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ISM Botany
Introduction to Herbaria
About the ISM Herbarium
Illinois Prairie Plants
Illinois Trees
Herbarium Database
ISM System :ISM Herbarium Activity: Plant Adaptations

Prairie Activity: Plant Adaptations

Objective: Students will be able to identify and describe prairie plant parts that show adaptation to habitat and environmental conditions by searching the ISM's online database, field guide, and photograph gallery of plants.

Grade levels: Elementary and junior high
Time Required: 50 minutes

ISM Web sites:
MuseumLink Illinois Prairie, Prairie Ecosystems, Plants, Adaptations:
Field Guide:

ISM Botany Department Herbarium Database and Photograph Gallery:

Students will read the Adaptations section of the Prairie Web module, and read about plant adaptations in their science text or other science materials in the curriculum. Using real plants and field guide examples, the teacher will guide the students through descriptions of plant parts and how the parts are adapted to the soil, water, and temperature conditions in which they grow.

Motivation: Class discussion of adaptations, using real plants, if possible, from nursery or school garden outside to identify and discuss physical adaptations plants have that help them survive in their environment.

Sample Discussion Questions:
1. What is the size, shape, surface texture, and location of the leaves (soft, fleshy, dry, hard, thin, thick, narrow, round, at the base, along the stems)?
2. How does this relate to water retention and survival in drought or fire?
3. What type of flowers does the plant display (many small blooms, clusters, large blossoms)?
4. Does the stalk bloom from the bottom up or from the top down?
5. Do the flowers attract insects? How?
6. What kind of stems does the plant have (height, thickness, surface texture)? How does this help the plant survive and reproduce?
7. How are the seeds stored and dispersed in the plant (if possible to see at this time of year)? How does this promote diversity?

prairie plants (either in the field or in pots)
field guide (online or print)

Students will go to a prairie, or use plants in class or in a school or home garden. Individual students or pairs of students work on each worksheet. In turn, look at each plant, identify it, write its name, draw a sketch from life that shows its adaptive parts, and write a short description of its adaptive parts.

Example: photograph of bundle flower
Illinois Bundle Flower
Habitat: It lives in dry-mesic soil.
Leaves are small and they close up, which lets them retain water.
Seeds are hard, pointed (can catch hold of passing creatures), and curved (can move farther in air and drill down into the soil as they land)

Students present their findings to the class (at least one per student) orally or visually. Whole class discussion or small group discussion can help those whose results are incomplete. Each student should be able to find one adaptation on each plant and describe it using vocabulary learned in class, and in the online descriptions, and in their own words.

Illinois State Board of Education Goals Addressed:
Science: Goal 12.B: Early elementary through junior high: Know and apply concepts that describe how living things interact with one another and with their environment.
12.B.2b Identify physical features of plants and animals that help them live in different environments (e.g., specialized teeth for eating certain foods, thorns for protection, insulation for cold temperature).

Extension for high school or accelerated:12.B.5b Compare and predict how life forms can adapt to changes in the environment by applying concepts of change and constancy (e.g., variations within a population increase the likelihood of survival under new conditions).


Plant Adaptation Worksheet


Draw a line drawing of your plant here. Include all the major parts of the plant. Label the parts of the plant that you think are especially adapted for prairie habitat. For each part labeled, write a short description below that tells how this adaptation helps the plant survive better.



























Conclusion: How is this plant well-adapted to life on the prairie?


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