Making Roots

Explore the wonders of nature on a small scale.

Making Roots

If you’re not quite ready for a full plant, why not explore the wonders of nature on a smaller scale.

Most seeds contain enough energy within them to start growing on their own for a while without soil or other nutrients. You can use this special ability of seeds to watch roots develop without getting messy.


Things you might need:

Jam jar or similar
Sand (optional)
Cotton wool balls
Butter beans (dried from the supermarket is fine, not canned!)
Water

Activity details:

Age: All
Difficulty: Easy
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Running time: 1 week

Learning points:

Plant structures
Plant growth and development


How to make visible roots:

  1. Weight the bottom of the jam jar with some sand (optional).
  2. Fill the jar past half way with cotton wool balls, and gently compress them.
  3. Press a butter bean down the side of the jar, making sure it doesn’t hit the bottom.
  4. Water gently until the cotton wool balls are damp but not soaked, and place the jar on a sunny windowsill.

Top tips!

Keep an eye on the moisture level and top up with water when necessary.

Within 2-3 days the bean should have germinated, and you’ll begin to see roots and shoots. Eventually the plant will develop leaves - make sure the jar doesn’t topple over at this stage!

Once you’ve finished watching the development of the plant, take it out of the jar and gently remove the cotton wool balls. You should be able to examine the root system that has developed. If you have access to a magnifying glass try looking at the root hairs.

Roots
Root system of Heather, Calluna vulgaris, illustrated in Fuchs, De historia stirpium (1542).

How to take it further...

You could keep a bean diary. This could take the form of descriptions, drawings, measurements and/or photographs of the observations. You could also transplant the developing beans into pots with soil and put them into a garden or on a windowsill.