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Project Number 1: Plants

Plants are living organisms such as trees, herbs, bushes, grasses,

vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. They provide us with food
materials, wood and also convert carbon monoxide into life giving
oxygen. They are composed of many parts such as roots, stem,
leaves, buds, flowers, fruits etc.

Plant Facts

Tree resin which has been fossilized is known as amber, it

sometimes contains plant material or small animals that were
trapped inside.
Some plants are carnivores, gaining nutrients by eating various
small insects and spiders.
Bamboo can be a fast growing plant, some types can grow almost
a metre (3.28 feet) in just one day!
While using energy from sunlight, plants turn carbon dioxide into
food in a process called photosynthesis.
Around 2000 different types of plants are used by humans to
make food.
Onions might taste good but they can be painful to chop. A gas is
released when you cut onions that irritates your eyes, the tears
you produce while this happens are your bodys way of washing it
from your eyes.
There are over 200,000 identified plant species and the list is
growing all the time.
Poison ivy produces a skin irritant called urushiol. Touching
poison ivy will cause an allergic reaction, usually in the form of
an itchy rash on the skin.
Fertilizers are chemicals added to plants to help them grow.
Important elements in fertilizers include nitrogen, phosphorus
and potassium.

What Makes a Plant?
What do they all have in common? The big thing that connects
plants is photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process that
allows plants to take energy from the Sun and create sugars.
Not all plants go through the process of photosynthesis. As with
all of biology, there are exceptions and you may learn about
plant species that are parasites. Plants also have cell walls. All
cells have a membrane. Only plants have an additional cell
wall made from cellulose.

Plants are able to turn sunlight into energy but not directly.
Plants are actually able to store energy in some chemical bonds
that can be used later. There are two processes on Earth:
Photosynthesis and Respiration. Photosynthesis stores the
energy and respiration releases that energy. It all starts with the
Sun. Check out the tutorial on photosynthesis.

Not all of the light from the Sun makes it
to the surface of the Earth. The little light
that does make it here is enough for the
plants of the world to survive and go
through the process of photosynthesis.
Light is actually energy. When that energy
gets to a green plant, all sorts of reactions
can take place to store energy in the form
of sugar molecules. When light gets to a
plant, the plant doesn't use all of it. It actually uses only certain
colors to make photosynthesis happen. Plants mostly
absorb red and blue wavelengths. When you see a color, it is
actually a color that the object does NOT absorb. In the case of
green plants, they do not absorb light from the green range.

Photosynthesis happens in the chloroplast. Within this
cell organelle is the chlorophyll that captures the light from the
Sun. The chloroplasts are working night and day with different
jobs. The molecules are moved and converted in the area called
the stroma.


Chlorophyll is the magic compound that can grab that sunlight
and start the whole process. Chlorophyll is actually quite a
varied compound. There are four (4) types: a, b, c, and d.
Chlorophyll can also be found in many microorganisms.
However, as far as plants are concerned, the chlorophyll is
found in the chloroplasts. The other big molecules are water
(H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), oxygen (O2) and glucose (C6H12O6).
Carbon dioxide and water combine with light to create oxygen
and glucose. That glucose is used in various forms by every
creature on the planet.


The whole process doesn't happen
all at one time. The process of
photosynthesis is divided into two
main parts. The first part is called
the light dependent reaction. This
reaction happens when the light
energy is captured and pushed into
a chemical called ATP. The second
part of the process happens when the ATP is used to make
glucose (the Calvin Cycle). That second part is called the light
independent reaction.

The plants we discuss will be
vascular plants that have systems
of tubes (xylem and phloem) for the
transport of nutrients and water.
Remember that there is a wide
variety of plants on Earth and even
a whole group that doesn't have
vascular systems. Then you will
find species such as cacti that don't
have leaves. They conduct photosynthesis in their stems.


Lets look at some similarities. An easy similarity is on a cellular
level. Plants conduct photosynthesis. This process of converting
the Sun's energy into molecular energy happens in chloroplasts
with the help of chlorophyll molecules and a variety of enzymes.
Vascular plants share a similar set of structures called roots,
stems, and leaves. Many plants have specialized versions, but
the basics are there. One specialization might be the petals of
a flower.


We'll start at the bottom with the roots. These structures are
designed to pull water and minerals from whatever material the
plant sits on. For water plants, the roots may be in the water.
For traditional trees, the roots go deep into the soil.
Root systems also provide support for plants in the form of an
anchor in the soil. If the wind blows hard, those roots keep the
plant from falling over. Some plant species have roots above
ground that provide support for the entire plant.

There are some roots above the surface, but the majority of the
plant you see is made up of stems and leaves. Think about a
tree. The stems are the trunks and branches. Leaves are self-
explanatory. Stems are all about transporting food and water
and acting as support structures. Leaves are all about
photosynthesis, creating food molecules and absorbing carbon
dioxide for the plant. These parts are connected by the vascular
system of xylem and phloem that spreads through the entire

The tip (terminal bud) of the main stem has a specialized

structure that is the source of new growth for plants.

Seeds let you send your offspring
out into the world. Seeds provide a
protective coat so that the embryo
plant can develop when it finds a
nice piece of soil. But remember
this: gymnosperms have not
developed the ability to
make flowers. Flowers are an
evolutionary advancement after
seeds. So if you have a vascular system, seeds, and no flowers,
what are you? A gymnosperm!

Seeds are a protective structure that lets a plant embryo survive

for long periods of time before it germinates. Seeds have food
sources pre-packaged for plant embryos to provide for an
embryo's needs in early growth. Seeds let plants spread their
embryos over large areas. Some are even so lightweight that
they are carried across the planet by strong winds. Seeds are an
advantage if you want to be a plant that can grow anywhere.

Looking like a fern. Looking like a palm tree. It's actually
neither! It's a cycad. These are another favorite of landscape
designers. These are sturdy little plants that can survive in
harsh conditions. You won't find them in cold areas like the
conifers. Cycads need warmer weather to survive. They have
cone-like structures for reproduction. Instead of being on
branches, their cones are in the center of the plant and can get
really large.

If you've ever gone skiing or to
northern latitudes you have seen
loads of conifers. The conifers most
people think of are pine trees. Every
year, millions of trees are grown for
Christmas and they are all conifers.
They usually have needles and cones.

They are also evergreens: even in cold winter months they are
able to keep their needles. That ability is one reason they do so
well in northern latitudes. The ever-present needles allow
conifers to take advantage of the Sun whenever it is around.
They are also some of the tallest plants in the world. They are
able to get very tall and strong because of heavy-duty xylem
that hardens and makes them sturdy. That sturdiness is why
these kinds of trees make good lumber - hard and strong wood.

Not every plant made it to the
modern day. The Ginkgo is one of
the ones that made it. Some people
call it a "Maidenhair Tree". It's the
last one of its kind. It has needles
that have combined to form very
sturdy leaf-like structures. You
need to remember they are not like
leaves in the traditional sense.
You've probably seen these all over. Landscape designers love to
use them because they look very nice and are very resistant
to pollution. They are great for cities. Being able to resist
insects and disease has let this species survive beyond all of its
close relatives.

We asked it before. What would give
you an advantage if you were a
plant? You have a vascular system
to transport nutrients. You have
seeds for reproduction that allow
your babies to spread out in new
areas. Whats next? Flowers!
Flowers are the most recent
evolutionary advantage for plants.

When we talked about gymnosperms, we spoke of seeds. That was a big
advantage. The angiosperms took it one step further. They not only have
seeds, but they also have flowers. What kind of an advantage is that? Many
angiosperm species use wind for pollination the way that gymnosperms do.
What if you didn't need to rely on the wind to spread your pollen around
anymore? What if another creature could do it for you? Maybe an insect?
Sounds like a new advantage.

Those specialized flowers are able to attract

organisms to help pollinate and distribute
seeds. Another cool advantage is the
fruit/seed packaging. Would you rather eat
a pine cone or an apple? A lot of animals
would go for the apple. When they do, they
are able to spread the seeds across wide
areas after the animal poops out the seeds.


There are two kinds of seeds in the
angiosperms, monocots and dicots. Monocot is short for monocotyledon. A
cotyledon is the seed leaf. When you are a monocot, your seed only has one
package of food. "Mono" means one or a single cotyledon. Monocots are made
up of simple flowering plants like grasses, corn, palm trees, and lilies. Two of
the characteristics of monocots are that their flowers have petals in numbers
of three and their leaves are made of long strands. Think of the leaves of grass
or a palm frond.


The other kind of plant in the flowering
plant world is called a dicot. Dicot is short
for dicotyledon. "Di" means two or a double
cotyledon. These plants have seeds that
have two cotyledons, two seed leaves of food
for the embryo. Most of the flowers you see
every day are dicots. They have flowers with
petals in numbers of four and five. They
also have really complex leaves with veins
all over, not long like monocots. Some
examples of dicots are roses, sunflowers,
cacti, apple, and cherry plants.