FOCUS: Dandelion flowers serve the same function as all other flowers: to produce seeds for the next generation. Whether you consider them wildflowers or weeds, these hardy plants are here to stay, and they provide an important food source for birds, bees, and other animals. We’ll dissect simple flowers to see how seeds develop and compare these to the complex structure of dandelions. Outside, it’s easy to find examples of dandelions in all stages of development and get a first-hand view of the progression from flower bud to fluffy white seed head. You and the wind can help spread their parachute seeds far and wide.
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about dandelions.
Give each small group of children a variety of flowers, including a dandelion, and ask children to talk about what they notice about the different flowers.
Materials: an assortment of flowers, including dandelions; magnifying lenses.
Objective: To investigate a flower’s structure, sorting the parts and looking for patterns of similarities and differences.
Give each pair of children a simple flower, such as a Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), daffodil*, or tulip, and a magnifying lens. It is helpful if everyone has the same kind of flower. First, ask the children to observe their flowers and share things they notice and wonder about, making note of their questions. Have the children turn the flower upside down. Starting with the outermost layer, have them remove the parts in each concentric ring, putting similar parts together. (To see which is the outermost ring, look at a bud, or gently gather the petals of an open flower together as they would have been in bud, to see which are on the outside.) As they dissect their flowers, name and describe each flower part and its function. Provide older children with four index cards – labeled Sepals, Petals, Stamens, Pistil(s) – on which to place flower parts as they remove them.
*Daffodil parts can be confusing. The sepals and petals are joined together at their bases (not in clearly concentric rings) and they form a tube-like structure in the center of the flower. Inside, the stamens and pistils are very easy to find. See the Daffodil Anatomy diagram for a detailed description.
Stem – holds up the flower
Sepals (outermost ring of flower parts) – protect the bud; usually green but can be the same color as petals
Petals (next ring of flower parts) – attract pollinators, often giving them a landing place; often colorful, may also make scent and/or nectar
Stamens (next ring of flower parts) – produce and hold the pollen, made up of a filament (the stem), anther (the canoe-shaped structure at the tip that holds the pollen), and pollen (the tiny grains on the anthers)
Pistil(s) (at center, may be one or more) – act as catcher for pollen, container for the ovule(s). Pistil is made up of the vase-like ovary, the stem-like style, and the sticky stigma at the top of the style
Ovules (found inside the ovary, often look like tiny white beads) – become the seeds when fertilized by pollen that has landed on the stigma
- Count the number of parts. How many are there of each part? Do they notice a pattern? (Lily Family flowers have three sepals and three petals, six stamens, a three-lobed stigma and three-sectioned ovary – all parts in threes or multiples of three.)
- Look for color patterns such as lines, spots, or stripes on petals; find pollen grains and observe their color.
- Tear or cut open the base of the pistil to find the ovules (use fingernails, or an adult may do this with a small knife). It is helpful to open some lengthwise and some crosswise. What will each ovule eventually become? (A seed.)
Materials: for each child or pair of children: magnifying lens; a Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), daffodil, or tulip; for older children, four large index cards labeled Sepals, Petals, Stamens, and Pistil(s); Flower Parts diagram, optional: small knives for leaders, Daffodil Anatomy diagram.
DISSECT A DANDELION
Objective: To investigate a dandelion flower, looking for similarities and differences compared to simple flowers.
Have children work in pairs or small groups. Give each team a small piece of black paper and a dandelion flower to study. Explain that what we think of as a dandelion flower is not one flower but many small flowers called “florets” grouped together. Have them look at the intact flower head first before taking it apart, noticing the green bracts at the base (these are not sepals but modified leaves), the yellow petals, and the curlicue stigmas sticking up above the yellow petals. Now show them how to carefully pull apart the flower head to separate out a single floret. Be sure each child has a magnifying lens to examine the florets. Provide copies of the Dandelion Floret diagram and have them try to find all the parts:
- Petal – called a strap; it has a jagged edge at the top with five tiny teeth
- Ovary – the small, white, seed-shaped base of the floret which will become the seed
- Pappus – the fuzzy white hairs above the ovary, which are modified sepals and will become the parachute of the seed
- Style – the thin stalk that lies inside the petal
- Stigma – the curlicue top of the style
- Anther tube – the darker yellow, slightly thickened area on the style. This holds the dandelion’s pollen
- Pollen – the yellow grains that drop onto the black paper
Can they find all these parts? Take guesses about how many florets there might be in a dandelion flower.
Materials: dandelion flower heads, black paper, magnifying lenses, Dandelion Florets Up Close diagram.
UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Dandelion Countdown (Grades 4-6)
Objective: To investigate the number of florets in a dandelion flower head.
Ask students how we could determine the number of florets in a typical dandelion flower head. Have students examine a few dandelion flower heads in full bloom and make some guesses about the number of florets in each. Write these on the board for all to see. Then, give each student a half-sheet of black paper. Divide a dandelion flower head into small sections and give one section to each student. (A single flower head can be divided among several students as it may have from 175-300 florets.) Have each student gently separate the florets and count them. It is helpful to cluster them in groups of ten to make counting easier. Afterwards, add up the students’ totals for each flower head. Compare the total to the student’s estimates.
How many seeds will a dandelion flower head produce? (The same number as its florets.) How many seeds could a dandelion plant produce in a season? What are some reasons why this might be advantageous to a plant?
Materials: a few large dandelion flower heads in full bloom; half-sheets of black paper, one per student; white board and marker; optional: calculator.
PUPPET SHOW “Dandelion Defenders”
Objective: To learn why dandelions are so successful and how they are important to some animals.
Perform the puppet show, or have a group of children perform it for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review key details and vocabulary in the story. What are dandelions and other flowers for? (Making seeds for the plant.) What makes it hard to pull up dandelions? (Long taproot, root hairs that hold the soil.) Why are they hard to mow? (Stems lie down, flowers grow on shorter stems.) How are dandelions important to animals? (Provide food in early spring for deer, rabbits, woodchucks; provide honeybees with nectar and pollen.)
Materials: puppets, script, props, optional: real dandelion seed head.
BEAUTY BEFORE AGE
Objective: To model the cycle of development from bud to seed in a dandelion.
Beforehand, make two sets of the Beauty Before Age cards. Divide the children into two groups and explain that you will be giving everyone a dandelion photo card that depicts a stage in a dandelion’s life cycle. Each group must line up in order, from the earliest stage to the latest. For the older students, challenge them to do this without talking. When all groups are lined up, ask the first child from each group to reveal and compare their cards. Continue down the lines, discussing the stages of the dandelion’s life cycle. Close the activity by having each line form a circle, to model the cyclic pattern of a dandelion’s life.
Materials: Beauty Before Age cards, two sets.
GOING TO SEED (Grades K-2)
Objective: To look outside for evidence of the various stages from bud to seed in a dandelion plant.
Bring the children outside to a place where there are dandelions growing. Beforehand, punch four to five holes in a circle around the center disk of small paper plates, one per child. Pass out the plates and tell the children to look for four to five different flower stages. Have them place their flower stage samples into the holes in their plate in order of age to illustrate the life cycle of a dandelion flower from bud to seed head. Have them use the Beauty Before Age cards as a reference to confirm the order of their stages, then use tape to secure them firmly in place. (Note: in early May it may be difficult to find mature seed heads.)
Materials: Beauty Before Age cards, paper plates, tape.
How Many Dandelions?
Objective: To investigate the number of dandelion plants growing in an area.
Bring the children outside to a place where there are dandelions growing in a mowed area of the playground. Have the children work in small groups, younger children with an adult leader. Give each group a two-foot diameter hula-hoop or six-foot piece of string tied in a circle. Show the children how to find a single dandelion rosette – the leaves at the base of the plant – and then have them count how many other rosettes there are inside the circle. If there’s time, have them count buds and/or flower stems too. What is the highest number of dandelion plants found by any group? The greatest number of buds or flower stems? Where do dandelions seem to grow best? Can the children spot any places where there are no dandelions?
Materials: for each pair or small group of children: two-foot diameter hula-hoop or six-foot string tied in a circle; clipboard, paper, pencil.
Comparing Stem Heights of Buds, Flowers, Seed Heads
Objective: To investigate and compare the heights of dandelion buds, flowers, and seed heads.
Ask the children whether there might be a difference in the heights of flower stems with buds, flowers, or seed heads. How could we find out? In an area where the dandelion plants are more or less the same height (either mowed or unmowed), have every child pick two dandelion buds, two flowers, and two seed heads, making sure they pick each sample from its very base and collect the whole stem. Have the children lay out their collections on a white sheet in three groups: buds, flowers, and seed heads. Line up each group of flower parts from shortest to tallest to measure them. Do they notice a pattern in the height of buds versus flowers versus seed heads? Have the older children measure ten samples from each group and calculate an average height for each. Which has the tallest specimens – buds? flowers? or seed heads? Why might seed heads be taller (on average) than buds and flowers? (To expose seeds to the wind.)
Materials: a white sheet or shower curtain, rulers; optional for older children: calculators.
Objective: To draw a dandelion using the plant pigments as the art medium.
Have the children draw a dandelion in their journal, complete with flower head, stem, and basal rosette of leaves. Have them color in their flower head by twisting an actual dandelion flower head back and forth in a circle on their drawing. Rub dandelion leaves over the drawing to color the leaves green. Share their pictures with others in small groups.
Materials: journals or paper and clipboards, pencils, dandelion flowers and leaves.
Objective: To review and share some thoughts about dandelions.
Have each child pick a dandelion flower. Gather the children into a circle, sitting on the grass. Show them how to make a dandelion chain, using the Dandelion Chain Instructions provided. Have every child share one thing they learned about dandelions and then add their dandelion to a group dandelion chain. Ask for suggestions of where to place the chain when you’re done.
Materials: Dandelion Chain Instructions; dandelion flowers with stems, one per child.
A STEP BEYOND
Visitors to a Dandelion Have children spend time quietly observing dandelions when they are in bloom to see what insect pollinators visit them. Keep a photo record of the insects they see each day. How many different insects did they see in a week?
Potting Dandelions Plant dandelion seeds in pots and keep them watered. Cut one-inch pieces of a dandelion root and plant these in other pots. Keep records of sprouting time and watch the plants develop. Which were more successful at sprouting? Which grew faster?
Daily Dandelion Observations Have children select dandelion plants outside to study. Visit them daily and record changes as they occur with drawings or photos. What are some of the changes they notice over a week or two of observations?
Dandelion Marmalade Find a recipe and make dandelion marmalade.