look for: clover, sorrel, salad burnet, dandelion, wild garlic.

Start a herbarium – Collect a plant, with roots if possible. You may like to return to the site to also collect flowers and seed pods as these can be important for identification. Make sure your record collection location, date, who collected the specimen. Press the leaves/plants between 2 pieces of paper under some books for a week or until the plant is dry. Glue to a piece of stiff card.

Great British Wildflower Hunt – Support a citizen science project. Send your wildflower sightings to Plantlife who can put together data from all the participants and map the spread of wildflowers across the UK.

Grow your own plants!

Intro/Outro music:

Selfish by Derek Clegg

licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License