Mosses, Ferns, Liverworts and Horsetails: Science Activities

Today let's take a look at some plants that are often ignored because they lack big, showy flowers. Ferns, liverworts, horsetails and mosses do not produce seeds, but produce spores instead.

Activity 1. Identification

Go on a nature walk and see if you can spot any of these spore-producing plants. Record where you see them and what the surrounding environment is like.

Mosses are low-growing plants with tiny leaflets. They coat the ground like velvet.

Ferns have leaf blades divided into many parts.

Photo from Flickr

Liverworts have rounded leaflets that are said to resemble the liver.

Horsetails have tall stems, with segments. Their leaves are long and fine, resembling a horse's tail.

Did you find any of these plants?

Activity 2. Searching for spores.

Because these plants make spores instead of seeds, it is fun to see if you can find the structure that produces spores, the sporangium. If you don't have any of these plants growing nearby, check with your local florist. They sometimes use ferns in bouquets.

See the dark dots on the underside of the frond? Those are the sporangia.

Check out this video of fern spore capsules shooting out the spores like a catapult!

The yellow brown structures on this moss are the sporangia.

What is the difference between a seed and a spore? A spore is a single cell, so it is tiny. In comparison, a seed contains many cells making up the embryo of the plant, the food that is stored with it, and a cover or coat.

Activity 3. Moss, horsetail, fern and liverwort habitats.

When you went on the nature walk, where did you find these plants? Did you find them mostly in wetter areas? Were any growing in the forest?

Did you find them growing together?

Ferns, mosses, horsetails and liverworts have somewhat similar growing requirements. Liverworts and mosses are considered to be non-vascular plants because they lack the special water-carrying tubes found in other plants. They must stay in relatively wet environments and can't grow tall.

Aren't these interesting plants?

Edit: If you are interested in learning more, take a look at Steve Parker's Ferns, Mosses and Other Spore-producing Plants book, which is part of the Kingdom Classification series. I have a review at WrappedinFoil.

2 thoughts on “Mosses, Ferns, Liverworts and Horsetails: Science Activities

  1. I loved this site about plants that do not produce seeds but spores. The activities are kid friendly and I plan on using them on our next field trip to our school's environmental center!

  2. Emmanuel N. Gontor

    This site on spore bearing plants is very important. I love it and will use it to demonstrate the outdoor botany laboratory with my Agriculture students at our state own university.

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