Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Plant Anatomy 101

Potatoes. Potatoes are one of those things that tended to come up during my field trips that I used to teach when I worked at Red Butte Garden. The first grade field trip curriculum is based on teaching and discussing with kids the different parts of plants and which of those parts we eat. We talked about the roots (carrots, beets, turnips) the stems (celery, broccoli - "Right, most of the broccoli plant is the stem while the dark green parts on the top are what? Flowers, that's right" - asparagus, sugarcane) the leaves
(lettuce and salad - "Right, salad. What else? Have you ever herd of kale or Swiss chard? Those are different kinds of lettuces that people eat. What about spinach? Raise your hand if you like spinach! Yeah, I love spinach, too") and the fruits of the plant (tomatoes, watermelon, peaches, raspberries, strawberries - "Now where are the seeds on a strawberry? Right, the outside!" - bananas, pineapples, carrots - "Are carrots a fruit? Remember when we talked about those during the root section? That's okay if you forgot, that was a little while ago. What about peppers? Are they fruits? Well, they have seeds inside them, right? So if something has seeds inside of it, what does that make it? Exactly, a fruit" - apples and oranges.)

But what about potatoes? They're a root right? Well, not exactly. Which brings me to the point of this post. Today at work a co-worker, Andree', and I had a tabling event at Bend in the River, where we were doing an outreach event geared towards teachers. A teacher, who had just been to Red Butte Gardens with her first grade class last week, wanted to know if we knew what potatoes were. Are they fruits? Because you can plant a new potato plant from the actual potatoes. But they're not seeds, so technically, not fruits. And the potato plant, just like every other plant in the Solanaceae family which includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants as well as potatoes, flowers when conditions are right and gets pollinated by honey bees. But when the flowers are pollinated, what kind of fruit ripens in their place? Can we eat these fruits, or would they be poisonous like Deadly Night Shade (which is also in the potato family)?

Are they a root? Well, no because actually they are tubers. But what is a tuber? It stores energy for the plant for use at a later date, maybe during the winter for energy in the spring. That is why potatoes are so starchy and full of energy in the form of carbohydrates. And is a tuber a root, or what is it? No, a tuber is something different. A potato tuber is a type of subterranean stem. This differs from a regular stem as plants use stems for the transport of water from the roots to the leaves of the plant and for the downward transport of vital sugars (chlorophyll) from the leaves to the roots that provide energy for the plant. Besides potatoes, bulbs such as onions and leeks are also subterranean stems. You can tell this from the way the bulb is in between the stem that is above ground and the actual, smaller roots.

photo credit

Potatoes. Potatoes are a subterranean stem. I think with a little patience and some really fun pictures of potatoes, (or even better, use an actual potato plant that you can dig out of the ground to explain this all, and make something yummy later. You would be amazed at how many kids don't know that our food comes from plants that live in the ground!) a first grader might be able to grasp this concept...maybe.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Am I a root, stem, or a tuber? I think with a little patience and some really fun pictures, a 1st grader might be able to grasp this concept...maybe. ;)

A very interesting post, Miss Nicole! I learned much. :)