What is a Native Plant?

Science for Grades 3–6


What does the word “native” mean? 
Have the students guess, then look it up in a dictionary. Webster’s New World Student’s Dictionary defines native as: “2. born in or belonging naturally in a certain place or country [a plant native to Japan; a native New Yorker].” 

What does it mean when a plant, animal or rock belongs naturally to a certain place?
It means that people didn’t bring it or plant it there; it already existed in that place.

Can you think of things that are native to Iowa? 
Some people, prairie plants, trees, animals, and insects were born in or belong naturally to Iowa.

What is a good definition of a “native plant” for Iowa?
It is a plant that lived or grew naturally in Iowa or a particular region in Iowa before Europeans settled the area.


Have the students work in pairs or small groups and go on the school ground or to a nearby area and make a list of the plants, insects and animals that they see. Have them concentrate mainly on plants.  Students may have to draw or describe the plants if they don’t know their names.  Conduct research to identify the plants and determine if they are native to Iowa. There are many websites that give that information. Your school library is another resource. Ask the students to report how many of the plants on their lists were native.


Have the students share what they discovered. Use the following questions to guide the discussion.


What are the names of some common plants that you found growing near here?

Which of those plants are native? 

How do you know that they are native?

Are there more native or non-native plants on your lists?

Why do you think that happened?

Did you come up with any native plants that you think should be planted in the area where you looked?

What are the names of those plants?

What are the advantages of using native plants in a landscape?
They survive our environmental conditions. They are more tolerant or resistant to insects and diseases. They require less maintenance.


Have the same pairs or groups make a map or landscape plan of the same area that they observed using at least three native plants.
Post the plans in your room or hallway.

References: Iowa State University Extension, Introduction to Iowa Native Prairie Plants (SUL 0018), 2007. Free. Available in a downloadable PDF file from Extension Distribution
The Native Plant Database on The Living Roadway Trust website is an excellent way to determine whether a plant is native to our area.
You simply enter the name of the plant. If it is a native plant, the website will link you to a picture and description of the plant.

Share |