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Biology Lab: Field Exercise #4 — Plant, Fungi, and Invertebrate Surveys

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Lab Exercise

Remember that field labs must be done in order....on time if possible.

Biology Lab: Field Lab #4

The Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments has a number of labs focussing on observation of plants and animals:
  • Lab IX-1 Fungi
  • Lab X-1 Simple Plants: Mosses and Ferns
  • Lab XI-1 Porifera and Cnidaria
  • Lab XI-2 Platyhelminthes, Nematoda, and Annelida
  • Lab XI-3 Arthropods

See instructions below for including one of these procedures in this field lab.

Goal: To collect plant samples and observe them



A very good resource for doing field observations is Gerald Durrell's A Practical Guide for the Amateur Naturalist (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988 ISBN 0-394-53390-9 Library of Congress call number QH51.D87). Durrell's family moved all over the world when he was a child; as an adult he has collected specimens for a number of zoos.


  1. In situ observation (habitat observation)
    1. Visit your field area (backyard, park, wilderness area, zoological gardens)
    2. Identify at least one of each type of plant (moss, fern, conifer, angiosperm) and at find at least one sample of a fungi. Describe each one and its habitat. Note the following:
      1. General size
      2. Overall shape of the organism, and specific shape and type of structures like leaves, roots, stems.
      3. In what kind of habitat (decaying matter, soil, water, air) is the organism growing?
      4. What is the organism's source of water, light, nutrients?
      5. If a plant, is it in its gametophyte or sporophyte phase?
      6. If a fungi, can you identify the fruiting body and mycelia?
  2. Collection: Collect as many as possible of the following (be sure you have permission first!); you may want to collect more than one of each type for comparison, especially if you cannot collect all types:
    1. A fungus: be careful while handling any unknown fungus not to touch your face with your hands (same as pond water)! If possible, handle with food-worker gloves.
    2. Moss sample, including sporophytes if possible (usually small brown rods sticking out above the green part of the plant like fuzz).
    3. A fern leaf, including spores.
    4. Male and female conifer cones (usually the female cones are large and hard, the kind you use in crafts projects at Christmas time, and the male cones are smaller and softer)
    5. A flowering plant (all of a small one).
    6. If you cannot get any of the rest, go for the flowering plant; a florist might be willing to give you several samples if they are too old to sell. Your grocery store is also a good source for plant leaves (lettuce, whole carrots and radishes), roots (carrots, green onions, bean sprouts), even flowers (what do you think an artichoke is?), mushrooms, and fruits. Pet stores also sell water plants.
  3. Sample Observation: Examine each specimen as carefully as possible, identifying and describing
    1. Gametophyte and sporophyte structures (check your text to see which is which)
    2. Differences in tissues in different parts of the plant
      1. If you can, make thin sections following the instructions in the slide preparation lab and examine them under the microscope.
    3. Differences in structure of the seeds (among conifers and angiosperms) and spores (ferns, mosses, fungi).
    4. Differences in structure of stems (all kinds)
  4. Focus Area: Depending on the availability of forms in your field area, select one of the IGHBE labs listed above (We recommend doing both the labs for Simple Plants to compliment your other observations). Complete the observations for the appropriate procedure and include these in your report.
  5. Hypothesis: Review your report from Field Lab #1. Copy your table of information and include updated information and measurements. Assess the hypothesis your created in Field lab #1: do any changes in the plants and animals you observe now support your hypothesis?


Write up your notes as completely as possible in a formal report, using the same format as you did in Field Lab #1 to make comparisons easier. Your report should include the explanation of how you obtained your samples, and a chart of their characteristics, with enough detail to identify each one again.