Plants and Climate: A Seasonal Study of the Rhythms of Nature
Written and Shared by Teri Bickmore, Midland, MI
The Native Plants and Climate project is an extension of the Journey North
‘Red Emperor’ Tulip study. The project was created by Teri
Bickmore to use with her Science Club for grades 4-8. Teri is sharing
the project with Journey North in hopes that others will find it worthwhile
for their schools. Teri’s Club currently participates in the Tulip
Study and plans to plant a Native Plant garden this spring. The Native
Plant project will focus primarily on native plants and growing degree-days.
Major Events and Activities
and Planting Ideas:
If you need assistance designing and planting your garden, a good resource
is your County Cooperative Extension office. The services of Certified Volunteer
Master Gardeners are available free of charge in most areas. These volunteers
receive training from a program developed by your state’s State University
and work under the auspices of the County Cooperative Extension.
In the spring,
look for a native plant sale (Conservation District, garden clubs or nurseries)
to select the plants for the garden. For central MI we chose Red Osier
Dogwood (a native flowering shrub), Cinnamon Fern (a deciduous non-blooming
plant), Christmas Fern (an evergreen non-blooming plant), and Columbine,
Trillium and Bloodroot (spring-blooming woodland wildflowers).
native plants that require similar growing conditions (sun/shade, wet/dry,
etc.), produce flowers during school months, and provide winter interest.
- Keep in
mind plants with compact growth.
plants which can be asexually propagated (cuttings, divisions) if we
wish to share genetically identical plants with students or with other
schools who might want to collaborate on this project with us in the
to plant the taller plants in the back of the garden bed and the shorter
ones in front. (Example: Plant red-Osier dogwoods in the back, ferns
in mid area and spring-blooming wildflowers in front.)
- Be extremely
careful of spacing. Calculate how much room the full-grown plants will
need. Make sure that you have provided ample room for growth so that
the specimens will not be growing into buildings and crowding each other
as they mature.
plants of the same type together.
- Add stepping
stones so that students can easily observe all parts of the garden without
a mulch, such as woodchips (these can often be obtained free of charge
from a tree servicing company) about 3-4” deep over the soil.
This will help conserve moisture and allow plants to become established.
closely the first year.
and water often the first year, especially during a hot summer. As the
garden becomes established, the amount of tending needed decreases significantly.
In the fall, students will familiarize themselves with the plants in the
garden. They will make leaf rubbings in their journals and describe what
each plant looks like. They will also learn more about the plants by using
field guides and Internet resources. Groups of students will also take
digital photos of each plant and write descriptive captions for a classroom
display. (This task should be delegated to a different group of students
each time it is done.) It is important to list the dates the observations
are made. This can be done as often as the teacher likes. By taking frequent
photos, change over time can easily be observed.
In the winter, most plants are dormant, but there are always interesting
observations to make. You might get lucky enough to see birds eating fruit
or seeds from a plant. You might also notice things like branch habit
or color that were not very apparent when the plant was covered with leaves.
Things like birds nests and chrysalises are always more visible too. Students
might wonder why one kind of fern lost its leaves while the other stayed
green. Many questions such as these could lead to further investigations
by students. For example, they could compare and contrast leaves of a
Christmas Fern and a Cinnamon Fern under the microscope. Make sure to
take more photographs to add to your classroom display so that you have
a continuous record of change.
Beginning on March 1st (that’s when the official start date of the
growing season is), students should use the following formula in degrees
Fahrenheit to calculate growing degree-days:
Daily Temp. + Min. Daily Temp. – 50 =
(divide by) 2
# Growing Degree Days
Example 1: Let’s say your daily highs and lows are 60 and 40.
The sum is 100. Divide that by two, which equals 50. Now subtract 50.
Your growing degree-days for that date are zero.
2: Let’s say you have a high of 60 and a low of 50. The sum of
those is 110. One hundred ten divided by 2 is 55. Fifty-five minus 5
equals 5. In this example, you have accumulated 5 growing degree-days
for that particular date.
degree-days are cumulative, so they need to be calculated and added to
the previous total on a daily basis. This is a good project to put on
a calendar or graph on a bulletin board for the entire class to see. Each
group of students could be responsible for a week of data. Maximum and
minimum daily temperatures can be found for your zip code at www.accuweather.com.
I believe that this site also lists growing degree-days beginning in March.
Alternatively, you can use a minimum/maximum daily temperature thermometer.
Your County Cooperative Extension is another source where precise growing
degree-day information can be obtained.
a student journal the first time the project is mentioned. Use it with
each activity for recording important observations:
anatomical drawings and written descriptions of plants
dates for emerging and blooming
comparisons of plant activity among the various species
dates and growing degree data
a student journal the first time the project is mentioned. Use it with
each activity. Once spring arrives make frequent trips to the garden since
spring will bring rapid changes. Students should write observations about
each plant such as when new growth emerged from the soil or when the plant
“leafed-out” or bloomed. These observations should be dated
and correlated with the growing degree-days. The growing degree-days determine
a plant’s growing schedule. Students should also notice relationships
between plants such as “the Columbine and Trillium are in bloom
at the same time”. Again, students should take frequent photographs
and add them to the display already posted in the room. You may wish to
post primary information such as first emergence of growth for plants
that completely die back in winter (Cinnamon fern, and all wildflowers),
“leaf-out” (dogwood) and bloom (all flowering plants) on the
calendar or graph with the growing degree data. Save this data from year
to year for comparison.
a website or page on a school website that is devoted to the display
of data and photographs from the gardens, including archived data from
successfully mastering lessons from the initial school garden, other
gardens could be planted at different schools so that students could
collaborate. The lessons could be expanded to include a study of microclimates.
In Mid-Michigan, there are significant differences in climate within
a radius of only a few miles. Comparing identical gardens planted miles
away from each other would provide students with a unique opportunity
to learn about local climatic variations.
of Student Learning
Individually graded student journals which must include the following
for each entry:
- Date and
degree days, (cumulative and for that particular day)
and written descriptions of each plant explaining observations about
stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds.
descriptions comparing and contrasting various plants. For example,
“The Columbine and Dogwood are in bloom at the same time.”
or “The Christmas Fern has leaves, but the Cinnamon Fern doesn’t.”
of an “Advanced Discussion Question” which could be used
for further study or investigation.
of high/low daily temperature data and computation of growing degree
days. Students will share this data with the class. Data will include
the current day’s information as well as cumulative totals for
the growing season. Each group will be “on the job” for
a week before handing the duties off to another group.
digital photographs with captions to be displayed on a classroom bulletin
board. Groups will take photos one day then will pass the camera around
“round robin” style for future photo shoots.
will offer oral constructive comments and/or observations concerning
photos and captions.
- For Journey
North Tulips, plotting of bloom data on a map using latitude and Longitude
and oral explanations of any blooming “anomalies”
Use a “lab” type test where students move from station to
station identifying plants (or photos of plants), and interpreting findings
of our study will culminate assessments. The test will include information
from both the native garden and the Journey North project.
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