Spring is for Plants!

In my previous posts, I have mentioned using Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding for our elementary Science. We have been working through A thread (Nature of Matter) of BFSU Volume 1 all year. I had originally planned for us to start in Volume 2 and continue A thread (this is the Classical schedule coming through…), but over the past several weeks there has been a lack of interest in continuing with atoms and molecules. I think the beautiful weather outside has a lot to do with it! So I did some thinking and decided to reevaluate how we are doing our science. 

Bernard Nebel, the author of BFSU, encourages moving between the four “threads” or disciplines (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Physical Science). I’ve resisted this only because we’ve followed the classical schedule for the past several years, with one subject each year in a four year cycle. But as we move away from the classical schedule a bit, I find myself wanting to jump around a bit (though in an organized way so not stress out my Type A personality). 
With that being said, I decided to cover Plants this June. Everything is in bloom, the weather is nice, and we’ve got a great garden in our front yard to study as well.
Over the past week or so, we have been studying the basic structures of plants. The core of our lesson has been B10: Plant Science I – Basic Plant Structure. We started with the three basic parts of a plant – roots, stems, and leaves. We discussed how even vastly different plants all have these parts, though often in a modified form. She was fascinated to learn that the spines of a cactus are actually highly modified leaves. 


We have a membership with Notebookingpages.com, and I printed up several pages from the Plant Study collection. Over the past week, we have been working through these pages, identifying various plant parts, margin types, leaf arrangements, etc. The Visual Dictionary of Plants is a wonderful resource for learning plant parts.

Kyri and I went on a Plant Walk this week, armed with a few nature books and plant identification guides. As we explored, we discussed the three basic parts of a plant, and I asked her to identify various aspects of plants we found, such as:
type of leaves – simple or compound
arrangement of leaves – alternate, opposite, whorled, fascicled, or clustered
leaf venation – parallel, pinnate, palmate or arcuate
leaf margins – smooth, serrate, dentate, crenate, sinuate, lobed, or cleft
On our plant walk, she was particularly interested in finding a Sweet gum tree, because she had read about it and its identifying features in one of her books. We wrapped up our walk with the triumphant discovery of a Sweet Gum tree at the end of our street.
We have built up quite a collection of nature study books, and Kyri absolutely adores them. I can often find her with one or more tucked under her arm. Here are some of our favorites:

Here are several pictures from our walk!

plantwalk_combined1 plantwalk_combined2 plantwalk_combined3 plantwalk_combined4

Wasp Galls

This Fall Kyri learned about wasp galls in one of her Nature books. Ever since then, she has been fascinated with them! When we are exploring outside, she makes it a point to look for them. We spent a fair amount of time this weekend collecting wasp galls and cracking them open. It was so interesting to see what was inside each one!

But first, a little background on galls…

A gall is an abnormal growth on a plant. Some plants will produce these growths on their own, but often their formation is induced by insects.For many kinds of wasps, these formations provide nourishment and shelter for the developing eggs.

The female wasp inserts her eggs into the tree’s tissue, along with a chemical that induces this abnormal tree tissue growth. A gall is essential an abnormal tissue growth on the plant, like a tumor. The egg grows and develops within the gall, which serves to protect the wasp larvae. When it matures, it will chew its way out of the gall. The empty gall is then used by other species for shelter.

There are two “generations” of gall wasps that emerge from these galls. In late December, there is an “asexual generation” so only adult females emerge from the galls. Adults of both sexes emerge from galls in the “sexual generation” which occurs in early Spring. Eggs layed by the sexual generation will lay dormant for several months before emerging from their galls as the subsequent asexual generation.

The wasp larvae are still susceptible to predation even within the gall’s protective casing. But here’s an interesting fact – the developing larvae produce a chemical that converts the plant tissue (a starch) into sugar. This sugary secretion, called honeydew, attracts insects such as ants, honeybees and yellowjackets. These insects discourage other predators from going after the larvae inside the gall.

Here are some links with more information.

Aggie Horticulture

Texas A&M Agriculture Extension

Texas Young Naturalist

The branche of the live oak on our property have a multitude of marble-sized galls. I happened to point them out tomy husband today and told him about Kyri’s fascinationg with them. He was curious, and he happened to have a hammer in his hand, so he picked one and we cracked it open. Kyri was all about cracking open galls so we spent a good while picking galls and opening them up. It was quite an educational experience for the  family.

Within each gall we found a yellowish casing, presumeably for whatever type of wasp formed the gall in the first place. We found each of the galls contained a yellowing casing which we assumed was from the wasp larva. Each gall had a pin hole, which was assumed to be formed when the larva chewed its way out of the gall.

We did not find any galls that contained wasp larva, only the remaining egg casing. However, many of the galls we examined did contain small spiders, or spider silk and spider eggs. The gall is an inviting home for spiders to lay eggs and settle in once the wasp larva are gone (or while they are still in there). Several of the galls contained mini colonies of ants. This was not expected (we didn’t know much about the ants before our “field work.”