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Tuesdays are traditionally plant science days here at Growing with Science and New Year's is a great time to make plans for the upcoming year. Let's resolve to add more plants to our world in 2016. Here are some child-friendly ways to celebrate plants.

How to Add More Plants to Your World

  1. Plant some herbs in a container, windowsill, or garden.

Herbs are hardy and easy to propagate. Many herbs start readily by taking a stem cutting and putting it into a container of water. Once roots appear, plant in a pot and put in a sunny window.

mint-sprouting-closerYour rooting container doesn't have to be fancy. This is a plastic water bottle cut in half.

thyme and mint_0028

You can also move herbs outside into pots or gardens once the weather warms.

Growing herbs can have many benefits. Use fresh herbs in cooking to improve flavor. Let herbs go to flower and they will supply nectar to butterflies and other pollinating insects.

2. Grow and pot a houseplant for someone.

Many houseplants also can be grown from cuttings, such as pothos, spider plants, jade plants, etc.


Start some cuttings, pot them up, and give them as a gift to someone.

Plants can remind people of someone special for years to come. For example, this pothos cutting was from a plant originally given to my son by his fifth grade teacher many years ago. We remember him fondly when we tend to the plant.

3. Plant a vegetable garden.

Gardening with children is a wonderful experience because there are so many benefits.


Not only do children learn about soil, weather, water, plants, and animals,

cluster-of-tomatoesbut they also are often more likely to try and eat different types of fresh vegetables if they grow the vegetables themselves.

Now is a great time to start planning for spring.

4. Get involved in a school or community garden.

No place for a garden of your own? Not an experienced gardener? Look around for opportunities to participate in a school or community garden.

hershey-community-gardenSchool and community gardens are places to share ideas about gardening, and as well as help others.

5. Plant a hollyhock or sunflower "forest."

We are often conservative when it comes to planting flowers and stick to low-growing varieties. Go wild this year and plant large blocks of big plants.

sunflower-plantChildren love to make forts, huts or other play spaces among the towering plants.

sunlit-sunflower-0144Sunflowers supply nectar for a variety of pollinators. If you let them go to seed, they can supply food for people and birds, as well.

hollyhock4Hollyhocks are incredibly hardy and require relatively little water for their size. They are biennials, however, so you will need to wait for them to reach full size.

pretty-yellow-pink-hollyhock-sunny058Hollyhocks also supply nectar, pollen and seeds for wildlife.

6. Plant a pollinator or butterfly garden.

Gardening for pollinators is a fun way to learn both about local plants and the importance of pollinators.

bee with pollenThe best way to encourage pollinators is to choose plants that naturally occur where you live.

bright-California-poppies-front-yardNative plants are easier to grow, too.

Check out these related posts:

7. Plant a tree

Trees supply some many things, from shade to wood. Consider adding trees to plans for planting this year.


See a related post about trees useful for butterfly gardens (scroll down past books)


How are you going to add plants to your world this year? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Let's find out about about some more of the common plant families. This time we'll focus on trees.

  1. Maple trees - family Aceraceae

Maples have palmate leaves, which means the main leaf veins radiate out from a single point and they roughly resemble a hand.  Most maples are deciduous. The fruit are samaras (maple keys) with two fruit in a cluster.

silver-mapleLeaves of a silver maple.

red-maple-leaves10Some species of maples are known for their brilliant fall colors.

red-maple-keys-461Red maple samara or "keys"

2. Oak or beech trees -  family Fagaceae

Oaks are generally large, spreading trees. The fruit is an acorn for oaks and nuts for beeches. The leaves are often longer than they are wide and have lobes along the margins.

oak-leaves-166oak-leaves-872acorn-0225An acorn

3.  Ginkgo - family Ginkgoaceae

These unusual trees are gymnosperms. There is only one species in the family. The leaves are fan shaped with a wavy edge. The naked seed is within a fleshy covering that resembles a fruit.


4.  Mulberry, fig and osage orange - family Moraceae

Mulberry leaves can be highly variable in shape even within one tree, but most have some sort of lobes. Some have an asymmetrical lobe and resemble a mitten. The leaves of trees in this family have a milky sap. The mulberry fruit are formed in clusters.

mulberry-leavestexas-mulberryThese are the leaves of the Texas mulberry.

mulberry-fruit-0234Mulberry fruit


5. Olive - family  Oleaceae

Olives have simple leaves. The fruit is fleshy with a pit inside.


6. Pines, spruces and furs - family Pinaceae

Members of this family are also gymnosperms. The leaves are in the form of needles and most are evergreen. Usually the seeds are borne in cones.

pine-branchwhite-pine-0083Eastern white pine

white-pine-0453White pine cone



7. Willow - family Salicaceae

Willows have narrow, simple leaves. They are deciduous. Fruits form in a capsule with many small, tufted seeds.

willows-398tree-books-buttonWant to learn more? Visit our giant list of children's books about trees!




To see our complete plant science lessons, either visit the plant science category (newest posts to oldest posts) or the plant science section of our experiment archive page (links to posts in order).

Looking for books about plants for children? Be sure to visit our growing list of gardening and plant science books for kids, as well as our list of children’s books about seeds.

For more activities, try our Gardening/Plant Science for Kids Pinterest board.


In a previous post, we have discussed the Classification of Organisms. Now might be a good time to learn about some of the common plant families.

Learning the characteristics of common plant families can make identification of specific plants easier, plus gives us a sense of how plants are related. Most of us recognize the most common crop plants grown in fields and gardens, so let's start with those.

Important Note:  You would think plant names would be stay the same once they were created, but it turns out that with advances in genetics and efforts to add consistency, many of the names are changing. Keep in mind that all these names could change next week.

  1. The Carrot Family - Apiaceae

This family used to be called the Umbelliferae. They are still characterized by having flat, clustered flowers called "umbels."

Examples of this family include:

carrot-flower-2carrots (this is a carrot flower)


queen-annes-lace-beautifuland Queen Anne's lace. Can you see the similarities in these flowers?

2. The Sunflower Family - Asteraceae

This large plant family used to be called the Compositae. What appear to be single flowers are actually a "composite" or collection of tiny disk and/or ray flowers.

Examples of the sunflower family include:



artichoke-flowerand artichoke, as well as many ornamental flowers,

mix-of-zinnias-87like these zinnias.

3. The Bean Family -Fabaceae

Many common food plants belong to this family, including beans, peas, carob, lentils, mesquite, etc. The seeds are contained in pods. The flowers are complex.



tepary-bean-flowertepary beans, and

blackeyedpea-bloom3black-eyed pea.

4. The Mint Family - Lamiaceae

The members of this family include many common herbs. Most have square (four-sided) stems and many have similar tubular flowers.

mint-flower -spear-81

This flower structure is from a spearmint plant.



These are the tubular flowers of Mexican oregano.

5. The Lily Family - Liliaceae

The plants of this family are known to have special swollen structures for storing food, such as bulbs or corms.

Examples include:

green-onion-bulbonions (the bulb),

onion-flowersonion (the flower)


garlic-chive-flowergarlic chives, etc.

rain-lilyOrnamental lilies also belong to this family.

6. The Grass Family- Poaceae

Grasses are unique plants because they grow from the base instead of the tips. Many crops are members of this family including rice, corn, wheat and barley.




Grass flowers consist of spikelets.

7. The Rose Family - Rosaceae

The flowers of members of the rose family typically have five petals and five sepals. Many of the different types of fruit we eat come from plants that belong to the rose family.

Examples include:


good-apple-flowerand apples, as well as pears, peaches and even strawberries.

8. The Nightshade Family - Solanaceae

Our final plant family contains crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. The flower petals are often fused together rather than separate.

tomatoes-blossoms-flowerstomato flowers (public domain image)

sonoran-nightshade-with-leaves-66nightshade flowers


Plant Family Quiz
(Answers below)


A. To which plant family does dill belong based on its flower structure?

plant-family-testB. How about this type of sage?

swallowtail-on-flowerC. Any ideas what plant family these yellow flowers belong to?


Want to learn more? Feel free to leave questions in the comments.



To see our complete plant science lessons, either visit the plant science category (newest posts to oldest posts) or the plant science section of our experiment archive page (links to posts in order).

Looking for books about plants for children? Be sure to visit our growing list of gardening and plant science books for kids, as well as our list of children’s books about seeds.

For more activities, try our Gardening/Plant Science for Kids Pinterest board.

Quiz Answers

  • a. Dill belongs to the carrot family, Apiaceae
  • b. Sage belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae
  • c. The yellow flowers belong to the sunflower family, Asteraceae