“Ouch, something poked me!”
The teachable moment begins… what poked you? Why do you think you got poked? Why do plants have poky parts?
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – Abraham Lincoln
Thorns are an adaptation (or tool) plants have to help them survive. Adaptations are characteristics of a species that are passed down from generation to generation and typically develop over time. Adaptations help an organism survive in its natural environment.
Some adaptations are structural and some are behavioral. For example, a cactus has spines to prevent animals from eating it. A hawk has sharp talons to help it catch prey. An ermine’s coat turns white in winter to provide camouflage in its snowy environment. These are examples of adaptations that help these species survive. Thorns on a berry bush are another example (raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry, etc…).
These prickly weapons serve many purposes. For those of us thinking about what plants to put in our learning landscapes, thorny plants seem to often be avoided YET they provide numerous teachable moments and fascination for youth. This is a common conversation among many school garden projects, most of which decide the benefit of having thorned plants like raspberries and roses outweigh the risks. Let’s go down that prickly path for just a few moments…
Planting raspberries and other plants with ‘special equipment’ offer tremendous teachable moments and learning opportunities including lessons on: identification of plant parts, transpiration, symbiotic & predator relationships (with insects and animals), plant defense, plant history (the many historical and biblical references to roses), personal responsibility, stewardship. Just imagine the art, life science, literature and writing lessons that could evolve from observing how plants such as raspberries are adapted to have insects and birds disperse their pollen and seeds while discouraging other herbivores from eating its stalks. The paradox that something so poky can produce something so yummy is a platform for endless language arts lessons and activities.
Learning about, observing and understanding why plants have thorns provides fascinating lessons of survival and adaptation for children. These special ‘tools’ have a purpose and demand a level of respect and precaution, otherwise we get poked! Getting a scratch or poke by a plant reminds us that we need to take care and take personal responsibility. An exploration of plant adaptations is a great springboard for studying animal adaptations as well.
I encourage those of you investigating plants to use in a learning landscape to consider the benefits of using plants in their natural/native form and not to shy away from these thorny fruit bearing wonders, as the teachable moments provide endless possibilities. Happy harvest!
Check out some of these sites for more detailed lessons on plants, plant parts, and unique plant ‘equipment’:
/www.choiceusa.net/LessonPlans/Extended Lessons.htm (from seeds to plants)
http://www.nps.gov/cany/forteachers/upload/FifthGrade_PlantAdaptations.pdf (desert plant adaptations)
http://www.teachervision.fen.com/ (classroom ready lessons on most topics for all ages)