PLANTS AND PEOPLE- Botany 328- Laboratory


Laboratory 1: Plant Vegetative Morphology and Vegetables

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The goals of this laboratory exercise are to familiarize you with the vegetative morphology of flowering plants and to make you more aware of the different types of edible vegetables we use in our daily lives. Leaves, stems, and roots comprise the vegetative body of a flowering plant. Leaves are responsible for photosynthesis. Stems comprise the central axis and branches of a plant, a system which acts to transport photosynthates from the leaves to other organs of the plant and to transport water and nutrients from the roots. The system of stems and branches also serves to get the solar panels of the plant--the leaves--to the light. Together, leaves and stems are often referred to as shoots. Roots serve as anchors, holding the plant upright, and as sponges that extract water and nutrients from the soil. Many roots and stems are also modified for the storage of nutrients. These nutrients are in turn used by the plant to produce new growth.


Over the course of human evolution a diverse array of plant vegetative structures have been selected for their food value. The vegetables we eat today have a long history of artificial selection and cultivation. There was a time in the past when the ancestors of the plants we eat today were gathered from the wild to sustain the lives of our ancestors. Eventually, these wild plants were selected and modified through cultivation to support the growing population of human beings on this planet. We rely on many plant vegetative structures as food for ourselves as well as for our livestock.


By the end of this lab period you should be able to recognize the different vegetative structures of a typical flowering plant and to describe briefly the importance that each of these structures serves in the life of a plant. You should be able to recognize numerous edible vegetables by their common and scientific name and, in general, know what vegetative plant structure is represented by the vegetables on display. You should also gain a basic understanding and especially an appreciation of the diversity of geographic origins of cultivated plants. Stated in other words: we want you to know your food!




Can you match the common names listed below with the vegetables displayed? Study the vegetables provided, paying special attention to their morphological structure, family, scientific name, and geographic origin.

alfalfa sprouts   Fabaceae/Medicago sativa   shoot   Near East    
asparagus   Liliaceae/Asparagus officinalis   shoot   Mediterranean    
bamboo shoots   Poaceae/Bambusa vulgaris   shoot   Asia    
bean sprouts (Mung)    Fabaceae/Vigna radiata   whole plant   Asia    
beet   Chenopodiaceae/Beta vulgaris   root   Mediterranean    
bok-choi   Brassicaceae/Brassica chinensis   leaf   Asia    
brussels sprouts   Brassicaceae/Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera    shoot    Europe    
cabbage   Brassicaceae/Brassica oleracea var. capitata   leaf    Mediterranean    
cactus pad   Cactaceae/Opuntia sp.   stem   New World    
carrot   Apiaceae/Daucus carota   root    Mediterranean    
cassava/manioc/yuca    Euphorbiaceae/Manihot esculenta   root   S. America    
celery   Apiaceae/Apium graveolens   petiole   Eurasia    
chinese cabbage   Brassicaceae/Brassica pe-tsai   leaf   Asia    
cinnamon    Lauraceae/Cinnamomum verum   bark   Sri Lanka/India    
collard greens   Brassicaceae/Brassica oleracea var. acephala   leaf    Europe    
daikon   Brassicaceae/Raphanus sativus cv. Longipinnatus   root    Asia    
fennel   Apiaceae/Foeniculum vulgare   stem   Mediterranean    
garlic   Liliaceae/Allium sativum   stem   Asia    
ginger   Zingiberaceae/Zingiber officinale    stem    Asia    
jicama    Fabaceae/Pachyrrhizus erosus   root   Mexico    
kale    Brassicaceae/Brassica oleracea var. acephala   leaf    Mediterranean    
kohlrabi   Brassicaceae/Brassica oleracea var. gongyloides   stem    Mediterranean    
lettuce   Asteraceae/Lactuca sativa   leaf   Eurasia    
leek   Liliaceae/Allium ampeloprasum   stem   Near East    
maple syrup   Aceraceae/Acer saccharum   sap(stem)   N. America    
mustard greens   Brassicaceae/Brassica nigra   leaf   Eurasia    
onion   Liliaceae/Allium cepa   stem   Asia    
parsley   Apiaceae/Petroselinum crispum   leaf   Eurasia    
parsnip   Apiaceae/Pastinaca sativa   root    Mediterranean    
radish   Brassicaceae/Raphanus sativus   root   Asia    
rhubarb   Polygonaceae/Rheum rhabarbarum   petiole   Asia    
shallot   Liliaceae/Allium cepa   stem   Asia    
spinach   Chenopodiaceae/Spinacia oleracea   leaf   Asia    
sugar cane   Poaceae/Saccharum officinarum   stem   tropical Asia    
sweet potato   Convolvulaceae/Ipomoea batatas   root   S. America    
swiss chard   Chenopodiaceae/Beta vulgaris var. cicla   leaf   Mediterranean    
taro root   Araceae/Colocasia esculenta   stem   Old World tropics    
turnip   Brassicaceae/Brassica campestris   root   Eurasia    
water chestnut   Cyperaceae/Eleocharis tuberosa    stem   Old World tropics    
white potato   Solanaceae/Solanum tuberosum   stem   S. America    
yam   Dioscoreaceae/ Dioscorea sp.   stem   Old World tropics    




  1. What are the three main vegetative organs used for dietary purposes?

  3. Sketch a leaf and label the parts.

  5. Why are leaves so important to a plant? What purposes do they serve? Why are the leaves of a plant so important to life on planet Earth?

  7. What are three ways that leaves can be arranged on a stem?

  9. Draw a compound leaf and a simple leaf.

  11. How can you tell the difference between monocots and dicots using leaf characteristics?

  13. What purposes do stems serve in overall plant function?

  15. Name one similarity and one difference between a carrot and a white potato. Think about function and vegetative structure.

  17. Asparagus is the Cadillac of all vegetables. What part of the asparagus plant do we actually eat?

  19. White potatoes are modified stems which grow underground. How can one tell that these vegetables are actually stems and not roots? What purpose does this stem modification serve in overall plant function?

  21. What is an onion? Name the parts of an onion. What purpose does an onion serve in the overall function of the onion plant?

  23. 12.You should know by now that each of the vegetables we eat has a wild ancestor. Why might the wild ancestors of the common potato, sweet potato, and carrot have smaller underground organs than the cultivars which are grown by human beings?

  25. What are two main types of root systems in flowering plants? How do monocot roots and dicot roots typically differ?

  27. What is a brussels sprout?

  29. Give the common name of four vegetables in the family Brassicaceae.

  31. What are two functions of roots?

  33. Carrots, radishes, and turnips are quite similar in structure and function. What do we call these structures and what is their main function?

  35. What part of a mushroom do we eat? Is a mushroom a plant?



Last updated 7/7/98