Plant Observation and Morphology

Author: Anna Larsen

Overview: In this lesson, students will use plant specimens to learn to recognize differences in plant morphology and to develop a vocabulary to describe these differences.

Lesson Concepts:

  • Leaves can be arranged on a stem in different ways.

  • Leaves come in many shapes and sizes.

  • Scientists use the arrangement of leaves on the stem, patterns of venation, and aspects of leaf morphology to identify plants.

Grade span: 6-8


  • Hand lenses

  • Plant Morphology handout (pdf or Word)

  • Pencils with erasers

  • Masking tape (for labeling plants)

  • Plant specimens labeled with plant name (one per student). Specimens should have visible buds and a variety of leaf arrangements, types of leaves, and leaf shapes.

Advance preparation:

Plant specimens need to be collected within 24 hours of the beginning of the class period. Plants should be labeled in advance.

Time: One class period (45 minutes)

Grouping: Students work individually


  1. Pass out the Plant Morphology handout (pdf or Word). Be sure that students have a pencil with an eraser. Distribute hand lenses (optional). (5 mins)

  2. Introduce the activity. Brainstorm: What is a plant? What parts do plants have? What is a leaf? Have students take turns reading out loud from their worksheets about the shoot system in plants. Draw a schematic plant on the board and label it with stem, leaf, blade, petiole, and bud (these are labeled on their handouts). Take time to explain that a leaf is the flat, green structure that grows from below a bud. This is more complicated than it seems! (10 min)

  3. Plant observation. Students draw a plant specimen on one page of their handout. Ask them to write the name of the plant on the paper. Students should identify and label the leaf, bud, and stem. Tell the students they must draw for the full ten minutes to encourage a detailed drawing. (10 min)

  4. Introduction to plant morphology vocabulary. Go through vocabulary as a class:

        Leaf arrangement: alternate, opposite, whorled
        Leaf type: simple, compound
        Leaf shape: lanceolate, deltate, linear, ovate, lobed

    For each leaf characteristic, explain the character and each of the descriptors. For example, for "leaf arrangement," ask the class which of them drew a plant with [e.g., alternate leaves] and ask them to raise their hands. Ask students with their hands raised to give the name of his/her plant and hold it up in the air. Students should write the appropriate descriptor in the blank on their handouts. Take time to be sure that each student sees an example of each of the features. (15 minutes)

  5. Plant observation II. Have students trade plants with a neighbor and draw a second plant. Again have them identify a leaf and label their drawings. Time permitting, review students' plants as a class. (10 min)

    Wrap-up: Next week we will have a scavenger hunt to find plants with these features!