Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Kitchen Botany
Nature Bulletin No. 684  September 8, 1962
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

The corner grocery store and the local fruit stand offer a variety of plant materials that can be grown and studied in the schoolroom or laboratory. At any time of year, fruit seeds and root vegetables of many kinds can be made to germinate, take root and thrive indoors. In addition to those from the orchards, home gardens and truck farms of this region, it is possible to grow seedlings of a number of tropical fruits. Most of the contents of this bulletin are taken from a recent article by Blair Coursen, published in Turtox News.

A few simple supplies including flower pots, boxes or trays of garden soil are the only equipment needed. A school terrarium or leaky aquarium can be used to advantage. A good hand lens or microscope, though not essential, can show some of the finer details of roots, stems, leaves and developing seeds not visible to the naked eye.

The sweet potato, a member of the morning glory family, is a favorite indoor foliage plant with dark-green, heart-shaped leaves on long, running or climbing vines. It is grown by planting a tuber in a pot of rich soil or by setting about a third of its length in a jar of water. Root growth starts quickly and the vines may reach lengths of many feet in a single winter. Thin slices of the vine, cut with a razor blade, are excellent for the study of stem structure.

The common onion belongs to the lily family. Onion "sets" or dry onions of any size are easily grown in moist soil, or a large one can be placed in the top of a glass of water. Thin sections of the new root tips are used in almost every biology laboratory to demonstrate cell division. Under a microscope the "skin" peeled from the leaf surface shows the stomata, or breathing pores, and the guard cells that control them. A flower pot with a thriving clump of chives, a small relative of onions, is kept in many homes to flavor salads and sandwiches.

Some of our commonest garden vegetables are kin to the mustards -- cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and radishes, to name a few. Others and among the simplest to grow indoors are large turnips and rutabagas. Planted in soil, they usually send up stalks and bear the typical four-petaled flowers of the family.

The seeds of oranges, lemons and grapefruit germinate readily in small containers of sandy loam or between layers of damp blotting paper. In pots of soil with warmth and moderate sunlight they grow slowly, produce shiny green foliage, and may bear fruit after the second or third year.

The single large seed of an avocado germinates, grows rapidly, and may become a tree several feet in height. The seed should be barely covered with soil in a large flower pot and kept warm and moist. If a pineapple with a crown of fresh green leaves is selected, the top can be made to grow if it is cut off just below the base of the leaves. It should be planted a half inch deep in a pot of moist sandy loam and kept in a warm sunny spot. Roots usually start within a week or two and it is not unusual for it to produce another small pineapple, on an upright stem, after four or five months. Any kitchen has the makings of a botanical garden.

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