Botany Archives - Eva Varga

August 5, 2017

August Super Sale

It is officially back to school season and store shelves are overflowing with 3-ring binders, composition notebooks, and pencils. To celebrate, your Back to School savings start now!

I am excited to announce that through the month of August, I am offering all 3 of my trimester units (10-weeks each) bundled for just $27!

Life Logic is comprised of three disciplines (Botany, Zoology, and Ecology). The units can stand alone or can be combined for a complete academic year curriculum. The curriculum was field tested in the public school classroom and modified for the homeschool or co-op setting.

Life Science Bundle

Life Logic Curriculum


Like each of the units in the series, Botany – Plenty O’Plants is a hands-on life science curriculum that provides ample opportunity for kids to explore plant science in-depth.  This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.


Amazing Animals begins with an overview of the scientific classification system and then progresses through each of the major phyla through hands-on, engaging activities that are sure to captivate your students.


The 10-week Ecology Explorations curriculum eBook provides several opportunities to guide your students on an exploration of your local ecosystems.  What better way to learn about ecology than to get out there, collect data, and experience the physical factors that influence the animal and plant communities first hand.

August Super Sale

Purchased separately, each 10-week curriculum is priced at $19.90. Through the month of August, use the special link below to purchase the bundle for just $27.


In the field for special instructions, enter the coupon code iWant3.

I will then send you a separate email with download links for each of the life science units – Botany – Plenty O’Plants, Amazing Animals, and Ecology Explorations.


June 5, 20171

Herbology is the study of magical and mundane plants and fungi. It is a core class and subject taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the first five years of a student’s education.



Throughout each term, students learn to care for plants as well as learn about their magical properties and how they may be used medicinally. The further into a student’s education the more difficult and dangerous the plants become.

“Three times a week they went out to the greenhouses behind the castle to study Herbology, with a dumpy little witch called Professor Sprout, where they learned how to take care of strange plants and fungi, and found out what they were used for.” ~ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

All first year students are required to familiarize themselves with the herbs listed below.

  • Chamomile
  • Tarragon
  • Yarrow
  • Caraway
  • Horseradish
  • Dill
  • Aloe Vera
  • Silver Birch
  • Garlic
  • Tumeric

herbologyAs students work through their self-guided journey, they are required to keep a field notebook in which a two-page spread is created for each plant or fungi studied. Each spread is required to include the following information:

  1. Give common name as well as Latin names (genus and species) and family
  2. Press a specimen of the plant (if possible)
  3. Make a sketch of the plant, colored appropriately
  4. Label key parts of the plant, pointing out important features
  5. Explain its cultivation and care
  6. Give a brief natural history of the plant (describe growth cycle, natural range, etc.)
  7. List its household and medicinal uses both presently and historically
  8. Describe its magical properties (if any)

Take it Further

Enjoy a cup of Chamomile tea before bedtime or a glass of birch beer with your noonday meal.

Explore the many wildcrafting and herbal remedies described at Learning Herbs.

Enjoy the fun board game, Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure.

Research the native plants in your local area and learn how native peoples used them for food and medicine.

Visit a native elder, if possible, and learn to how to harvest and prepare these plants for personal use.

As you advance in your studies, be sure to add each new plant to your journal.

This post is part of a five-day hopscotch. Join me each day this week as we dive into each course.

Herbology (Botany) – this post

Care of Magical Creatures (Zoology)

Potions (Chemistry)

Alchemy Astronomy & Divination (Geology)

Magical Motion (Physics)

January 25, 2016

Though we are in the middle of winter, we’ve been immersed in a study of maple trees. A few weeks ago, I shared a post relaying the science of sugaring.

The United States has 13 native maples, with at least one species native to every state except Hawaii. I’ve selected seven to highlight today – with particular attention to the species native to Oregon.

Our Native Maple Trees @EvaVarga.netGenus Acer

Maple trees are classified in the genus Acer in the Maple family (Aceraceae) and nearly all of the species are deciduous. Three traits that can help you identify a maple tree are:

* Leaves palmate and lobed (for most species),

* Opposite branching, and

* Winged seeds called samaras.

Acer trees and shrubs are commonly known as maple. There are approximately 128 species, most of which are native to Asia, with a number also appearing in Europe, northern Africa, and North America.

Acer saccharum

The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is one of America’s best-loved trees. In fact, due to its historical and economical importance (both in the production of maple syrup and as a timber species), more states have claimed it as their state tree than any other single species (New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Vermont).

The simple leaves of Sugar Maple measure from 3 to 5 inches long and are in an opposite arrangement on the twigs. They are usually five-lobed, dark green on the top surface and paler underneath. They are generally smooth on both sides, although the veins underneath may be slightly hairy.

Acer nigrum

Black Maple (Acer nigrum) is a species of maple closely related to A. saccharum and treated as a subspecies of it by some taxonomists. Identification can be confusing due to the tendency of the two species to form hybrids and to share habit, range, and quality and use of wood.

BigLeafMaple*Acer macrophyllum*

Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) is native to the Pacific Northwest and grows in mountainous regions. It is widespread in the Coast Ranges, the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and the foothills of the Cascade Range and the northern Sierra Nevada. It is also commonly known as Oregon Maple for its prevalence in our state.

The deeply lobed leaves are generally 6-12″ in diameter but have been known to exceed this in favorable conditions. The samaras have a fuzzy head, unlike the other species in Oregon.

*Acer circinatum*

One of the most beautiful sights in our woods and forests has got to be the native Vine Maple (Acer circinatum). Found as an under story plant to tall evergreens, from southern BC to northern California and east to the Cascades, Vine Maple is a hardy species.

This elegant tree grows quickly to 10-15′ with multiple trunks and spreads to 20′ widths, much like a vine. Brilliant red and orange colors signal the arrival of autumn, while showy white flowers appear in early spring. It features 3-5 lobes and smooth-headed samaras that grow in a “V” shape.

*Acer glabrum*

Douglas Maple (sometimes referred to as Rocky Mountain Maple) is native to both sides of the Cascades, from southeastern Alaska to southwestern Alberta and south into New Mexico and California.

Its leaves feature 7-9 lobes, easily distinguishable form its close relative the Vine Maple. Hardier than Vine Maple, this tree is often multi-stemmed, with greenish-yellow flowers, and samaras that are oriented in a “V” shape.

Our Native Maple Trees @EvaVarga.netAcer saccharinum

Native to eastern and central North America, Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) gets its name from the silvery undersides of its leaves. The simple, palmately veined leaves are 3–6″ long and 2–6″ broad, with deep angular notches between the five lobes. With slender leaf stems, a light breeze can produce a striking effect as the downy silver undersides of the leaves are exposed. 

The winged seeds or samaras are the largest of any of the native maple. They are produced in great abundance annually, providing many birds and small mammals with food. Silver Maple and its close cousin Red Maple (with which it can hybridize) are the only Acer species which produce their fruit crop in spring instead of fall.

Acer rubrum

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is one of the most common and widespread deciduous trees of eastern and central North America. One of the best named of all trees, it features something red in each of the seasons—buds in winter, flowers in spring, leafstalks in summer, and brilliant foliage in autumn.

Produces red (sometimes yellow) clusters of small flowers winter to spring and features medium to dark green leaves 2–6″ in length with 3 lobes and sinuses that are irregularly toothed.

 * * *

Other Maple species found throughout the United States include Ashleaf or Boxelder Maple (Acer negundo), Canyon or Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), and Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum).


But are Sugar Maples the only trees that can be tapped to produce maple sugar? This is a question that has long intrigued my father. Together, we’ve undertaken an investigation to discover the answer for ourselves.

Join me again in a few weeks as I share with you our own experiences in tapping maple trees on the Oregon coast.



*Acer species found in Oregon

April 17, 2015

The Arbor Day Foundation was founded in 1972, the centennial of the first Arbor Day observance in the 19th century. I was born just a month later in Oregon – where a full week is set aside to celebrate trees.

The Arbor Day Foundation inspires people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.

We can do better than a single day or even a full week to honor earth. Join us in celebrating trees all year long with these 12 activities.

Celebrate Arbor Day with These 12 Activities @EvaVarga.net1. Learn about the history of Arbor Day

2. Plant a fruit tree in your yard or enjoy field trip to an apple farm

3. Correlate the history of the United States to one tree’s growth rings

4. Create art or poetry inspired by trees

forest ecology5. Get Involved with the US Forestry Department or other resource agency

6. Learn how to measure a tree’s height, crown spread and diameter

7. Study the ecosystem of one particular tree


Life Logic: Botany – Plenty O’Plants  is a hands-on life science curriculum that provides ample opportunity for kids to explore plant science in-depth.  This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

8. Learn to identify trees in your community using a dichotomous key or create your own

9.  Study the structure of a tree, how it functions, and what benefits a tree provides

10. Take a nature walk and practice your new skill

Arbor Day @EvaVarga.net11. Organize a Nature Explore Families’ Club

The Arbor Day Foundation has put together a research-based, field-tested collection of resources designed to help you organize a Nature Explore Families’ Club at your school, organization, or in your neighborhood. The Families’ Club Kit has everything you need to start a club and help you connect families with the outdoors and each other.

It also includes general information and customizable forms to get your club started, a facilitator’s guide with helpful hints on organization, and 15 visual, child-friendly activity sheets with facilitator notes specific to each one. For families interested in getting started with nature study and outdoor learning in a co-op environment, this is a wonderful resource!

Read my post, How to Start a Homeschool Coop, to learn more about how to get started with collaborative learning experiences.

12. Show us your favorite tree

Post your photo in the comments, on my Facebook, or send me an email (eva underscore varga at me dot com). I’ll compile them in a special post and we can celebrate Arbor Day together!



October 17, 20131

From a tree’s tiny root hairs buried in the ground to the highest leaves in its crown, each part of a tree plays an important role in helping it function.  By acting out the parts of a tree, students be able to describe the general structure of a tree as well as explain how different parts of a tree help the tree survive.

In my post, Monocots vs. Dicots, I discussed Angiosperms in detail.  This post focuses upon the Gymnosperms.  

Parts of a Tree

I began the lesson by first asking the class how trees get what they need to survive (food, water, air, nutrients, etc.).   As I elicited their prior knowledge, I slowly introduced a number of terms that were new to most of them.  We didn’t take the time in class to write out definitions so I encouraged them to add them to their notebooks when they got home.  The vocabulary terms I introduced were:

  • Vascular Plants
  • Photosynthesis
  • Chlorophyll
  • Heartwood
  • Sapwood (Xylem)
  • Cambium
  • Phloem
  • Taproot
  • Lateral Roots

When we were familiar with each term, we acted out the parts of the tree. As I introduced each word, I had assigned each student a role or part of the tree and handed out a card with their ‘lines’.  They loved this so much they were laughing and it was hard to keep them focused.  You can watch a short video of their ‘performance’ here:

If Trees Could Talk

One of the best ways to learn about a tree is to look at its annual rings – the science of dendrochronology.  Tree rings show patterns of change in the tree’s life as well as changes in the area where it grows.  I shared with the class a cross-section of a Ponderosa Pine and a Western Hemlock.  We compared the bark and the growth rings of each and discussed how these rings could be used to tell stories of the trees past (fire or insect damage, years of drought or slow growth compared to years of abundant rain).

Tree Cross SectionI then read aloud the following story about a tree and asked them the questions listed below to check for their understanding.

Once upon a time, a tree grew in the forest.  In its first 10 years it grew slowly because the large trees overhead blocked the sunlight.  In its 11th year, the large tree next to it blew down in a storm.  This allowed sunlight to reach the little tree, and for the next 10 years it grew rapidly.  In its 21st and 22nd years there was a severe drought, and the tree could not get enough water.  This stress caused the tree to grow very slowly for three years.  In its 25th year, favorable conditions returned and the tree grew normally for 15 years.  In its 40th year, wildfire raged through the forest.  The tree’s thick bark enabled it to survive, but it was deeply scarred.  It grew slowly for several years after that.  Year 45 was particularly bad.  Bark beetles got under its skin, fungus entered its body through woodpecker holes, and caterpillars ate most of its leaves.  For five years the tree hardly grew at all and became very weak. In its 50th year, it blew down in a storm.  A science teacher found the fallen tree and used a chain saw to make a big tree cookie from the trunk.

What do you think the tree cookie from this tree looked like?  Draw a picture of what you think the rings might appear.

October 17, 20132

This first trimester of STEM Club is an overview class – designed so that I can gauge their individual interests as well as get an idea of their prior knowledge. We wrapped up our mini-unit on plants this week by diving into seed plants in more depth, specifically monocots vs dicots.

Angiosperms vs Gymnosperms

Angiosperms are the most diverse group of land plants – in fact, 90% of all plants are angiosperms. Angiosperms are plants that produce seeds within an enclosure; they are fruiting plants, although more commonly referred to as flowering plants. I discuss flowering plants in more detail below.

Gymnosperms, from the Greek word gymnospermos meaning “naked seeds”, are so named because of the unenclosed condition of their seeds. Gymnosperm seeds develop either on the surface of scales or leaves, often modified to form cones.

The focus of this post is on the angiosperms. I discuss gymnosperms in more detail in the next post, Parts of a Tree.

monocots vs dicotsMonocots vs Dicots

Traditionally, angiosperms have been divided into two major groups, or classes,: the dicotyledons or dicots (Magnoliopsida) and monocotyledons or monocots (Liliopsida). They differ in morphological characteristics of leaves, stems, flowers and fruit of flowering plants. Here is a great chart that contrasts the similarities and differences between these two classes, Monocot vs Dicot.

I passed out a fresh bean pod and a few corn kernels (fresh off the cob) for each student. I asked that they take apart each seed and in doing so look for and identify the embryo, seed coat, seed leaf, and stored food of each. As I only had one microscope, students were called up in pairs to observe a cross section of a monocot and dicot stem. They were instructed to sketch and label each component in their notebooks and if interested, to try growing each at home.


I created a shutter fold printable so they could further explore the concept at home. You can download a free copy of this for yourself, Monocots vs Dicots. I really struggled with this one, so please let me know if you have any trouble interpreting the instructions.