Plant Survey

Real botanists out in the field do plant surveys.  The purpose is to find out how many of a particular species is present in a particular place or to discover the distribution and populations of many plants in a particular place.

How to do a plant survey like a real ecologist.

To make your apparatus, you need four straight pieces of 1″ wide lumber. We used pre-made picture frame pieces from a craft store for ours. Each piece should be cut into 24″ lengths. We bought them pre-cut, and mitered with the corner pieces that just push together, so no gluing or nailing required.

Do a plant survey like a real botanist or ecologist.

Next you need twine and flat headed thumb tacks, like those used in quilting. You can find them in the sewing department. From the inside of the frame measure off five inch sections and place a mark showing where to place your pins. You will end up with four five inch sections and three marks on each side of your frame. Then stretch the twine out across the frame in a grid pattern, as seen above.

Do a plant survey like a real botanist or ecologist.

To use your plant surveyor, randomly find a place in your yard or in an empty field and place it on the ground. You want a place with several types of plants growing. A lawn with only Kentucky bluegrass would be boring, but my “lawn” on the other hand works fabulously. Next you identify each of the plants inside the grids. The purpose of the grid is to help your eye pick out individual plants, keep you from repeating a particular plant, and confine and put limits on the amount of plants you survey.

Using a piece of graph paper, draw your grid and draw each plant and label it with its name. You may need a plant identification guide to get going. I recommend you start with a place where you know at least most of the plants for your own ease. Like in my “lawn” we have clover, wild daisies, shepherd’s purse, dandelions, and the occasional blade of grass. Plus a few other things.

Label your graph paper with the place and date where you took your survey. Botanists will do perhaps a dozen or more of these surveys in a field to get a good idea of the plant distribution and population over the whole field. How many you do is up to you. Now you’re a real botanist!

Additional Layers

  • It’s so cool to be able to look at a tree or plant and just know what it is. It’s a skill that before we lived our whole lives indoors, people took for granted. Spend a little time with a good guide book learning at least a few of the common plants around your area.
  • Have your kids do a graph and find averages of the plants they find in their survey. They practice math and do another skill that professional botanists have to learn.
  • Take a trip to a local botanical garden. They usually have a section with native plants. You can learn more about the “weeds” in your garden there.
  • For older kids interested in botany, this project makes a great beginning to a larger science project. Find an open field and do a complete plant survey of the field. Write up a real scientific paper on the findings complete with graphs and statistics. To find out how to do this, this site from Colorado State University will be helpful. If undertaking a major project of this sort it may be a good idea to contact a biologist or botanist from a university or botanical garden to be a mentor.

More From Layers of Learning

Try this project: a terrarium and poster on what a plant needs.
Try this project: a terrarium and poster on what a plant needs.

Bird art, inspired by James Audubon.
Bird art, inspired by James Audubon.

Here is a printable dichotomous key for young kids to learn about classification like a real scientist.
Here is a printable dichotomous key for young kids to learn about classification like a real scientist.

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