Learning the Parts of a Plant

Getting our hands dirty

Cold winds and a recent snow shower didn’t deter Stanley Garden Club from meeting last week and getting even more seeds planted, though the chilly temperature did keep us indoors. We got our hands dirty as we added some water to the dried up potting soil, creating the moist foundation needed for seed germination. We then planted beets, eggplant, peppers, and both red and yellow onions. There were several different kinds of beets, including golden beets, which were easily identifiable by their golden seeds- how convenient! We will definitely have to do some beet taste-testing come harvest time. Will the golden and red varieties taste similar or different?

Because of the cold weather and the fragility of new seeds, we planted these tender vegetables in plug trays. A plug tray is great for the very first stage of a plant’s life; it contains many rows of individual cells which help keep young roots separated. However, once the plants begin to grow we will have to transplant them from the plug trays into bigger trays, and then into the garden beds outside.

Image via tutorvista.com

After washing our hands off we had a great discussion about the different parts of a plant, and how vegetables can come from just about any one (or more) of these parts. Important features of any plant include the root, stem, leaf, and flower (which develops into the fruit, which contains the seeds- two more plant parts!). Each part has a distinct and important role. Roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil and keep the plant from blowing away. Plants can have either a taproot system, in which there is one primary thick root that goes straight down into the ground, or a fibrous root system, in which there are many thin roots spreading out in every direction. Carrots and beets are examples of root vegetables, or more specifically, taproot vegetables.

Root veggies

The water and nutrients taken up by the roots are then transported up through the stem. But the stem is not just a way for the plant to move around nutrients; it also serves the important role of bringing the leaves closer to the sun. Unlike animals that must find their food, plants make their own food by using energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into glucose (a type of sugar) while also releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. This process is called photosynthesis. The leaves of the plant are the primary actors in photosynthesis; they hold the most chlorophyll (green pigment) that is necessary for the plant to absorb sunlight. While all plants have leaves, some examples of leafy vegetables (crops we grow specifically for their leaves) include lettuce and spinach.

Overwintered spinach @ McDevitt

Another key part of a plant- but something we don’t usually associate with vegetables- is the flower. One example of a flower vegetable is, believe it or not, broccoli! Flowers are attractive to insects like butterflies and bees; enticed by their color and scent, these organisms feed on the flower’s nectar and, without knowing it, transfer pollen so that fertilization (when the sperm and ovules, or eggs, join together) can occur. A protective shell (the fruit) then grows around the developing seeds. Some plants make this fleshy layer extra delicious to encourage animals to eat the fruit and spread its seeds after defecating, which is simply a fancy word for pooping! Many foods we consider vegetables in culinary (cooking) terms are technically fruits because they contain seeds*. Some fruits we typically call “vegetables” include cucumbers, tomatoes, and squashes.

Cece & Rebekah

*Botanically speaking, a fruit is the fleshy part of a flowering plant derived from the fertilization of the plant’s ovaries; however, it is more generally considered to be the part of a plant that holds its seeds, such as bean pods.

The plant parts diagram is used via TutorVista.com. All other images created by Rebekah Carter (2011).

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About healthywaltham

Healthy Waltham is a civic group committed to improving the quality of life for people who live, work, and learn in Waltham. Based on the Healthy Communities movement spreading across Massachusetts, Healthy Waltham embraces the principles of community involvement, shared community values, a vision for the future, and community based solutions. Healthy Waltham's Garden Blog intends to inform students, parents, and city residents about our activities in the public schools, community centers, and around town. Questions and comments should be sent to blog@healthy-waltham.org.
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