Duration: 30 to 40 minutes
Vocabulary: benthics, air sacs, emergent, buttressing, adaptation
Summary: Students learn about the adaptations specific to wetland plants and try to identify different types. They then invent a new plant using what they learned.
Objectives: Students will gain a deeper understanding of how plants have evolved to live in different habitats, and how living in and around the water is different from living on land.
Materials: wetland plant ID pages (see Handouts) or wheels (contact Environmental Educator), paper, clip boards, pencils, crayons
Before plants evolved to live on land, they lived in the water! In order to make the move onto land they had to develop certain adaptations, like the ability to draw water up and out from solid ground or collect rain water, the ability to hold themselves upright in spite of gravity, and the ability to move their seeds around without the help of water currents. These are all amazing adaptations we see around us every day. Wetland plants have very interesting adaptations too! Many times they live in the middle between the land, and have to deal with changing water levels and a lack of oxygen.
Wetlands are considered highly productive environments because the sediment has such high levels of nutrient deposition. This is because the wetlands slows water down (think of the speed of water moving in a stream vs. a wetland) and allows nutrients and sediment to fall out of the water. This means that wetland soil is nutrient rich, which is great for plants. On the other hand, most plants need to get oxygen to their roots–something that is relatively easy on land but becomes difficult in a wetland. Plants adapt to this by different ways, like having hollow stems, air sacs, or having roots above the ground in the form of buttresses. Buttressing also gives extra support for plants growing in such a soggy substrate.
Show pictures of different wetland plant adaptations (see Handouts) and ask students how they are different from the other plants they see everyday. Ask students what they would do if they were living underwater. How would they breath? For example, they might put a straw or snorkel going from their mouth to the surface–just like plants with hollow stems.
If this activity is being performed inside or on school grounds, print out a variety of pictures of different wetland plants and their adaptations. If it is being performed at a wetland itself, obtain wetland plant identification guides for students.
Explain the different ways plants adapt to their environment, focusing on wetland plants using the Handouts section. Take a brief tour of the wetland with students, allowing them to walk around and analyze the different plants. Have students sketch the plants they see and label the different parts they can identify and what they think they might be for. Have students look up the plants in the guides and write down the names they think they can identify.
Pass out paper and crayon materials and have students design and draw their own unique wetland plant using different adaptations for living in a wetland. They should write the adaptations they decided to use on the paper as well, and give their plant a name. After sufficient drawing time, have students come together and share the adaptations they chose and their drawing.
Ask students to name some ways plants have evolved to live in the water. What are three things these plants have that plants living on land do not? Why are these adaptations important?
Have students research a certain wetland plant and write a report about it or a story of a day from the plants point of view. What would it see and what would happen to it?