Wildflowers Across the Curriculum

By Eve Pranis

Inspired to engage students' hands, hearts, and minds with wildflower explorations? Here are some additional ideas for doing so.

* Observe and compare a given area of a wildflower patch with another type of ecosystem, for instance, a lawn or wooded area. Use data sheets to inventory and compare the different types and relationships of plant and animal life.

* Illustrate or take pictures or videos of a wildflower patch over time.

* Calculate the percentages of different types of plants in you own wildflower patch or meadow.

* Design a wildflower scavenger hunt, challenging pairs of students to locate such items as leaves or flowers with specific characteristics (e.g., toothed edges, fuzziness, nectar guides) or plants that attract certain types of pollinators.

* Grow and/or observe and compare selected wildflowers with their cultivated cousins, for instance, Queen Anne's lace and carrots.

* Conduct the activity "Go Seeds Go" from Activities for Growing Minds to explore seed dispersal. Then after collecting or observing wildflower seeds, try to identify how each is dispersed (by wind, water, animals, explosion, etc.).

* After reading Lady Bird Johnson's quote below, discuss whether and how people today are "seed movers":

"Wildflowers are survivors. Many are native to this land; many, like us, are immigrants who sent their descendants across the nation on the wheels of covered wagons, on the hooves of horses, or in the pockets of frontier children."

* Find out which wildflowers are endangered in your area and design and create a slogan, logo or T-shirt to let people know about protecting them.

* Immerse yourselves in wildflower poetry and prose. Find references in fiction books or create haiku or other poetry forms with a wildflower focus.

* Create a wildflower book for your state. (Two of Susan Cox's students in Wilmington, DE, wrote and illustrated an A-to-Z Wild About Wildflowers book featuring a child's name, state location, and wildflower to coincide with every letter of the alphabet. Example: Michelle saw a Monarch butterfly sitting on some Milkweed which was growing in a meadow in Milford.)

* Read Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote: "Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it." Have students discuss or write about multiple meanings of the quote, and about how their own perceptions of wildflowers have changed as a result of your project.

Wildflower Folklore

Did you know that columbine was once used as a tonic to revive the strength of lions in the spring? Or that coreopsis seeds (from koris, meaning "bedbug" and opsis, meaning "looks like") were believed to repel bugs and were used to stuff mattresses? Wildflowers and native plants have played an important role in people's lives throughout the centuries, providing medicine, food, inspiration for art and writing, and beauty to lift the spirits. It can be fascinating to study their folklore, secrets behind their Latin and common names, and their virtues and uses. The more common the wildflower or weed, the richer its history, number of uses, and legends seem to be. Consider the following activities and invent some of your own.

* Have students make creative guesses, then research to discover what the common and Latin names of wildflowers tell us about their structures, uses or cultural/historical significance.

* Read: Tomie dePaola's books, The Legend of the Bluebonnet and The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. Then have students choose wildflowers and develop their own legends based on the names.

* Research the historical medicinal uses of wild plants, and find out how wild plants are used today for medicinal purposes.

* Discover and map out the native regions of wildflowers found in a mixture or those found in your area.

* Find out about currently used edible wild plants and try some wild plant recipes.

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