[Krampf Experiment, Monocots and Dicots

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Mon Jul 5 22:35:53 EDT 2010

Robert Krampf's Experiment of the Week
Monocots and Dicots

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Monocots and Dicots

Greetings from our home in Jacksonville.  This week's experiment is the result of a marvelous trip we took yesterday to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.  Nancy spotted an amazing number of wildflowers, which I photographed, and am now trying to identify.   Luckily, the flowering plants can be divided into two groups, the Monocotyledons and the Dicotyledons, often known as Monocots and Dicots.  To learn about sorting plants into these two groups, you will need:

- leaves and flowers from different kinds of plants

First, lets take a look at those long, complex names.  What in the world does Monocotyledon mean?  Or Dicotyledon?  Notice that they both have the same ending.  A cotlyedon is also known as  seed-leaf.  This is the first leaf that emerges from the seed.  Next, take a look at the first part of each word.  Mono- means one, and Di- means two.  Once you know that, then the difference between the two groups is easy.  Monocots have a single leaf when the seed sprouts, while Dicots have two.  

Knowing that, it is easy to tell the difference between the two, if you grow them from seeds.  If you have ever planted a garden, then you can probably recognize plants from both groups.  Corn, onions, and garlic have a single leaf when they sprout, which makes them monocots.  Squash, beans, cucumbers, and most other garden vegetables have two leaves when they sprout, so they are dicots.

That is great if you have the time to gather seeds from your wildflowers, and then wait for them to sprout.  (Do NOT collect seeds or anything else in National Parks or Wildlife Refuges!)  Luckily, there are other ways to separate the two groups.

One "test" that usually works is to look at the veins in their leaves.  Most monocots have veins that are parallel, running side by side.  To see an example of this, look at a blade of grass.  Most dicots have leaves with veins that form networks.  Look at the leaf of lettuce, or a leaf from an oak or maple tree.  Notice that I said "most" for both.  This is not an absolute test, but it will usually put you on the right path.

Another test involves cutting the plant's stem.  (Do NOT chop up plants or anything else in National Parks or Wildlife Refuges!)  Use a sharp knife to cut through the stem, and then examine it with a magnifying glass or microscope.  You are looking for the vascular bundles that carry food and water through the plant.  For dicots, the vascular bundles are arranged in rings or lines.  For an easy example of that, chop some celery. The "strings" in the celery are the vascular bundles, and you will find them lined up in a nice row.  That tells us that celery is a dicot.  For monocots, the vascular bundles are spread through the entire stem.  While you are chopping your celery, chop some hearts of palm or some bamboo shoots.  Neither will have that distinctive row of vascular tubes, since palms and bamboo are both monocots.  Mix both of these with the dicot lettuce leaves, and you are well on your way towards a delicious salad.  As you add other yummies to your salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, carrots. etc.), try to determine which are monocots and which are dicots.

For my purposes, the best test was to look at the plant's flowers.  Since the flowers are what we were photographing, this is just what I wanted.  All you have to do is count the number of petals, sepals, anthers, and stamens.  

For monocots, these will be in multiples of three.  If you count the number of petals on the flower, it would have either three, six, nine, or a multiple of three.  The same is true for the anthers (the part that produces the pollen), the stamens (the part that collects the pollen) and the sepals (the leaves around the base of the flower.  Be warned that this can sometimes be difficult to see.  For example, in some flowers, the stamens are bundled together, so it might seem that the flower only had one.

For dicots, the parts will be in multiples of four or five, so a dicot flower might have four petals, five petals, eight, ten, etc.  Again, be warned that plants can be tricky.  In addition to bundling their stamens, they may also have one or more tiny petals that are hard to find.  

OK, so now you are ready to test your new knowledge.  You could head for your local swamp, but there is a much easier field trip that you can make.  Head for your local grocery store.  Look through the produce section, and you should find a wide variety of both monocots and dicots.  Most groceries also have a section for live flowers, which will give you a great chance to count some petals.  Your local garden shop will also have quite a few examples from each group.  Even simpler, go out in your yard.  A close look at your lawn should give you plenty of plants to work with, although most of them will not be as tasty as what you would find at the grocery.

Have a wonder-filled week.

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