investigative labs for plant biology

David Hershey dh321z at
Fri Aug 23 15:41:20 EST 2002

This question has come up before so you might wish to
check the archives:< >.
Science teaching journals such as American Biology
Teacher, Science Activities, Journal of Biological
Education, and Science Teacher have had hundreds of
plant lab articles over the years. Use the AskERIC
site < > to search for
some of these articles. The C-Fern < >and Wisconsin Fast Plants < > have all sorts of
lab exercises. ABLE has some plant lab exercises
online <

I always recommend solution culture or hydroponic
experiments (Hershey 1994) from the traditional
inducement of mineral nutrient deficiency symptoms to
solution pH changes (Hershey 1992a) due to iron
deficiency, ammonium to nitrate ratio, light level, or
episodic shoot growth of plants such as Euonymous
japonica. I also had an exercise that used qualitative
chemical tests to determine which solutions were
deficient in a particular element (Hershey and Stutte

Inducing carbon dioxide deficiency (Hershey 1992b) or
comparing C3 to C4 plants grown in a sealed container
(Hershey 1995) are nice experiments that illustrate
fundamental concepts. Students could try to keep
albino corn alive by finding the most efficient method
of feeding the cut leaf tips with sucrose solution
(Spoehr 1942) <
>. Using commercial flower preservatives, such as
Floralife, might be advantageous in such an
investigation. Flower preservatives are formulated to
keep cut xylem from clogging.

Friend (1990) has a nice exercise on CAM metabolism
with the houseplant Kalanchoe daigremontiana, which is
a good general experimental plant. It can also be used
for photoperiodism studies. Students can try to find
out why the foliar plantlets form only in short days
on intact leaves but form regardless of photoperiod on
detached leaves. 

Glime and Yenhung (1998) have a nice moss and pH lab.
Duckweed growth in different solutions is a nice
experimental system (DeBuhr 1991)< >.
Charles Darwin's son Francis used duckweed in teaching
in the late 1800s.

If you have the facilities, there are many plant
tissue culture exercises described in science teaching
journals and in a couple of plant tissue culture lab
manuals (Dodds and Roberts 1995, Smith 2000).
Propagation experiments are often popular because
students get to take home some of the plants they

Plant physiology lab manuals have all sorts of good
experiments, such as ones on hormones, tropisms,
photosynthesis, biochemistry, plant-water relations,
etc. Not too many plant physiology lab manuals seem to
be in print, but you can find a lot via interlibrary
loan (e.g. Witham et al. 1986). Reiss (1993) has an
interesting exercise on making leaf starch prints
using photographic negatives. 

Carnivorous plants intrique students. They could
repeat Darwin's investigations on how the leaf trap of
the Venus flytrap closes.

The sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) is another good
experimental subject because of its rapid leaf

Time lapse videography is an underutilized technique
for student investigative labs.


DeBuhr, L. E.. 1991. Using Lemna to study geometric
population growth. American Biology Teacher 53:

Dodds, J.H. and Roberts, L.W. 1995. Experiments in
Plant Tissue Culture. New York: Cambridge University

Friend, Douglas J. C. 1990. Plant eco-physiology:
Experiments on Crassulacean acid metabolism, using
minimal equipment. American Biology Teacher.

Glime, J.M. and Yenhung, L. 1998. pH lowering ability
of Sphagnum. Science Activities 35(3):10-16.

Hershey, D.R. 1995. Plant Biology Science Projects.
New York: Wiley.

Hershey, D.R.1994. Hydroponics for teaching: history
and inexpensive equipment. American Biology Teacher

Hershey, D.R. 1992a. Plant nutrient solution pH
changes. Journal of Biological Education 26:107-111.

Hershey, D.R. 1992b. Plants can't do without CO2.
Science Teacher 59(3):41-43.

Hershey, D.R and Stutte, G.W. 1991. A laboratory
exercise on semi-quantitative analysis of ions in
nutrient solutions. Journal of Biological Education

Reiss, C. 1993. Experiments in Plant Physiology. New
York: Prentice Hall.

Smith, R. 2000. Plant Tissue Culture: Techniques and
Experiments. New York: Acdemic Press. 
Spoehr, H.A. 1942. The culture of albino maize. Plant
Physiology 17:397-410. 

Witham, F. H.,  Blaydes, D.F., and Devlin, R.M. 1986.
Exercises in Plant Physiology, 2nd ed. Boston, MA:
Prindle, Weber Schmidt. 

David R. Hershey
dh321z at

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