There are over 375,000 different species of plants on the earth. They range from tiny, single-celled algae to huge sequoia trees. Life on earth would not be possible without plants because they are the only living things that are capable of converting sunlight into energy. That energy fuels the other processes of life on earth.
Because plants make their own food, they are able to live almost everywhere on earth in a wide range of habitats. Many plants have developed special adaptations to help them survive.
Sample some of the following activities to learn more about the life cycle of plants.
The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find the life cycle of plants.
Go to where the biggest trees are to learn about their life cycles. One giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park, California has a girth of 998 inches. Sequoia trees grow very slowly and do not even produce seeds until they are about 150 years old.
Travel to where the bristlecones pines are. They have a long life cycle. They can live for more than 5,000 years. The oldest living bristlecone pine tree is called Methuselah, and it is estimated to be about 4,700 years old. It was growing when the Egyptians built the pyramids! It is in the White Mountains of California.
Plants are adept at adapting themselves to be successful in their environment. Travel to the deserts of southwestern United States to see how desert plants survive. Many of these plants store water in their thick, fleshy leaves. Some plants have a special coating on their leaves that reflects back incoming heat to reduce the amount of water lost through evaporation. Desert plants also benefit from condensation. Even though the desert is hot during the day, it often gets very cold at night. Water vapor in the night air condenses into water on the spikes of many cactus plants. The water then drips to the ground and is absorbed by the roots of the cactus.
Travel to a butterfly garden or create your own butterfly garden to learn about the types of plants that attract and nurture these beautiful insects. Butterfly gardens contain plants that draw butterflies so that they lay their eggs there. They also contain plants that the caterpillars will like to eat. Lastly, they contain flowers with nectar for newly-emerged butterflies to feed on.
Take a virtual trip to the Florida Everglades. This national park is home to hundreds of species of plants-some of which are found nowhere else in the world. The plants in this vast wetland range from millions of acres of sawgrass to forests of pine and mangrove trees. The Everglades are one of the biggest wetland areas in the world.
Travel to a bamboo forest or to a bed of giant kelp. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on land. Giant kelp is the fastest growing plant in the ocean; it can grow about 2 feet in length every day.
Visit LichenLand. Lichens are a successful alliance between a fungus and an alga. Only certain algae and certain fungi can get together to form a lichen. Find out all about the life cycle of lichen.
Visit a grove of mangrove trees. They are the only trees on earth that can grow in salt water.
To learn how plants get some of the nitrogen the need to grow, stand outside during a thunderstorm. When lightning hits the earth, the heat of the strike forces nitrogen that is in the air to combine with oxygen to form nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen oxide is soluble in water and falls back to earth in the form of rain, nourishing plants.
Journey to the sun. It's the source of all life on the earth. Plants absorb energy from sunlight and go through the photosynthesis process.
Travel to the arctic and explore the unique plant life that grows on the tundra. The plants on the tundra grow close to the ground and close to each other to help survive the cold growing conditions. Arctic plants are uniquely adapted to grow successfully in permafrost, arctic winds, and extreme snow.
Everyone knows about the famous Smithsonian complex of museums and exhibits in Washington D.C. But did you also know that these exhibits include a series of beautiful gardens? Visit the Smithsonian Gardens and learn about the history of gardening in America.
Visit rainforests around the world. Rainforests contain two-thirds of all the plant species in the world and are important laboratories to study the life cycle of plants.
Chat with Lewis and Clark. Their famous expedition was not only to map and explore the American West---but also to document botanical discoveries. The journals from their travels described hundreds of botanical discoveries, and they collected and preserved hundreds of plant specimens. Their goal was to learn if their collected plants, seeds, and fruit could be grown and in other places and widely used.
Visit General Sherman. It’s not a person; it’s a tree. General Sherman is the name of the largest tree in Sequoia National Park in California. It is thought to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. It is 275 feet tall and has a circumference at the base of 83 feet. Seventeen adults can encircle the tree standing with their arms outstretched and fingertips touching.
Green algae are primitive members of the plant kingdom. They don't have roots, stems, leaves, or flowers, but photosynthesis does take place. Algae are important to aquatic life because they supply oxygen through this photosynthesis.
Get to know John Muir. He was an early advocate for preserving the forests and wild areas of the United States. He was particularly instrumental in saving the California redwood forests from destruction in the late 1800s.
Meet Luther Burbank, the famous horticulturist. "One of Burbank's objectives was to manipulate the characteristics of plants and thereby increase the world's food supply.
The scientists at the Mad Science Network can fill you in on the life cycle of plants.
Want to know when the best time is to sow and reap your plants? Talk to the folks at the Old Farmer's Almanac. They have been giving plant advice for well over two hundred years. The first Farmer's Almanac was published in 1792.
Reacquaint yourself with Thomas Jefferson. He was an accomplished farmer and gardener who thought that botany was "among the most useful of the sciences".
Figure out deciduous trees and temperate deciduous forests. How is a deciduous tree different from a coniferous tree?
Experience the life cycle of a giant sequoia. Then learn about the life cycle of a pine tree.
Ethnobotany is the study of human relationship to plants, often involving study of ancient plant remains, oral history, written records,and myths.
Fungi are not really plants. But they do have an interesting life cycle. Find out more.
Sometimes photosynthesis needs a helping hand. Find out how to make your plants grow vigorously.
Hang out with Bud and Sprout and Detective LePlant to solve these plant mysteries. Mystery #1, In Search of Green Life contains many useful clues about the life cycles of plants.
Look inside a seed and discover the beginnings of a plant.
Discover some of the 50,000 species of fungi in the world. Mushrooms, toadstools, and molds are fungi. Fungi play an important role in nature.
Find out about the biology of lichens, see photos of lichens, and discover how they benefit humans, animals, and the environment.
Photosynthesis is a wonder. The word photosynthesis means ''putting together with light.'' Find out how plants make food with light.
Look at pictures of ringworm. This human ailment is not a worm at all--it's a fungus. So is athlete's foot.
Most people have dandelions in their yards. See how dandelion seeds are carried by the wind so that they can germinate as part of their life cycle.
In order for the life cycle of a tree to begin, trees need to disperse their seeds in such a way that at least some of them will germinate. Find out how they do this.
Carnivorous bog plants are pretty cool. Find out about how they get their energy. (There is even an international society for people interested in carnivorous plants).
Discover why leaves change to red, gold, and orange in the fall.
- Benanti, Carol. There's A Fungus Among Us: Your Complete Fungus-growing Kit. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, c1996.
- Bennett, Paul. Pollinating a Flower. New York: Thomson Learning, 1994.
- Madgwick, Wendy. Fungi and Lichen. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn Library, 1990.
- Pascoe, Elaine. Slime Molds and Fungi. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, c1999.
- Royston, Angela. Strange Plants. Des Plaines, Ill.: Heinemann Library, 1999.
- Silverstein, Alvin. Photosynthesis. Brookfield, Conn.: Twenty-First Century Books, c1998.