Comparing Land and Water Plants

A Carolina Essentials™ Activity

Total Time: 60-75 mins

Prep: 15 mins | Activity: 45-60 mins

Life Science


Elementary School


This exploratory activity examines the phenomena of plant structure. Regardless of habitat, all plants have distinguishing structures with predictable functions. In this activity, students compare an aquatic plant, common duckweed, to a terrestrial plant of their choosing. Students are guided to examine leaves, stems, and roots and make a summary statement about how adaptations can be beneficial to a plant in different habitats.

Essential Question

How are land and aquatic plants different? How are they alike?

Activity Objectives

  1. Describe how plants change to live in different habitats.

Next Generation Science Standards* (NGSS)

PE-2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Science & Engineering Practices

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Disciplinary Core Ideas

LS4.D Biodiversity and Humans

Crosscutting Concepts



Safety & Disposal

Prior to taking students outside, locate an area where they can easily dig up a weed or small plant without harming school landscaped areas. Ensure that the terrestrial plants have roots, stems, and leaves after students dig them up. If the school grounds are not appropriate for plant samples, purchased plants like coleus, marigolds, and pansies work well.


To dispose of duckweed, place it in a resealable bag, freeze it for several days, and then dispose of the bag in the classroom trash. Do not dump duckweed into a body of water.


Berlese Funnel Construction


    1. Precut the screen into 20 cm × 20 cm pieces.
    2. Identify different locations outside that are suitable for invertebrate collection.


Student Procedures

  1. Cover the desk with paper or newsprint.
  2. Put both plants on the paper, 4 to 6 inches apart.
  3. Trace around both plants.
  4. Look at both plants with the magnifying glass.
  5. Fill in the data table.

Teacher Preparation and Tips

  1. Have students remove soil from the plant roots before beginning.
  2. Encourage students to write their observations on the paper.
  3. Emphasize the difference in overall shape between the plants.
  4. Emphasize form and function.

Data and Observations

Land Plant Aquatic Plant

Shape of leaf

Will vary

Oval and thick or spongy

Number of leaves

Will vary

Probably 2 to 4

Color of leaves



Where roots are attached

Will vary

One per leaf

Number or roots

Will vary

One per leaf

Color of roots

White to cream

White to cream

Shape of stem

Will vary

No stem visible

How leaves are attached to the stem

Attached by another short stem, the petiole


Color of stem

May vary, usually green


Shape of plant

Taller than broad

Broader than tall

Other observations

Will vary—students should note leaf veins

Will vary

Analysis & Discussion

    1. How are land plants and aquatic plants similar?

      Answers will vary, but key points should include that they are both green and have leaves and roots. Both types of plants do produce flowers.

    2. How are land plants and aquatic plants different?

      Land plants have stems and a branched root system. Land plants are taller than they are wide. Aquatic plants have roots that hang into water. Each leaf has its own root. The leaves are thicker and somewhat spongy. There is no visible stem on the duckweed.

    3. What makes land plants better able to live on land?

      Branched roots hold the land plant in place and extend outward for water. Stems allow for more leaves, resulting in more photosynthesis and food for the plant. Broader and bigger leaves also allow for more photosynthesis.

    4. What makes water plants better able to live in water?

      Spongy leaves allow the aquatic plant to float on the surface of the water. Leaves are broad and flat so the plant can float. Aquatic plants don’t have to stay in place. Roots hang directly into water so they don’t have to branch.

Shop the Kit

Wisconsin Fast Plants® Elementary Exploration of Plant Life Cycles Kit image
Carolina BioKits®: Exploring Human Senses


Helpful Links

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of, and do not endorse, these products.

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