A Garden Scavenger Hunt

Grade Levels



Students will recognize the diversity and characteristics of plants in the garden.


  • Awareness, Diversity, Observation
  • Pa. Standards Addressed Doing the Activity
  • Materials  Assessment and Evaluation
  • Background Extensions
  • Getting Ready  Resources

Pennsylvania Environment
and Ecology Standards Addressed

  • 4.3.4. Environmental Health
    C. Understand that the elements of natural systems are interdependent.
  • 4.6.4. Ecosystems and their Interactions
    A. Understand that living things are dependent on nonliving things in the environment for survival.
  • 4.7.4. Threatened, Endangered and Extinct Species
    A. Identify differences in living things.

Other Pennsylvania Standards Addressed

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening
  • Mathematics

Teaching Methods

Hands-on, Observation, Reading, Writing, Art form, Calculations, Record data, Small group


  • 1 Scavenger Hunt Bag for each pair of students, each student’s Garden Journal
  • “School Garden Journal” for each student (made in a previous activity)


Diversity. This single word comes to mind when trying to describe the plant world. There are many different aspects of plants ranging from shape and texture to size, color and protective adaptations. By noticing the many designs of plants in a garden, students will be able to observe and focus on this diversity.


Leaves are amazingly varied in shape.  There are many adaptive designs that aid in photosynthesis from the needle-like leaves of pines to the broad leaves of maples.  Leaves can be nearly round, star-shaped or linear, but their primary job is to catch as much sunlight as possible.

Shapes of flowers help the pollination process.  Large, flat flowers such as daisies and Black-eyed Susan’s allow butterflies to land on them and collect pollen.  Other flowers like salvia and sweet peas use bees and flying insects to get into the openings.


Leaf texture is an adaptation for preventing water loss.  Milkweed have stiff leaves with a leathery coating and thickened juices, that prevent drying.  Plants like yarrow have lacy leaves allowing very little surface to be directly exposed to the sun or wind.  Bristly, black hairs on the back of Black-eyed Susan leaves prevent the sun’s rays from directly hitting the surface of the leaves, illustrating another effective method to prevent excess moisture loss.


Color is an important adaptation for flowering plants and the pollination process.  The bright showy flowers are invitations to insects to come and get nectar for food.  While collecting the nectar, pollen sticks to their bodies and when the insects fly to another flower they transfer the pollen to the new flower causing pollination.

Leaves also vary in color particularly in the fall season. As the leaves lose the chlorophyll that has been in them all summer the remaining pigment color shines through. 


Plants range in size from giant trees like a sequoia to small microscopic plants like phytoplankton. Regardless of the size, all plants are important for maintaining life on earth.

Leaf size, even on the same plant, can vary considerably. In general, leaves exposed to the full rays of the sun are smaller than those in the shade.  The arrangement of leaves on a twig or stem usually takes advantage of the available sunlight.


A hollow flower stem is a characteristic that provides flexibility and enables a flower to bow to adverse conditions rather than breaking.

Plants with stiff, but not easily broken, stalks may catapult their seeds when the stalks whip about in strong winds or are brushed by an animal.  Sturdy stalks like milkweed, hold their seed pods well into winter so that every last seed has the chance to be torn out and carried off by the wind.


There is no month in the year when seed dispersal cannot be studied although more seeds are ripe in the fall than at any other time. Many seeds travel by several different techniques. In winter, seeds travel over the snow on open pods like riders on a toboggan; in spring, they sail on streams of water from melting snow; in all seasons, they get tossed and carried by wind or by animals. They are started on their way by exploding fruits in spring, fall and summer.

Protective Adaptations

Many plants have defensive weapons that are used to protect them from animals that may eat them. These weapons come in the forms of things that may puncture or scratch such as thorns or prickles.

Poison is another type of adaptation that plants use. Milkweed has this type of adaptation. The plant contains poisons that few creatures except the monarch butterfly can digest, and the poisons stay in the butterfly throughout its life.  Watch a young bird throwing up after sampling a monarch and you will understand why it will never go near one again.

Getting Ready

You will need one Scavenger Hunt Bag for each pair of students.  Inside the bag will be four cards listing items for the student’s search.  Each bag will have different items to find.  Students will also need to bring their School Garden Journals with them to record their findings.

Doing the Activity

  • Ask the students to describe some of the plants that are in the school garden. Do they all look the same?  Discuss the likenesses and differences.
  • Divide the group into teams of two.  Give each team a scavenger hunt bag and tell them that team members will work together to find the items in the bag.  Explain that it is very important that they do not pick anything in the garden. 
  • Take the students outside to the garden and let the search begin.  As they find each item in their bag they are to draw a picture or write a description of it in their journal. 
  • If groups find their items before the allotted time is up, have them switch bags with another group and continue the search.
  • Back in the classroom have students compare their findings.  Discuss why there is such a wide range of differences.  What would happen if everything were the same size, color, shape, etc.  Why is diversity in the plant world important?


  • Participation in discussions and the scavenger hunt.
  • Drawings or written descriptions in their journal.


  • To increase the challenge and learning opportunity of this activity, have the students brainstorm other things they might look for on a plant scavenger hunt. During your next session outdoors have students look for these items.
  • Using the pictures in their journal ask them to design a plant that has all of the things they discovered.


  • Herberman, Ethan, The City Kid’s Field Guide,  1989
  • Lingelbach, Jenepher, Hands-On Nature, 1986
Search for
  • Flower size
  • Length of stem
  • Length of leaf
  • Shapes of flowers
  • Shapes of leaves
  • Leaf with 5 points
  • Leaf with smooth edges; toothed edges
  • A specific color
  • Stem that is stiff, flexible
  • Protection such as thorns, spines, stinging hairs
  • Texture such as smooth, furry, soft, bumpy, rough
  • Different smells
  • Buds
  • Pollinating bird or insect
  • Seeds that fly
  • Seeds attached to a plant
  • A stem of a flower that is over 5 inches.

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