B is for Botany

We thoroughly enjoyed our fall nature study with oaks and acorns,  and leaves, so I knew that we would enjoy digging into our Exploring Creation with Botany, once we finished Exploring Creation with Astronomy (see our A for Astronomy post)

Author Jeannie Fulbright starts by explaining how the plant world has been organized, the taxonomy of plants.  You’ve seen the result of taxonomy on seed packets and plant stakes at the green house; two Latin words, in italics, the first capitalized the second lower case.  It’s called Botanical Nomenclature and it assigns a plant to a genus, and then gives a specific species name.  (We have these for animals, birds, germs, insects, etc!)  Sounds easy enough, right?  HA!

To illustrate that Botanists have a lot to think about when organizing and naming plants, the text suggests an exhausting but fun activity where the household’s footwear is gathered up and then organized into groups and categories (phylum, class, order, family, genus, and then species if you’re a high achiever!) based on – well – whatever you determine are important distinguishing characteristics! We considered size, type of shoe fastening (slip on, sandal, shoe-strings), function (dress, casual, athletic, weather related), material (leather, canvas, plastic) color of shoe etc.  It worked!  Point made!  We really struggled with flip-flops.  “Should they have their own family or be placed in the sandal family?”  And slippers…well, the discussion went on over dinner.

In terms of organizing plants, the initial question is whether the plant is vascular or non-vascular.  Vascular means tubes that carry fluid, so plants with veins.  Most plants are vascular, but some aren’t, like moss and lichen.  Something else Botanists consider is how the seeds are formed.  Angiosperms (which means seed container) are plants that make seeds that are in a protective covering like flowers, nuts or fruits.  Gymnosperms (which means uncovered seeds) are plants that make seeds that are uncovered, like pinecones.

After being introduced to the four primary phyta (Greek for family),  we were tasked with looking for an example of the four phyta in our yard!  The point of this exercise is to see that Botany is as close as your own backyard.  And this dovetails nicely with our Charlotte Mason inspired Nature Study goals of learning 6 birds, 6 plants and 6 animals/insects per 12 week term and my goal of focusing first on those located, well, in our own backyard!

Phylum Anthophyta

Phylum Anthophyta (Greek for flowering plant) includes all of the plants that have a flower.  We found a lovely example in our backyard, my beloved Camellia japonica.  GraceNotes and I love this shrub because when the holidays are over and everything is a little gray and dreary, and we are cold and winter weary, it blooms – red and cheery! (couldn’t resist …)

Camellia Japonica
Camellia Japonica

Phylum Coniferophyta

Phylum Coniferophyta (Conifero – means cone bearer in Latin) includes all of the many pine and cedar trees that make cones.  Here is an example from our yard Pinus taeda, also known as Loblolly Pine!  And now I know!  I’ve lived here for over a decade without knowing the name of our enormous pine tree.  Somewhat rude of me, really.

Early pinecones tucked between the needles on the branch.
Early pinecones tucked between the needles on the branch.

Phylum Pterophyta

Phylum Pterophyta  (Ptero – means wing in Greek) is dedicated to ferns, which don’t have seeds, but sporangia (spore container).  In our yard we have an evergreen fern called Autumn or Japanese Shield Fern, Dryopteris erythrosora .  I love this photo that GraceNotes took!

Dryopteris erythrosora. It is evergreen in our region, and loves dappled shade.
Dryopteris erythrosora. It is evergreen in our region, and loves dappled shade.

Phylum Bryophyta

Phylum Bryophta (Bryo means moss in Greek) is where botanists tuck all of the many mosses.  I never knew there were so many types of moss in Virginia until I tried to identify the lovely bright green moss that grows between our stones on the patio, and now in the yard just above the roots and in the shade of our enormous Laurel Oak.  Apparently, one must look very, very closely (like with a microscope or high power lens) so this is one that we will be following up on.


Notebooking Journal

The Apologia Young Explorer series also produces a spiral bound Notebooking Journal in which to “narrate” back what has been read.  GraceNotes thoroughly enjoys using Apologia’s Botany Notebooking Journal for sketching, and for recording the outcome of projects and experiments.  In addition to at least one fun mini-book or foldable per chapter, there are sketch prompts,  a crossword puzzle with the vocabulary list, a copywork page as well as a helpful list of Books for Additional Reading to augment the chapter topic.

A Comic Strip approach to the process of pollinating and seed production.
A Comic Strip approach to the process of pollinating and seed production.

We have enjoyed several of the suggested titles!  I can highly recommend  The Flower Hunter: William Bartram America’s First Naturalist.  Deborah Kogan Ray offers her lovely illustrations and the story of the young boy (William) who enjoys accompanying his father, John Bartram, botanist to the King of England, as they seek to catalog and name the many plants of the American colonies.   How interesting to be reminded that once upon a time the plants of the United States were strangely new and completely unknown!  Familiar trees like the American Holly, Flowering Dogwood, Mountain Laurel and Paper Birch were among the plants named and described by John and William Bertram.

Another book that we would not have found without Jeannie Fulbright’s helpful list is Sky Tree, by Thomas Locker with Candace Christiansen.  Through a series of paintings, the seasons of the year in the life of a tree are presented with an eye to the interrelationship of atmosphere (sky) and plant.  Each painting has brief text pointing toward an animal in the scene, the season, the weather, the time of day, or the quality of the light, and a question designed to encourage thought not just about the tree or season, but the way it is has been painted.  A painting of the tree with a dark and threatening sky in the background asks, “This is the same tree in the same place.  What makes this painting different?”

We will be posting every so often as we work our way through the Botany text.  In the meantime, this post will be submitted to the Blogging Through the Alphabet meme at Ben and Me.


Thanks for reading!

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