Starting a new plant is a wonderful experience for a child. First they experience excitement as they watch something they planted change and grow. They come to feel pride in their work and enthusiastically monitor their plant's progress. Through nurturing a living thing, kids have the opportunity to hone observational skills, learn about how plants reproduce, and to study basic botany and plant processes. It also gives them a chance to focus on plant needs and on the ways that new plants are like new people -- they both need loving care to grow and bloom.
Exploring plant propagation is also a great vehicle for an inquiry project. Students are bound to hit on questions to pursue through observation and experimentation: Which method works best for various plants? Are there other ways to propagate plants? Why have plants developed all these different propagation strategies?
Most school children have planted a marigold or bean seed in a paper cup to witness the miracle of germination. Or they have placed a carrot top in a saucer of water and wondered that leaves keep growing despite the root being severed. The propagation of plants is a process that keeps students interested because they're invested in the progress and outcome of their green charges.
We've heard from many teachers who have developed fresh and exciting approaches to propagating plants that help students attain learning goals across the curriculum. Here are some sample stories:
It's All in the Eyes: Inquiry, Up Close - Potatoes introduce kids to asexual propagation.
Fond of Fronds - Students start ferns from spores in the classroom.
Working with Wildflowers - Tricks and tips for propagating wild plants.
Presenting Peanuts - Propagating these versatile legumes is a springboard to activities throughout the curriculum.
As these stories suggest, there's more than one way to get new plants, and that in itself can be a fascinating notion for young gardeners. Planting seeds is referred to as sexual propagation because seeds arise from the pollination and fertilization of flowers, which combines genetic material from both male and female sources. Because plants can't move around to find pollinating partners, many have adapted alternative methods of propagating from a single plant. This is referred to as vegetative or asexual propagation, achieved by removing roots, stems, or leaves of existing plants and creating conditions so that these parts develop into new plants. These plants are clones, or exact genetic replicas of the 'mother' plant, because there is only one source of genetic material.
If you are new to starting plants from seed, or want a refresher on the process before you introduce concepts to your class, you'll find it spelled out in the Propagation by Seed. Likewise, the Asexual Propagation article guides you through some simple techniques to introduce to your students: rooting cuttings and dividing plants. Also, check out these propagation lesson ideas: Seed Planting Depth Experiment and Classroom Cuttings.