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Fascination of Plants Day: How many plants are there?

FoPD 2017 slide

For Fascination of Plants Day 2017 Dr M and colleagues at University of Reading are hosting local school children to come and discuss the fascination of plants on the award-winning green campus at Reading.

We have planned three tasks to help explore plants and their fascination first hand:

  1. How many plants are there?
  2. What’s in the Tropical supermarket?
  3. What plants have you used today?

To prepare for these tasks if you are attending or just for your amusement here are some preparatory thoughts on these three fascinating botanical questions:

1. How many plants are there?

You may think this a silly question, but we know pretty accurately how many people there are on earth, but do we know how many plants are there?  As far as plant species goes we know how many within some limits, maybe between 200 000 – 400 000 different plant species. But how many individual plants are there?

This is a fascinating, if a little crazy question which we will investigate on 18th May at University of Reading. It boils down to asking what makes an individual plant?

As with humans, if you try to count other individual animals it’s not too difficult: think of a woodlouse, a butterfly, a bird or an elephant or a zebra, the individuals are quite distinct and the main issue with counting them is finding them! Woodlice for example may be hidden away under dead leaves etc, but they are easy to count once found.

When it comes to counting individual plants, some are also quite easy, for example an oak tree is quite distinct, you can count oak trees in a garden or park or woodland if you are prepared to walk around a bit!

But for other plants it can be more tricky and for plants that spread or creep across the ground it can be difficult to decide what a single individual is or is the whole patch a single plant? Many plants divide as they grow (unlike animals) and spread vegetatively, that means an extra plant can grow from another as a side shoot.  This is how plants spread and colonise new areas and it is also hoe gardeners make new plants for their gardens by dividing clumps and propagating cuttings.

Look at the images below and decide how many individual plants are there in each picture?

We will investigate this further at University of Reading on 18th May and live streaming on #BotanyLive!

2. What’s in the tropical supermarket?

This task will be lead by Dr Alastair Culham on 18th May and will take place in University of Reading tropical greenhouse where you will see where many of the tropical fruits and vegetable you can buy in the supermarket come from.  You can find some introductory information here where Dr Culham asks:

  • Does a pineapple grow on a pine tree?
  • Do pine nuts grow on a pine tree?
  • Do star fruit come from space?
  • Is the difference between black pepper and red pepper just the colour?

3. What plants have you used today?

This task will be lead by Oli Wilson on 18th May.  He will ask what plants you have eaten today, what plants have been used to make at least some of the clothes you are wearing and which plants have been used to make some of the other things you have used today.

Plants can be an important part of the food you eat, e.g. bananas, oranges and apples or things like oats (a kind of grass) which are used to make porridge and muesli, and other foods like rice or potatoes and so on. There are also plants used for making clothes such as cotton and hemp and plants used for constructing things, e.g. wood for tables and chairs.

You can check Dr M’s post here on how many plant species there were in his lunchtime chicken curry!

Finally, check Dr M’s post here to think about twelve ways in which we use plants and the things that plants do for us.


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