Grade Level: 7-12.

Subject:  Science, Horticulture, Biology, Technology

Time Frame: (Lesson Length ) 3 to 5 days



Biodiversity refers to the richness and abundance of living organisms found on Earth. Biodiversity encompasses the diversity among ecosystems, species diversity, genetic variations within a species and human cultural/ethnic diversity. Many scientists are sounding alarm bells of warning, saying that thousands of species and varieties within species are threatened with extinction. The biodiversity of our planet is in jeopardy. One eighth of all plant species may become extinct in the next 20 years. Current extinction rates are thought to be 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal or "background" levels. With rapid population growth and land development, extinction rates are growing and accelerating at a level unprecedented in the history of life on Earth.

While many students know about some popular endangered species such as the Florida Manatee or the cute Panda Bear from China, they often don't realize that they could actually do something in their own backyards to help protect biological diversity and endangered species. Gardening can help in many ways. Growing rare, native and heirloom plants help protect varieties within a species that could otherwise become extinct. Since 1900, about 75% of the worldwide genetic diversity of agricultural crops have been lost. By creating a demand for, growing and propagating a wide range of what is remaining, gardeners and consumers can help halt this loss. Gardeners can also grow plants that help birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife thrive.


Objective: Students will

1. Learn about endangered and threatened species.

2. Learn about the different kinds of biodiversity including ecosystem diversity, species diversity, diversity within a species and human cultural diversity.

3. Learn how gardening can help protect biodiversity.

4. Learn about a specific plant variety or cultivar that can help preserve diversity because it is a rare, native or heirloom plant or because it can help or feed bird, bee or butterfly species.

5. Write a one-page brochure about their specific plant, how it helps save biodiversity and how to grow it.

6. Get seeds of their specific plants and germinate them.

7. Once the seedlings are large enough, students will sell, give away and/or take home their plant to grow in the garden. When giving seedlings away, students will also give a copy of the brochure to the people who take the plants so they will know how to grow it.


Key Words:

Biodiversity, extinction, endangered, rare, preservation, gardening, natives, rare plants, heirloom plants, native plant gardens, bird gardens, butterfly gardens.


Recommended Books:

Tuxill, John. Nature’s Cornucopia: Our Stake In Plant Diversity. WorldWatch Paper 148,  Worldwatch Institute, 1999.

Watson, Benjamin. Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables. Houghton Mifflin Company,  Boston, 1996.

The following books from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 21st. Century Gardening Series are inexpensive and excellent:

Wildflower Gardens, Gardening with Wildflowers and Native Plants,  Native Perennials, Butterfly Gardens, Old Fashioned Flowers, Greenhouses and Garden Rooms, Starting from Seed


How To:

1. Teacher begins with a discussion about biodiversity and why it is important to preserve gene pools. The teacher tell the story of the Irish potato famine as an example of a crop that had such a narrow genetic base, that when the disease (late blight of potato) hit, all the potatoes were wiped out. None had any resistance. Whereas, in the Andes in South America where the potato originated, there are many blight resistant varieties of potato. Over 1 million people died of starvation and another 1.5 million fled the country. If they had been eating more different kinds of food, they might not have had this catastrophe.

2. Teacher asks students about endangered species and how we might help to protect them.

3. Teacher suggests that a garden with rare, heirloom or native plants can help protect endangered or threatened plants and that certain other plants can help encourage bird and butterfly species.

4. Each student receives a seed packet with native, rare or heirloom seeds or seeds of a plant known to attract and feed birds or butterflies. They copy down the information from packets and look up more information about their species in the library, from seed catalogs and from the Internet. Then they write a one-page brochure about their plant and how to grow it and how it enhances biodiversity. They word-process it and then scan an image of the seed packet or of the plant for a brochure.

5. Students plant their seeds and care for them as they germinate.

6. When the seedlings are mature enough and have been transplanted into individual pots, students take some home, give some away and/or sell them to teachers or other students. Whoever gets a seedling also gets a student brochure on how to care of that species and variety or cultivar.

7. If different students plant different kinds of seeds, combine student made brochures into a "booklet" for distribution so all the students have directions for growing every plant studied.


On-line Resources:


Who is this for?

This lesson is varied enough to appeal to different kinds of learners. Those who enjoy reading and working on the Internet will enjoy conducting the background research. Students who are good on the computer will enjoy desktop publishing the brochure. And those who are good working with their hands will enjoy planting. Many students enjoy watching seeds germinate. Students not proficient in the above activities will get practice and develop more confidence in their abilities in these areas.



1. Seed packets of rare, native, heirloom plants or plants that attract bird and/or butterflies.

2. A computer with a modem for Internet research and for the brochure.

3. A scanner (optional) to scan the pictures of the seed packet or plants on the brochure.

4. Potting soil, pots, water and a plastic cover to put over them until the seedlings germinate (so they won't dry out).

5. A sunny window to put the seedlings or a warm outdoor space. The best time to do this activity is in the early spring.


Student Work:

1. Students will plant seeds and care for the seedlings until they are ready to be transplanted outside. This activity is best done in the early spring.

2. Each student will create an attractive one-page brochure about the plant, which they grew, and how to take care of it.

3. If desired, the brochures can be put together to create a booklet for each student in the class.



Students will be graded with the following rubrics and Did I? sheet. Each item will receive a number. 4 = Excellent, 3 = good, 2 = fair, 1 = poor/failing and 0 = the work was not completed or attempted at all.


Checklist/Did I sheet:

Name: ____________________________ Date: _________ Class: _______________

What was the plant species that I studied? ________________________________


Did I:

____1. Get a seed packet of rare, heirloom, native seeds or seeds that would attract birds or butterflies to the garden?

____2. Write down the information from the seed packet about this plant?

____3. Get more information about this plant species from a seed catalog or book?

____4. Get more information about this plant species from the Internet?

____5. Write all of the information onto a piece of paper?

____6. Put all of the information about the species, variety or cultivar into my brochure, checking for accuracy?

____7. Check my spelling and grammar on the brochure?

____8. Redo the brochure, making it neat and attractive (word processing it if I have access to a computer)?

____9. Add the picture from the seed catalog or seed packet onto the brochure (or scanning the picture into the computer and pasting it onto the brochure in the computer)?

____10. Write my name, class and date onto the brochure?

____11. Start growing my seeds in a container with good potting soil?

____12. Carefully label the seeds with a label telling the species, variety or cultivar, date planted and my name?

____13. Water my seeds regularly?

____14. Do my very best to carefully tend to the seedlings care (whether or not they germinated well) giving them  moisture, light and warmth?

____15. Give away or sell my seedlings along with the brochure that I made?

Total Score _____________ / 60 total possible points = _______________%



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