Spring Science: Plant Propagation

“April showers bring May flowers” is a saying we’ve all probably heard once or twice in our lives. But how about making more plants from the plants you already have? This blog post will cover what is plant propagation, how to do it, and some science about plants to help develop your green thumb!

What is plant propagation?

Plant propagation is the process of taking a clipping or a piece of one plant and using it to grow an entirely separate plant. There are 2 kinds of propagation: sexual and asexual. Sexual propagation is the process of sexually reproducing plants using the pollen and egg to make a new plant- this method is a little more involved than asexual propagation. Asexual propagation is done by taking a piece of an existing plant, like a stem or leaf and using that to create a copy of the parent plant.

Example of a plant propagation tool.

How do I propagate plants?

The easier method to propagate plants is through asexual propagation. You might have seen the fancy looking propagation stations for sale on the internet, but all you really need are items you probably have at home already! A clean pair of scissors, water, planting soil, and some sunlight are the basics needed for this. Most indoor household plants can be propagated by taking a cutting from a leaf and placing the base of it in water or soil so that it can then form fresh roots. You don’t want to drown the plant, of course, so make sure that if you start it in water you only submerge the plant about 0.5 cm into the water. This can be done in a glass, or even a zip top bag! Once the plant cutting is sturdy, set it in an area with plenty of sunlight and monitor regularly- making sure that the water doesn’t evaporate. Another way to do this is to wrap the base of the cutting in a wet paper towel. Once the cutting has formed sufficient roots you can transfer it to an appropriately sized pot to continue growing the plant!

If you want to sexually reproduce your plants you’ll want to look into the species of plant you’re trying to propagate and identify the pollen and egg parts of the plants. From there you’ll have to carefully transfer pollen from one plant to the stigma of another! Over time you’ll be able to develop seeds for the plants you’ve propagated sexually. Seeds will germinate over time and after several days you’ll see a root begin to exit the seed coating. Once that happens, you can set up your pot with soil and water and plant it- making sure to keep an eye on it to monitor growth. 

For more in-depth information on propagation, check out these articles!: Plant Propagation (University of Missouri) and Plant Propagation (University of Maine)

What’s the science behind growing plants?

While some people are lucky enough to have a green thumb, have no fear if you do not! Plants are relatively simple to take care of with the main keys being sunlight, water and fresh air. Personally, I keep most of my plants on my windowsill as that helps me make sure each of them gets some sunlight throughout the day. Light, water, temperature and air are all examples of environmental factors that will affect plant growth. These are all important for plant growth since plants use light for biosynthesis of the organic compounds they use to live. Photosynthesis occurs in the chloroplasts which is what is most commonly known for making plants green. 

From Introduction to Plant Cell Culture

If your plant isn’t thriving, maybe it looks dry or discolored; consider what effects the environment it is in will have on it. Does it need more light? Does it need to be watered more? Also, take some time to research plants before buying them. Consider things like what time of day they’ll get the most light depending on where you live, is it dry or humid where they’ll be planted, and how much care and attention they’ll require from you. There are even apps to help you stay on top of all of your plant’s needs like Planta, Flourish, Blossom and PlantSnap! 

If you’re looking for some experiments to do in your class which involve plants check out these EdvoKits:

Introduction to Plant Cell Culture

The Dose Makes the Poison: Testing the Environmental Impacts of Pollution

Plant Pigment Chromatography and Photosynthesis

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