Teaching Children About Weeds and Wildflowers
Weeds and wildflowers can be found just about anywhere. While some weeds are well worth the trouble of removal, others are actually attractive and useful.
Weeds are simply plants growing in the wrong place. Some wildflowers are nothing more than weeds while others provide crucial sustenance to wildlife.
There are two types of weeds—annuals and perennials. Annual weeds grow faster, typically spreading by seed and die out within a year. Perennial weeds are more difficult to control, as these weeds usually have extensive root systems that can cover large areas. They also come back every year. Discuss with kids the reasons why invasive weeds are problematic and the conditions with which they grow best.
Identifying Weeds and WildflowersWhen studying weeds and wildflowers, pay close attention to their characteristics. Related plants share similar patterns and features, making identification easier. This can include the size, shape and colour of flowers as well as the number of petals and their arrangement on the plant. Look at the leaf size and shape too.
Stems can also help identify the type of plant. For instance, some may stand upright while others carpet the ground. How do they grow? Some of these plants produce from seeds, others by bulbs or tubers.
Many weeds and wildflowers can be identified by their habitat. Some prefer well-drained, sandy or humus soil. Others thrive in moist or clay-like soil. Various weeds and wildflowers, like nettle, violet, or wild geranium, may be found along ditches and roadsides. Some may be seen in open fields and meadows, such as poppies, thistles, and daisies. Woodland areas might be home to bellflowers, spurge, and orchids. Weeds and wildflowers like loosestrife, flowering rush and pondweed, enjoy boggy environments and ponds.
Discuss How Weed and Wildflower Seeds TravelMost plants grow from seeds, which must find suitable areas to grow, especially without the aid of people. Weeds and wildflowers, like many plants, have their own methods of transportation. For instance, the white, fluffy seeds of dandelions blow easily in the wind, scattering nearly everywhere.
In addition to wind, some plants rely on water to carry their seeds from one place to another. Insects, birds, and other animals also help, carrying or dropping seeds in different areas.
Learn about Local Weeds and WildflowersExplore local plant communities and perform research on the plants found. Take a nature walk, visiting areas such as open fields or meadows to collect weed and wildflower specimens. However, explain the proper procedure for collecting plants, reminding kids about the importance of leaving them undisturbed. As an alternative to collecting plants, encourage kids to take pictures or draw them instead. Allow kids to choose at least three specimens to study.
Field guides can be especially helpful as they learn to recognise various weeds and wildflowers. Consult with local plant experts as well to provide kids with additional information.
Have the kids create an observation sheet, noting where specific plants are found and under what conditions. Tell them to write a summary, from each plant’s perspective, of their findings that includes its common and Latin name, its history, identifying features, whether it’s native or non-native, and if it’s helpful or a nuisance. If any of their plants are found to be problematic, have them prepare “Wanted” posters, listing their threat to the environment and any known aliases.
Ever blown the seeds from a dandelion while making a wish. Perhaps you’ve plucked the petals from a daisy while saying, “Loves me, loves me not.” Discuss common folklore associated with native weeds and wildflowers as well as their uses, if any. For instance, stinging nettle can be used for making cloth and dyes. Dandelions are edible, providing a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Plantain is known as the healing plant, used to treat minor skin irritations.
Fun Facts and ActivitiesDid you know that weeds can be used as clues to soil conditions within their surroundings? The presence of weeds such as nettles, docks, dandelions, and brambles are an indication of highly fertile soil. Others, like plantains and daisies, are often seen in heavier, low fertile soils.
Wildflower or Grass-Head Babies. Cut and fill the toe portion of pantyhose with wildflower or grass seed mixture (can also use birdseed mix). Add a mix of potting soil and wood shavings. Tie off the bottom and allow kids to create a nose and ears using small rubber bands. Draw eyes and a mouth. Place the ‘baby’ in a Styrofoam cup, keeping it moist, and set the cup in a well-lit window. Watch as it begins to grow weedy or wildflower hair.