Survival through Adaptation

Information, Activities, and Plant Spotlights

Information for Educators

Survival through Adaptation helps students develop their scientific literacy skills and their sense of belonging in the natural world. The curriculum invites students to observe and make inferences about plants from rainforest, desert, and aquatic ecosystems. Students learn to identify adaptations to plants’ leaves, stems, and roots and to make evidence-based guesses about where the plant might best survive. This curriculum does not address plant reproduction.

Survival through Adaptation Key Understandings

Similarities and differences in patterns can help us make sense of the natural world.

When the environment changes, some organisms survive and reproduce, others move to new locations or move into the transformed environment, and some die.

Plant populations live in a variety of habitats, and change in those habitats affects the organisms living there.

People can apply their understanding of plant adaptations to See the world in new ways and to help protect the environment.

Survival through Adaptation Essential Questions

What can we learn about the natural world from plants?

How can botanical gardens, libraries, and art museums help us answer our questions about plants?

How can I use my plant knowledge to help the environment?

Supported Next Generation Science Standards

Science and Engineering Practices

  • Planning and carrying out investigations

  • Developing and using models

  • Engaging in argument from evidence

  • Analyzing and interpreting data

  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Patterns. Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort and classify natural phenomena.
  • Cause and Effect. Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified and used to explain change.
  • Systems and System Models. A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • 3-LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience. When the environment changes in ways that affect a place’s physical characteristics, temperature, or availability of resources, some organisms survive and reproduce while others move to new locations, others move into the transformed environment, and some die.
  • 3-LS4.C: Adaptation. For any particular environment, some kinds of organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
  • 4-LS1.A: Structure and Function. Plants and animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction.
  • 5-LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems. Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases and water from the environment and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment.

Science Vocabulary

Scientists use specific words to describe what they see in the world. These words can help students describe the world in a new way. The following discipline-specific words are used in this curriculum:

  • adaptation a change in plants and animals over many generations in response to environmental conditions

  • chlorophyll the green pigment in plants that captures the energy of light and enables the plant to make sugars

  • chloroplast an oval-shaped body in plant cells that contains chlorophyll and is the site where photosynthesis and starch formation occur

  • habitat the natural environment in which plants and animals live together. Different habitats support different plant and animal species.

  • limiting factors environmental aspects that limit the success of one or more organisms in a given community or ecosystem. Plants need water, air, nutrients, and light. If any of these are restricted in an ecosystem, they become limiting factors for the plants.

  • nutrient a necessary ingredient for a plant’s growth and survival, such as nitrogen or potassium

  • photosynthesis the process in plants by which the sun’s energy (light energy) is captured by chlorophyll and converted to chemical energy that is stored in sugars.

  • respiration the process in living organisms by which sugars are combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water to release energy for the organisms' use in growth

  • stoma a very small pore in the surface of a leaf (oxygen and carbon dioxide from the air enter through the stomas; oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water vapor leave through the same stomas)

  • transpiration the loss of water vapor by plant parts that occurs mostly through pores (stomas) on the leaf surfaces


The primary reference for this curriculum, and the resource we most recommend to educators interested in reading more, is the chapter “Reading Plants” in A Botanical Reader by The Huntington’s Director Emeritus of the Botanical Gardens, Jim Folsom.

Arnold, Caroline, and Arthur Arnold. 1994. Watching Desert Wildlife. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books.

Bailey, Jill, and Michael Allaby. 2001. Plants and Plant Life. Danbury, CT: Grolier Educational.

Capon, Brian. 2010. Botany for Gardeners,. 3rd ed. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Davies, Nicola. 2017. Deserts. New York: Kingfisher.

Dorling Kindersley Limited, ed. 2008. Earth Matters, 1st American ed. New York: DK Publishing.

Folsom, Jim. “Reading Plants” in A Botanical Reader. Accessed September 16, 2020.

Gagne, Tammy. 2016. Rain Forest Ecosystems. Ecosystems of the World. Edina, MN: Core Library, an imprint of Abdo Publishing.

“Greenhouse Effect: Keeping the Balance.” n.d. NASA Climate Kids. Accessed May 27, 2021.

Hunken, Jorie. 1993. Botany for All Ages: Discovering Nature through Activities for Children and Adults,. 2nd ed. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press.

Kalman, Bobbie. 2011. Baby Animals in Desert Habitats. 2011. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company.

———. 2012. Baby Animals in Rainforest Habitats. 2012. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company.

Lahmeyer, Sean. 2020. “Spines, Thorns, and Prickles.” Verso (blog). July 22, 2020.

Madgwick, Wendy. 1991. Cacti and Other Succulents. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann Educational.

Patel, Sonja. 2018. The Botanical Bible: Plants, Flowers, Art, Recipes & Other Home Remedies. New York: Abrams.

Raven, Peter H., Ray Franklin Evert, and Susan E. Eichhorn. 2005. Biology of Plants., 7th ed. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Scott, Michael. 1995. The Young Oxford Book of Ecology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Talianchich, Renny. n.d. “Plant Adaptations,” San Francisco: Conservatory of Flowers.

Terrazas, April Chloe. 2014. Botany: Plants, Cells, & Photosynthesis. Austin, TX: Crazy Brainz.

“The Plants of the Rainforest.” n.d. Accessed May 27, 2021.

Time-Life Books, ed. 1999. Our Environment. Time-Life Student Library. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books.

“What Can Trees Tell Us About Climate Change?” n.d. NASA Climate Kids. Accessed May 27, 2021.

“Why Is Carbon Important?” n.d. NASA Climate Kids. Accessed May 27, 2021.

“Yecora Region.” n.d. Accessed May 27, 2021.