A Botanist's View:
Cousins of the Tulip Plant
Wild Sign of Spring
Just as the ground thaws and the first scent of spring is in the air,
take a walk through the woodlands and creek beds. Although all around
it seems brown and dead looking, you may be surprised to find a lovely
lily-like flower nodding above two narrow, light-green leaves. Where you
find one, look carefully for others because they often cluster in one
white blossoms of the shad-bush (Amelanchier sp.) gleam from
the thicket, and the sheltered hillside is already starred with the
blood-root and anemone when we go to seek the yellow adder's tongue."
- from How to Know the Wildflowers, published in 1912.
in a Name?
Originally a name for the Old World plant, the Dog Tooth Violet is also
called the Trout Lily.
Picture for a moment a dog's tooth, and then picture a trout's mottled
skin. Maybe now you can understand how the Erythronium denscanis
got its common name. (The mystery is in how it got another name, adder's
Why do you think these other names were also chosen for the Dog Tooth
Violet: fawn lily and yellow snowdrop?
Plants are Cousins
Every plant has physical characteristics that make it unique. Scientists
group plants into families according to the kinds of flowers and fruit
that they bear. The tulip and the Dogtooth Violet are kind of like cousins
- they are both in the same family, along with lots of others. Their family
is called Liliaceae.
Here are some of the main characteristics of plants in the Liliaceae (pronounced,
- six parted
perianth (petals) generally
- six stamens,
generally three-lobed, or three separate stigmas on a three-branched
generally three-chambered pods or berries
tulips bloom this spring take a closer look at the flowers. How many characteristics
of the family Liliaceae can you identify?
One hundred years ago as a student, my great-grandfather Lemuel studied
plants in school. His lab notebook (copyright date 1905) contains detailed
descriptions and drawings of many of the spring flowers that were found
in nearby woodlands, fields and gardens. Students were responsible for
learning and using the correct botanical terms for roots, leaves, flowers
and fruits. They also made notes about where the plants might be found.
a blank copy to record in your own notebooks.
his drawing and description of the 'Star of Bethlehem, another cousin
of the tulip plant.
and learn some botanical vocabulary. Examine your tulips. Copy and use
Lemuel's lab notebook page or make your own in your own lab notebook.
Try looking at your Red Emperor tulip plants through the eyes of a botanist.
kinds of flowers can you find for study this springtime?
Science Education Standards
Each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions
in growth, survival, reproduction. (K-4)
of species of animals, plants, and microorganisms are alive today. Although
different species might look dissimilar, the unity among organisms becomes
apparent from an analysis of internal structures, the similarity of their
chemical processes, and the evidence of common ancestry. (5-8)
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