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Measuring plant diversity: Identifying Native Plants  
Major Theme
Discovering Biodiversity

Topic / theme
Identifying Plant Species/Diversity

Key words
plant identification, taxonomy, native plants, biological inventory, dichotomous key

Contact person & affiliation
Melanie Priesnitz & Ruth Newell, Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens
Laurel McIvor, Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History


Biodiversity context and Objectives
Biodiversity is generally measured by developing biological inventories, essentially lists of all of the different organisms found in a given area. These lists are usually divided up, or classified, into different taxonomic categories. ‘Taxonomy’ is the science of classifying and naming living organisms in a way that shows natural relationships between species. The objective of this activity is to introduce the principles of taxonomy as the means to understanding plant diversity.

Programme Annotation
This activity introduces the science of taxonomy and its application in measuring species diversity. Students will learn to observe plant characteristics and use the correct terminology to use keys to identify and compare a variety of local native plant specimen, either live, pressed or from photographs.

Complete Programme Description
click here

Intended Audience
Grades 10-12 (Grades 4-6, Grades 7-9, possible)

Learning goals / programme objectives
-Introduce the science of taxonomy and its application in establishing biological inventories to measure species diversity, specifically plant diversity.
- Learn the appropriate terminology required for plant identification
- Demonstrate an ability to use plant identification keys to successfully identify local plants

Curriculum links associated to this programme
- Define and delimit problems to facilitate investigation (212-2)
- Formulate operational definitions of major variables (212-7)
- Compile and organise data, using appropriate formats and data treatments to facilitate interpretation of the data (213-5)
- Describe and apply classification systems and nomenclatures used in the sciences (214-1)
- Identifying limitations of a given classification system and identify alternative ways of classifying to accommodate anomalies (214-2)
- Provide a statement that addresses the problem or answers the question investigated in light of the link between data and the conclusion (214-11)
- Identify new questions or problems that arise for what was learned (214-17)
- Communicate questions, ideas and intentions, and receive, interpret, understand, support and respond to the ideas of others (215-1)
- Work cooperatively with team members to develop and carry out a plan, and troubleshoot problems as they arise (215-6)
- Evaluate individual and group processes used in planning, problem solving and decision making, and completing a task (215-7)
- Use organisms found in a local or regional ecosystem to demonstrate an understanding of fundamental principles of taxonomy (316-5)

Equipment / material required
- Copy of appropriate plant identification guide, based on keying out plants using biological features, such as Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (eastern Canada), Native Trees of Canada or an authoritative on-line guide
- Plant cuttings or pressed plant specimens of at least 10 different native species
- Download and print images of herbarium specimens from the E.C. Smith Herbarium on-line data base:

Ideal Number of Participants
From 10 to 30

Best in growing season, however, can be done year round with dried or herbarium specimens

Recommended Environment / Location(s)
- Ask for local plant specimens from a botanical garden, museum, nursery or herbarium (specimen loans or scanned images)

From 50 minutes to 1 hour

Time to collect plant specimens or pressings
Cost of colour copies for 10 herbarium specimens

Tracking success (history of use)
Activity was proposed as part of a Grade 11 Biology unit on Acadian Forest Ecology for schools in the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, beginning in the spring of 2007.

Recommendations for Adaptation elsewhere
- Ask for local plant specimens from a botanical garden, museum, nursery or herbarium (specimen loans or scanned images)
- Works best as a small group or partner activity, could be done individually

Evaluation Tools
Currently soliciting feedback from teachers and asking how they would modify the activity in the future

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