Gateway to the Classics: Wild-Flower Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Wild-Flower Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock

How To Make Plants Comfortable

dropcap image NOTHER step in plant study comes naturally from planting the seeds in window-boxes or garden. This may be done in the kindergarten or in the primary grades. As soon as the children have had some experience in the growing of flowers, they should conduct some experiments which will teach them about the needs of plants. These experiments are fit for the work of the second or third grade. Uncle John says, "All plants want to grow; all they ask is that they shall be made comfortable." The following experiments should be made vital and full of interest, by impressing upon the children that through them they will learn to make their plants comfortable.

Experiment 1. To find out what kind of soil plants love best to grow in—Have the children of a class, or individuals representing a class, prepare four little pots or boxes, as follows: Fill one with rich, woods humus, or with potting earth from a florist's; another with poor, hard soil, which may be found near excavations; another with clean sand; another with sawdust. Plant the same kind of seeds in all four, and place them where they will get plenty of light. Water them as often as needful. Note which plants grow the best. This trial should cover six weeks at least and attention should now and then be called to the relative growth of the plants.

Experiment 2. To prove that plants need light in order to grow.—Fill two pots with the same rich soil; plant in these the same kind of seeds, and give them both the same amount of water; keep one in the window and place the other in a dark closet or under a box, and note what happens. Or take two potted geraniums which look equally thrifty; keep one in the light and the other in darkness. What happens?

Experiment 3. To show that the leaves love the light—Place a geranium in a window and let it remain in the same position for two weeks. Which way do all the leaves face? Turn it around, and note what the leaves have done after a few days.

Experiment 4. To show that plants need water—Fill three pots with rich earth, plant the same kinds of seeds in each, and place them all in the same window. Give one water as it needs it, keep another flooded with water, and give the other none at all. What happens to the seeds in the three pots?

The success of these four experiments depends upon the genius of the teacher. The interest in the result should be keen; every child should feel that every seed planted is a living germ and that it is struggling to grow; every look at the experiments should be like another chapter in a continued story. In the case of young children, I have gone so far as to name the seeds, "Robbie Radish" or "Polly Peppergrass." I did this to focus the attention of the child on the efforts of this living being to grow. After the experiments, the children told the story, personating each seed, thus: "I am Susie Sweet Pea and Johnny Smith planted me in sand. I started to grow, for I had some lunch with me which my mother put up for me to eat when I was hungry; but after the lunch was all gone, I could find very little food in the sand, although my little roots reached down and tried and tried to find something for me to eat. I finally grew pale and could not put out another leaf."

The explanations of these experiments should be simple, with no attempt to teach the details of plant physiology. The need of plants for rich, loose earth and for water is easily understood by the children; but the need for light is not so apparent, and Uncle John's story of the starch factory is the most simple and graphic way of making known to the children the processes of plant nourishment. This is how he tells it: "Plants are just like us; they have to have food to make them grow; where is the food and how do they find it? Every green leaf is a factory to make food for the plant; the green pulp in the leaf is the machinery; the leaves get the raw materials from the sap and from the air, and the machinery unites them and makes them into plant food. This is mostly starch, for this is the chief food of plants, although they require some other kinds of food also. The machinery is run by sunshine-power, so the leaf-factory can make nothing without the aid of light; the leaf-factories begin to work as soon as the sun rises, and only stop working when it sets. But the starch has to be changed to sugar before the baby, growing tips of the plant can use it for nourishment and growth; and so the leaves, after making the starch from the sap and the air, are obliged to digest it, changing the starch to sugar; for the growing parts of the plant feed upon sweet sap. Although the starch-factory in the leaves can work only during the daytime, the leaves can change the starch to sugar during the night. So far as we know, there is no starch in the whole world which is not made in the leaf-factories."

This story should be told and repeated often, until the children realize the work done by leaves for the plants and their need of light.

"The clouds are at play in the azure space

And their shadows at play on the bright green vale.

And here they stretch to the frolic chase;

And there they roll on the easy gale.

"There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,

There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,

There's a smile on the fruit and a smile on the flower,

And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea."


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