FALL, 2000

Darwin's Voyage

Several investigative teams were assigned the task of characterizing the number and kinds of different plants on a previously unexplored (by them) patch of land. The land was a courtyard of about forty square meters, and was explored by each team for about an hour. Summary reports of each of the different investigative teams are provided below. These papers were presented at brief scientific meetings at the end of each laboratory, and the findings were questioned, discussed, and debated in an effort to arrive at the best available summary of the observations.

Adria Robbin, Jill McCain, Elizabeth Paluska, Katie Kennedy

We divided plant life into three main categories according to height:
1. plants at ground level (from 0 to 1 foot tall)
2. plants at the medium level (from 1 to 12 feet tall)
3 includes plants over 12 feet tall.

Within the first group we created subgroups first according to the shape of the plant, and second according to the number of leaves and drew a further distinction between the shape of the leaves.

1 Ground Level Plants:

2 Medium Level Plants:

3 Plants Over Twelve Feet Tall:

Problems with our criteria:

We found moss on the trees which would not fit into our ground level category.

We also did not have a category to account for different growth stages, such as a sapling that was four inches but would eventually fit into our third category. We also had no way to categorize the system of growth.

Alexis Hilts, Katie Gallagher, Joan Steiner

To generalize all of our observations, we decided that there are two, separate and broad categories of organisms which are related; leafy plants and mosses. Included in those categories, we observed eighteen different organisms. Both categories share in the basic characteristic that both are green in color and apparently grow from the earth provided. Leafy plants share the following characteristics: they have stems and numerous leaves that are darker on the top and lighter on the bottom. Mosses are very low to the ground, quite abundant in that they covered a vast surface area, and velvety in texture in that the leaves were so numerous and small that the touch was soft.

Within the leafy plant category, we found it necessary to continue to sub-categorize our findings into three, new sections: bushes, trees, and grasses. The bushes each had a large, stout, and round shape with small leaves, delicate branches and small trunk. The trees are much larger, taller and more vertical in their growth, with thick roots and collum-like trunks. The grasses (which we found 11 different types of) are short, leafy, ground-cover plants.

Although all these organisms are clearly related through their common traits, and their shared ecosystem, there are clearly many distinctions which we are not sure how to approach at the moment.

Katie Kaczmarek, Rachel Hochberg, Aashna Hossain, Sonam Tamang

Field Report

We observed 30 different types of life we would categorize as plants. First, we collected samples and made a list of everything we found and some distinguishing characteristics, such as "mohawk daisies" and "thorny fuzzy leaves." Then we categorized them in several different ways. Initially, we split them into a height-based hierarchy: low to the ground, slightly above the ground, and significantly above the ground. Then we divided the plants into subcategories: plants with and without appendages. We further divided into more specific categories, based on characteristics such as flowers/ no flowers and fuzzy/smooth.

From this exploration, we learned that all of the life we observed can be put into one large category–plants–that can be subdivided in many different ways, some better than others. This is why there has been a constant debate over classification in the scientific world.

Susy Jones, Caroline Dyar, Gloria Ramon


In our investigation, we identified six major classifications of plant life: moss, lichen, grasses, leafy plants, bushes, and trees. When we first started generalizing the life, we used size as a basis for distinction. We started lower to the ground, describing small plant life. Moss was easy to distinguish because of its unique formation and few varieties. Problems arose when looking at the different kinds of grasses. We needed to have more specific guidelines to describe the grasses. We had to look at shape, size of sheath, and the vein patterns in the leave. Many grasses seemed similar and it became hard to distinguish between them. Sometimes we would think that a smaller grass that seemed similar to a larger one was in fact the same type of grass at a different stage of growth. We ran into further difficulties when categorizing leafy plants. We used the number of leaves and textures as determining factors. There were so many varieties that we seemed to run out of adjectives to clearly define each one. Next, we looked at bushes, which were somewhat simpler to describe. We found that bushes always have clusters of leaves on shoots, which stem from the branches, which in turn stem from multiple trunks. Our last category was trees. There were only two varieties of trees in the courtyard, so it was easy to put them into separate sub-categories. One had has smoother sheet-like bark, while the other had grooved, sectioned, and bumpy bark. The branches of one seemed to grow more vertically, while the other grew more perpendicular to the trunk.

All plant life in the courtyard was energy dependent, needing CO2 to carry on cellular respiration. Also, the plants need varying amounts of sun and water to maintain homeostasis. With a longer observation period, we could have also studied growth rates to help us make clearer distinctions.

Joe Santini, Jenny Wilson, Jabeen Obaray, Srabonti Ali

CLASS #1: Low Growing Ground Cover

We found four different types of organisms which can be sub-categorized: clovers, grass, leaves and flowers. We described the different characteristics of these four organisms below.


With round leaves

With spikey leaves



Red & Green


Thick grass (thick at the base, gets progressively thinner towards the top)

Thin long grass

Thin short grass

Bright green

Dark green

Thin smooth texture




Tear shaped

Star shaped

Heart shaped




Light green

Dark green


White petals


CLASS # 2: Medium-Sized Organisms

We found 9 different organisms within this class, which can be divided into 3 sub-classes/variations.

Common characteristics include size (5 to 7 feet tall); color (green); scent (none); taste (none); and appearance (leaves, branches, rooted in ground). There were variations in texture amongst the sub-classes.

[b1]–one sample

~petal-like formation of leaves

~6 feet tall/ 8 feet wide

[b2]–four samples

~deciduous, evergreen

~needle-like leaves

~toxic fruit (berries)–red and soft

[b2a]–7 feet/8-9 feet

[b2b]–7 feet/8-9 feet

[b2c]–7 feet/8-9 feet

[b2d]–7 feet/8-9 feet

[b3]–four samples

~rounded leaves

~texture depends on exposure to sunlight

[b3a]–5 feet/6 feet

shiny leaves

[b3b]–4 feet/6.5 feet

dull leaves, sparse

[b3c]–5 feet/5feet

dull leaves, sparse

[b3d]–5.5 feet/5feet

dull leaves, sparse


CLASS #3: Commensalist or Parasitic Plants found on the New Land Never Explored in Previous History

We found three distinct types of commensalist/parasitic plants growing on trees in the New Land:

Mosses: Dark, soft and spongy, with tiny leaf-like structures.

Lichens: Thin growths, which spread and cover the tree.

Spores: Mushroom-type plants.

We classified each of the species we found by [m], [f] or [s] to indicate which group and a number to specify the species.


[m1] is a soft, medium green moss which grows in clumps and is very spongy. Seems to bulge out of the tree. Grows on [t1]

[m2] is a soft, dark green moss which looks and feels spongy, but does not bulge out of the tree like [m1]. Instead it grows closely to the tree. Grows on [t1]

[m3] is a leafy, light green moss which grows interspersed with [m2]. Its leaves are conic and narrow to point downwards. Grows on [t1]

[m4] is a very flat, dark green moss, so thin it seems painted onto the tree. Grows on [t2]


[f1] a very pale green moss which is flat and crumbly and seems to grow in a circular fashion on the bark of the tree. Grows on [t1]

[f2] similar to [f1] in color, this lichen grows in circular fashion but has leaves which resemble cabbage. Grows on [t1]


[s1] resembles a mushroom in form. It is a pale tan colour, with a curved stem usually growing horizontally from the tree, with the cap pointing straight upwards. Found growing on [t1]



CLASS #4: Tall organisms

Trees–2 Species

[t1] (tree #1)

Root System

-appears to mirror branches

-roots are av.7 in. in diameter

-random structure, yet balanced

-pop above surface of ground

-light brown stuff covering entire surface (bark)


-leans to South

-has other forms of life growing on it

-"central" growth pattern (smooth on surface)

-70 in. in circumference


-similar to root system

-come out horizontally from trunk

-continues a branching formation (i.e. a branch grows off a branch grows

off a branch)


-bilaterally structural

-different on front and back (lighter and matte on back, shiny and dark on top)

-veins permeate cell structure of leaf

-five points on leaf

-stem which connects it to branch


-leaf has spiky edges

[t2] Tree #2


-protrude more than [t1[

-larger and rounder

-same colour as trunk


-branches lower

-not horizontal — slant upwards

-smooth bark which peels or flakes off

-reddish natural colour under lichen


-Green w/ yellow spots

-oval shape which comes to a point

-edges are rounded in little bumps between veins

Trudell Smith, Meghan McCabe, Nemia Barrera, Clare Lindner



Ground level, Bush level and Tree level.

Texture, color, size, shape and general appearances.


Criteria for each group:

Organism #1: Ground Level (1mm-6inches)

Moss-like substance

-1mm tall

-Color light green

-Soft fuzzy and furry

-Patches on ground and sides of trees

-Very small stems with around 20 leaves on each

Three leaf cover

-Three oval shaped green leaves

-Leaves located at the top of stem

-Stem is long, thin and light green

-Size is 2.5 inches from ground

-Random light green patterns on the leaves

-Soft (but not as soft as mosses)


Wheat-like grass

-Size 5-6 inches

-Ivory/beige color plant (no green)

-Very delicate and flimsy

-Branches sprout from different places on the branch, not just top


-Size 5-6 inches from ground


-Long, skinny blade

-No stem or branches

-Slippery texture




Organism #2: Bush Level (5-8 feet)

Bush A

-Size 8 feet from ground

-Brown thick branches extending from ground

-Many green blades

-Leaves smooth with ridges

-Leaves located up and down the brown stem

-Red, fruit-like, sappy balls

Bush B

-Size 6 feet

-Green, rough fuzz on oval shape leaves

-Branches are located at top of brown rough stem

Bush C

-Size 5 feet

-Light green stem

-Dark green leaves

-Leaves sprout throughout the stem

-Branches come from ground (no trunk)

-Leaves are shinny and smooth on top

Organism #3: Tree Level (25-30 feet)

Tree like

-Size 25-30 feet

-Thick, rough trunk with many thick branches

-Visible strong roots

-Star shape green leaves

-Thick brown branches

-Branches start half way up the tree

-Bark is rough with ridges


Jeanne Braha, Allison Hayes-Conroy, Jessica Hayes-Conroy, Mary Rochelle

We set off on our voyage to the little rectangle of plants outside the PSB. There we observed all sorts of new and exciting plants. We tried to classify them under the following system:

I. Leaves

  1. Trunked — one common stem that branches up higher
  1. Barked — rough outer coating
    1. Oval leaves
    2. circular


    3. Star shaped leaves

smooth point

rough point

  1. Not Barked

a plant resembling the ferns in Bryn Mawr

  1. Not-trunked — several stems that grow from a common point on the ground
  1. Barked
    1. Waxy leaves
    2. Berries

      No berries

    3. not-waxy leaves
  1. Not-barked
  2. Oval leaf shape
  3. One weed that had four leaves growing from a common point

  4. Thin ellipse leaf shape
  5. Serrated

    Smooth edged

  6. Rounded leaf shape
  7. Smooth edged


  8. Heart leaf shape

Smooth edged


  1. No Leaves
  1. Branching Structure
  1. Ground-hugging (moss)
  2. Upright



  1. Non-Branching Structure

Flat Blades

Tubular Blades

One type of organism was found in each of the categories that is not labeled with a letter or number. In general, we found more diversity in the leaved category. There were 20 types of organisms that we recorded. Given more time, we surely would have found more types of organisms. The best way to more accurately describe the organisms is to draw or photograph them or to save specimens.

One problem we encountered was the small number of examples of the larger plants, as well as the fern-like specimen and the ground-cover (moss-like). It is hard to draw conclusions from such a small sample. All other specimens were numerous — we definitely saw over 20 of each of the small plants — so we feel safe using them to draw initial classifications. However, even our larger classes had only a few sub-categories, so this should be considered inaccurate.

We took note of vein type, thinking it might prove useful in our classification system, but wound up not using it as a way to distinguish between organisms. Initial observations also led us to believe it might be helpful to categorize by height, but this system was also discarded, because of the recognition that a small plant could mature into a big one.

We would like further time to explore the island at greater length to see smaller details about the specific plants. A magnifying glass and/or microscope would be helpful in our observations.

Leila Ghaznavi, Promise Partner, Debbie Plotnick, Jakki Rowlett

Lab 1

The first thing we did was to brainstorm about possible categories, which took the majority of our time. The initial categories were Size, leaf shape, color, complexity, community, texture reproduction, number, visible root system, leaf or flowering, edibility, symbiotic/parasitic/neither. And rock. During the experiment we reevaluated the categories of rock, symbiotic/parasitical/neither, complexity, roots, reproduction, and edibility. We decided to eliminate or rework them into the following categories: size, shape, color, texture, leaf or flowering.

For the category of size we used relativity to surrounding organisms and to the human body. A height versus width comparison for some organisms which led some people to make a comparison with the numerous number of branches and how they might result in shape/size variations among plants.

With leaf shapes we compared the characteristics of serrated, rounded, pointy, general shape–oval rectangular etc. Which led us easily into the other category of color, which was defined by one team member as being relative to each other. Light green thus was the lightest green among all seen examples and dark the darkest among all seen examples. Some plants were examined for texture in comparison to the human skin. They were defined as rough, abrasive, soft, bumpy, and silky. This led many people to the observations of the presence of fruits or flowers etc., which some compared to probably reproductive techniques of the plant.

Number or recurrence was viewed as the number of the specimen in the given space. Some people took the square as a whole, while others blocked out small squares within the larger square to measure reoccurrence with in a small area. The group as a whole made observations about 13 different kinds of plants. Because our experimental methods differed there are different recording methods used throughout the group.

Using our fore knowledge of pre-existing classifications we divided the square into 4 initial categories and used the previous distinctions mentioned above to classify them into each of these major groups. In order to avoid naming it directly after things we knew, we divided into 4 groups M for moss related things, B for bush like things, G for grass like things, and T for tree like things. Using that system we found 1 M, 7 G, 2 T, and 3 B , each with nuances but forming a unique and undiscovered environment (and bonds between scientists).

Melissa Donimirski, Julie Kwon, Naomi Lim, Sarah Naimzadeh

Plant Life


Classify plants in plot of land outside the PSB.

a) How many classifications

b) How many organisms fall into each class

c) Criteria/characteristic of each class

d) Changes in classification methods

e) Summary of findings

  1. There are two main types of classifications which we designated as plants with branches and plants without branches growing on the ground.
  2. Five organisms fall into the branch class and four organisms fall into the ground class.
  3. Our criteria/characteristic for each class were basically the same with the exception of the category "fruit bearing" for the branch class. The criteria/characteristics were the number of leaf divisions, whether the leaves were round or pointy, the texture (soft or hard), and whether they were flat or had dimension.
  4. As we continued to observe and classify the plants we found that it was necessary to add criteria/classifications.




# of leaf divisions







Maple Tree Leaf







Tree b



































Bush A







Bush B







Pine needle







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