How to Train Your Plant II

Blog followers will remember that in the first “How to Train Your Plant” post, we demonstrated how plants respond to the gravitational pull of the earth. Geotropism is difficult to overcome, but that didn’t stop me from trying to make a plant grow sideways through a maze. You can try this activity at home.

You will need these items:

  • a shoebox (or any kind of box)
  • cardboard to make dividers
  • duct tape (or any opaque tape)
  • soaked bean seeds—I used different beans from a soup mix
  • a container with soil
PHOTO: The materials for the maze are displayed.
You’ll need a shoe box, cardboard dividers, seeds, a pot with soil medium, and of course scissors and tape for constructing the maze.

Stand the box on its side. Then cut two pieces of cardboard to fit in the box and make divisions. You’ll want these to fit as snugly as possible inside the box, but they don’t have to be perfect. The tape will fix that. Cut a large window in each divider. Cut a window on one end of the box. Tape the dividers in place as shown in the picture.

PHOTO: The maze assembly is shown in the shoebox. There are two dividers with cut out windows and a whole in the side of the box for light to shine sideways on the sprouting bean seeds.
Pardon the crude appearance of this maze. I wasn’t going for style points.

Plant the seeds in the soil and put the container on the side opposite of the hole you cut. Just for fun, I used several different seeds from a bean soup mix to see if one kind would get through the maze better than the others. It was like a bean-seed “race.” You can try whatever you like.

Make sure the holes in the divisions are big enough to allow lots of light in from the side, and don’t vary the height too much. Remember, we are fighting the plant’s tendency to grow up—if it’s too challenging, it won’t work. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

When the maze is complete, give your beans a last bit of water, and maybe a kiss, and then close the box. Apply tape along the top edge, to secure it and reduce light. Then put it next to a window and wait.

And wait.

It’s going to take a few weeks. Remember, horticulturists are very patient. Open the box every few days or so to be sure it has not dried out. Add a little water, but only enough to moisten the soil if it is very dry.

When you see the bean plant emerging through the open window in the box, open it and take a look. How long this will take will depend on the kind of beans you use, how far the plant has to grow, and how warm the room is.  

The beans have sprouted and are moving toward the light
The beans have sprouted and are moving toward the light

 It took my beans about five weeks to grow through the second window.

 

PHOTO: all of the bean sprouts are leaning toward the light.
The beans were definitely torn between growing up and growing in the direction of the light.

 

The winning sprouts, which I believe were lentils, did not actually make it through to the last window when I took this picture, and I’m not sure it has enough “umph” to do it. Still, notice how all of the plants leaned toward the light and most of them grew through the first window. That is a positive result!

What is going on here?

This activity demonstrates phototropism. Photo is the Latin word for “light,” and you will remember that a tropism refers to an organism’s response to stimulus, so that phototropism means plants grow toward the light.

It makes sense for plants to reach for the light because they need light to make sugars, their source of energy. Normally, growing up against the pull of gravity is also growing toward the light. In this activity, we changed that condition, forcing the beans to deviate from their normal course to get the light they needed.

The sprouts that grew the farthest and were closest to completing the maze had leggy stems that would not support growth upward to the last window. If I leave them a few more weeks, they could possibly grow along the bottom and then up the side of the box. I’ll have to wait and see.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Stories in the Snow

After the recent snowfall, I took my camera out for a walk to find evidence of wildlife around the Learning Campus. The first animal tracks I found were those of at least one coyote running across the snow.

The individual track was not a clear footprint, but it was the right general shape and size to be a coyote.

PHOTO: the single track of a coyote is seen in the snow.
The coyote track looks like that of a medium-sized dog, with padded feet making toe impressions in the snow.

The tracks formed a few paths across the campus.

PHOTO: two coyote trails are seen very clearly running through the snow, close to the treeline.
A coyote ran through the snow toward the right of the picture, then ran back and rejoined its original trail.

The tracks did not follow the paths that people walk, but tended to run closer to trees. This makes sense for an animal that is trying to stay hidden from other animals. I also found a spot where the coyote seemed to run up, do a little turnaround, and take off in another direction.

PHOTO: The tracks in the snow look like the coyote ran and make a circle in the snow.
The tracks look like a coyote circled around after running out of the woods.

This isn’t the clearest picture, but you can still see that the coyote came from the wooded area toward the front of the picture, then it turned around and sank its front paws in the snow where you see two clear side-by-side holes in the snow. It turned and ran to the right of the picture frame. You can imagine a spirted puppy running excitedly as it plays in the new snow, and leaving tracks like these.

I was hoping to find evidence of animals interacting. The closest thing I found was this set of rabbit tracks.

PHOTO: a set of rabbit tracks appears from behind the corner of the building, turns around and goes back in the direction it came from.
The rabbit who left these tracks decided to turn around and go back instead of coming around the corner of the building.

Here the rabbit hopped to the corner of the building, stopped, and then turned around and went back the way it came. Did it possilby see or smell the coyotes that were running around and decide to go back to hiding?

On my walk I found squirrel, bird, and mouse tracks. And then I found these strange marks in the snow.

PHOTO: a nice layer of snow on top of a hedge row has long parallel lines from students dragging their fingers along the hedge as they walked past.
Fingerprints in the snow?

What could these strange lines be? “It’s elementary, Mr. Watson!” These “fingerprints” were left by elementary school students as they dragged their hands along the snow at the Learning Center this morning.

If you want to find animal tracks in the snow and figure out what stories they tell, here are some tips:

  • Go out and look when the snow is fresh.
  • Think about which animals you have actually seen around, and where you have seen them. Look there.
  • Search around trees and shrubs, especially if there are places a small animal might crawl into for shelter.
  • Be alert for sources of food; the snackers and nappers may be out looking for a meal, and they will leave their marks.

Good luck, and remember not to eat yellow snow.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Autumn Trailblazing

Did you know that “blazing a trail” is the act of painting white marks, or “blazes,” on trees to guide others through the woods? People who make these paths are called “trailblazers” but the term has also come to mean “pioneer.”

PHOTO: This sign tells visitors which way to drive to get to parking lots, visitor center, or learning campus.Instead of using white paint on trees, the Chicago Botanic Garden uses a system of white arrows on brown signs. In this sign, which is located just past the Gatehouse, the arrow pointing up in this sign tells you to go straight forward to get to the Visitor Center, while arrows pointing left and right direct you to turn in order to reach the parking lot or Learning Campus.

You can be a trailblazer in the original sense of the word. You don’t need brown signs or white paint to be a trailblazer. Autumn is a great time to find natural objects such as sticks, acorn caps, and other things fallen from the trees, to make trail markers on the ground.

PHOTO: Pictured here are four diffent ways to make arrows using stones, sticks, and red berries.The picture here shows you four different ways to direct a person to the right. 1. Line up small stones in the shape of an arrow. 2. Use larger stones to make a traditional trail marker by placing a small stone on top of a larger stone and adding a third stone next the pile in the direction you want to send your hikers. 3. Bright red serviceberries contrast against the green grass and make a colorful marker. 4. Arrange sticks in an arrow to point the way.

 

PHOTO: four sticks are arranged to form a square with eight stones inside the square; three sticks form an arrow over the square to tell what direction the hiker should take.Want to get fancy? Try this: form a square with sticks and tell the hiker how many steps to take by placing that number of stones in the middle. Make an arrow with small sticks to indicate direction. The trail marker in the picture tells us to take eight steps to get to the next marker. (This marker idea comes from an old Girl Scout Handbook.)

 

IM000504Mark the end of your trail with an X or a circle of rocks to let people know they’ve reached the intended destination. You can even place a treasure at the end of the path to reward your trail followers.

So don’t be put off by the cool fall weather—get outside and show your pioneering spirit by blazing a trail for your family and friends to follow around your home.


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Sunflowers in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden

Have you seen the sunflowers in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden this month? Let’s take a closer look to see what’s going on.

PHOTO: Sunflower nodding down toward the ground.

Many of the blossoms have lost their yellow petals and are bending down.
We need to take a closer look.

PHOTO: Very close up picture of a sunflower.

Just a little closer …

PHOTO: Extreeme close up of the middle of a sunflower, showing the tiny florets and sunflower seeds.

There!

Now you can see that one sunflower is actually made of hundreds of very small flowers. Notice the tiny, yellow, pointed petals of the individual flowers. Each blossom produces one seed. You can see the seeds where they have matured at the top edge of this sunflower. Can you find the spot where one seed is missing? Perhaps it fell out or was eaten by bird.

Sunflowers are what we call “composite” flowers, so named because they are composed of many florets growing so close together they appear to be one flower. If you look carefully at the arrangement of the flowers and seeds, you might notice a spiral pattern.

Other composite flowers you may know are daisies, dandelions, and mums. There are many composite flowers blooming at the Chicago Botanic Garden right now. Come for a visit to check it out, and bring your favorite magnifier so you can take a closer look at the real thing.

Visit chicagobotanic.org/learningcampus/growinggarden for more information on the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden.

Spring and Summer Camps at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden camp instructor Aimee Frank discusses the fun and adventures kids experience during Spring Break Camp and Camp CBG. During Spring Break Camp (March 29-April 2) children ages 5-8 discover bulbs, look for birds and other wildlife, and learn about all aspects of nature at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Starting in mid-June, children can attend Camp CBG which provides exciting outdoor learning opportunities for kids ages 2-15.