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Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science

Plant Life Cycles

What is a plant? One distinguishing feature of members of the Plant Kingdom is their life cycle. In this session, flowering plants serve as examples for studying the plant life cycle by considering the roles of seeds, flowers, and fruits. A comparison to animal life cycles reveals some surprising similarities and intriguing differences.

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Learning Goals


During this session, you will have an opportunity to build understandings to help you:

  • Describe the stages in the life cycle of a flowering plant
  • Compare the plant and animal life cycles

Video Overview

Which life forms reproduce at a distance, give rise to offspring miles away and even after death, trick other living things into helping them reproduce, and encourage predators to eat their young as part of their life cycle? Plants! During Session 4, we’ll continue our study of life cycles by focusing on the Plant kingdom, using flowering plants as our examples. During this session, you’ll have a chance to see how different the life cycles of plants are from those of animals–as well as how similar.

Video Outline

Our study of plant life cycles begins with the obvious: seeds! Nancy Landes, representing Science T.R.A.C.S. from the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), tells us of research findings on children’s ideas, which indicate that children often think that seeds aren’t alive. The question “What will it become?” helps launch children into an exploration of life cycles. Our Science Studio children tackle this question as they discuss different plant life stages.

During this session, we hear from several guests. Dan Cousins, the head grower at a large nursery, focuses on the role of seeds in plant reproduction. As we move to an exploration of flowers, Dr. Dan Scheirer, a forensic botanist, shares his understandings of the role of pollen. Dr. Judith Sumner, who researches the role of plants in human culture, describes an intriguing feature of plant life cycles: alternation of generations. She also highlights the challenges that plants face in reproduction–pollination and dispersal–and how flowers and fruits have evolved to provide some solutions.

We return to Lakewood, Colorado, to visit Sally Florkiewicz’s third-grade class as they investigate plant life cycles with Science T.R.A.C.S. They’re at a point where the question “Where do seeds come from?” finds them forming hypotheses to be tested later as the plants they are observing complete their life cycles. Finally, Dr. Paul Williams gives us a peek at events taking place in our Bottle Biology systems, including butterflies that have emerged from chrysalises to become partners in completing the life cycle of a plant.

Series Directory

Essential Science for Teachers: Life Science


Produced by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 2003.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-730-4