2.1 What plant is that?
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Curriculum Alignment

2, 7, 18, 19, 25

Years K-6: Science and Technology, HSIE, Creative Arts
Years 7-10: Agriculture, Visual Arts, Geography, Science, Technics  
Years 11-12: Agriculture, Earth and Environmental Science, Geography, Information Technology, Society and Culture, Visual Design

SOSE, Science, Geography

Futures, Interdependence, Thinking

Science, Thinking Processes, Geography

>Students learn to identify common native plants found along their nearby river or stream
>Students can distinguish between common native and introduced (non-native) plants
>Students can explain the importance of native plants in an ecosystem, and the threats non-native species pose

2 hours

Materials required
>Sample plant parts for classroom investigation
>Copies of the Native Plant Research form (see below)
>Local Field Guides
>Magnifying lenses
>Homework sheet – Native plant mysteries key (see below)

River Red Gums dominate the banks of many rivers across the Murray-Darling Basin. Photograph: Bill Phillips

The Murray-Darling Basin features many different climates and geologic histories that contribute to the rich native flora of the region. The resident plant species that evolved within, or naturally dispersed to these regions are “native” or “indigenous” species. Other plant species that have been introduced into these regions since Europeans began bringing plants to Australia are “alien” or “exotic” species (see also Module 4.3 ‘Plant and animal invaders’ in Part 4).

Botanists are able to distinguish native from introduced plant species with the records of early botanical explorers and by inferences made from geographic distribution, relatedness to other species, and the types of habitats where they occur. 

Misinterpretations of native or introduced plant characteristics remain common. The most frequent mistake is to identify naturalised alien plants as native species because they are common and reproducing within natural habitats. On the other hand, some native plants that are aggressive or occur on disturbed soils can occasionally be interpreted as not belonging to the natural flora. 
All of our native plants evolved here and have been subjected to long periods of natural selection. They are perfectly adapted to the climate and habitats of the Murray-Darling Basin. Native plants are in balance with the ecosystem, provide cover and food for native animals, and have developed a surprisingly diverse array of relationships with soil fungi and other native microorganisms. 

Introduced species are out of place in the natural habitats of the Murray-Darling Basin. The specific soil and climatic characteristics that allow them to thrive and reproduce may not always be here. Likewise, the insect herbivores, diseases, and climatic conditions that kept them in check in their native lands are also unlikely to be here. Most will persist on disturbed soils for a brief period and then die away. Some others are released from their natural constraints and proliferate to such an extreme degree they damage agricultural operations and entire ecosystems. These introduced species deprive native plants and animals of their habitats and ultimately diminish the biodiversity of the region. Most of the Murray-Darling Basin’s most damaging alien weeds were purposely brought to Australia as garden, forage or erosion control plants.

Lesson plan
1. Ask the students what observation skills are and what senses do we use? Why won’t we use taste in this activity?

2. Distribute the sample plant parts (of the same species) to teams of students (2 or 3 students per team).

3. Ask them to describe what they see, feel, touch, smell (no tasting!) using their own words.

4. Use the hand magnifying lenses to look closely at leaf edges, bark, seeds, buds, fruits, underside of leaves, etc.

5. Document their descriptions on the board.

6. Use the local field guides to identify the plants.

7. What can we learn about a single plant species? 
How does this plant fit within its ecosystem?

8. Take the students out to the river, stream or wetland to examine and identify the plants growing there.

9. Have each student select a native plant or plants from the local waterway ecosystem for further research.

Why not suggest
they choose one tree
species, and either an
aquatic species, shrub
or grass as well.

10. Have them use research books, interviews, online resources, etc. to fill out the Native Plant Research form (see downloads below). 

11. Use the information from the Research form and additional artwork to create an attractive poster to teach others about native plants.

Slow flowing creek with lots of snags on the Murray River. Photograph: Bill Phillips

Steep, gorge and boulder type river habitat in Molonglo Gorge, ACT. Photograph: Bill Phillips

Use a colour photocopier to reproduce posters into smaller ‘books’ for future use (maybe use them for fund raising, education programs etc.) or to laminate and use on interpretive signage near plants in the waterway project.

Laminate and bind posters together into a booklet that can be added to by future classes, with an eventual complete set of posters for common plants of the river.

Secondary pathway
Have the students research and create a multimedia presentation about the native plant.