The Secrets in Fruit: A Free Botany Lesson for Kids
Based on an out-or-print book, “Grocery Store Botany” by Joan Elma Rahn
Here’s how to get a bored child excited about botany!
Have you ever cut an apple crosswise? What you see may surprise you! The design is gorgeous! Discovering the unexpected brings the enthusiastic level past the next level! You won’t hear the words, “boring” in this class! Your child will become excited about science! A bonus could be a change of heart about food that was ignited by the amazement over the designs inside fruit. Who knows, they may even try a bite of that “new” food.
The secret to building enthusiasm in a young mind starts when you allow your child to explore and express what he or she is experiencing. Try to help them develop observation skills and expand their vocabulary. Then, help them write about it to add another level of skill to the “peg” of discovery they now have.
The Philosophy at Seasons of Devotion for Childhood Learning
We were made to wonder and to be curious. Creativity will be a natural result when we are given the chance to discover things for ourselves. For more details on why this is true, read my post, “The best way to homeschool so that your children will thrive.”
Supplies for Fruit Botany Lesson
The supplies you will need are:
- Fresh tomato with the stem still attached. (try “tomatoes on the vine” or a small cherry tomato)
- Peach, nectarine, apricot or cherries
- Whole grain (choose from wheat, barley, or brown rice)
- 2 apples
- Pineapple or blackberry or raspberry
Fruits at every meal
Did you know it’s important to eat fruit every day? Fruits are packed with vitamins and minerals and vitamins and minerals build strong, healthy bodies and give you brainpower. But we don’t eat fruit at every meal.
But, maybe you are!
Maybe you didn’t realize that you eat fruit more often than you think! We are going to have to discover how to tell if a certain food is a fruit or not before we can answer the question with facts. Try guessing how you can tell if a food is a fruit or not. Your FREE workbook has a page for the student to answer this question. You will cherish the workbook chapter your child creates as he or she fills it in. Print it now!
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Day One: Apples and Bananas
Discover the design of an apple
Get two apples. Does your apple have a stem? It’s a little hard to imagine, but the apple gets so heavy that, early in it’s growth, it hangs upside down, which means that the stem is actually the bottom! Look at the other end of the apple. Do you see the dried up sepals? You may even be able to see dried up stamens too. That’s where the petals were.
Now cut one of the apples across the middle. Cut the other one from top to bottom, so the knife cuts through the stem end and the blossom end. You can take a look here or in your workbook to see the diagram of the apple.
Apples have stars!
Looking at the apple that’s been cut across the diameter. How would you describe the design of the apple? Does it have a shape that you are familiar with?
Apples have sections inside
Now, look the cut apple from a different perspective. Do you see sections? Those sections are called carpels, just like the other fruit we examined.
Where is the real fruit part?
Look for ten veins. The veins are on the edge of the core. Now, here’s a fact that will surprise you. The apple has a core, and we don’t usually eat that because it’s hard and has the seeds in it. Many of us eat the skin because it is easier to just bite through it. The skin is very good for your body. Now, the whitish part between the skin and the core, the part we usually call “apple” is actually a swollen stem! But, it’s so good that we call it fruit and eat it. The real “fruit” part is the core!
Day Two: Why a tomato is a fruit
There’s an argument among botanists about whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable. Let’s take a look at the definition of both according to livescience.com
“Botanically speaking, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, whereas vegetables are all other plant parts, such as roots, leaves and stems.”
Oh, ok. What does that mean?
Do you remember the lesson about flowers? The pistil of the flower has the ovary that holds tiny seeds. It keeps growing if the seeds inside it were fertilized with the help of the wind or an insect. It will be helpful to complete the lesson on flowers first so you can see these amazing secrets insides flowers-or you can review it now. Link to the Flower Lesson
How does a flower become a fruit?
Only part of the flower develops into a fruit. Fruit forms around the pistil of the flower in order to give the seeds a place to grow. Remember, a plant needs to reproduce itself so it needs a good home for the seeds to develop. Some fruits are so soft and juicy, we may eat the both the fruit and the seeds-fruits like tomatoes.
What? Isn’t a tomato a vegetable? Hard to believe it! But, reread the definition and I think you will agree, a tomato is a fruit. Some botanists will argue that, if you called it a vegetable, you would also be correct!
Take a closer look at a tomato
ind a tomato with the stem still attached. Can you find the sepals? While the pistil of the tomato flower is developing into a fruit that holds the seeds, the petals and stamens fell off. What is left is a swollen stamen and five green sepals. Large tomatoes may have more than five sepals.
The secret inside tomatoes
Cut the tomato in half across the middle, from side to side. What a design! Do you see the seeds? Do you see sections, or different compartments that are holding the seeds? Those sections are called carpels. See the juicy stuff that holds the seeds in place? The whole section with the juicy part and the seeds is called the placenta.
The seeds will grow more tomatoes!
Would you like to grow a tomato plant from the seeds? If the tomato is not a hybrid variety and is ripe, you can scoop the seeds out and smear them across a paper towel. Then, let them dry. When you are ready to plant them, simply tear a small piece of paper towel that has a seed on it and plant the whole thing. You don’t need to peel the tomato seed off the paper. In fact, the seed may be damaged if you do, so just plant it with a bit of paper attached. You can find out how to start tomatoes from seed by reading this post HERE.
Day Three: Peaches, Plums, Apricots, and Cherries, and Citrus
Oh, my! What large seeds you have!
Some fruits have only one or two large seeds inside. Fruit such as peaches, plums, apricots, or cherries have a skin, soft flesh, a hard, stony part, and a seed hidden inside the stony part. They hang upside down, just like the apple! The flower part fell off the end that is not where the stem is.
Cut a peach, plum or apricot across the middle. The seed in the middle may make it difficult to take the halves apart, but try your best so you can see God’s design inside.
Cut a few cherries across the middle. How are these fruits the same? How are they different?
Ok. Now pop a half of a cherry in your mouth and taste how good it is! Help your parent or teacher make a fruit salad with the rest of today’s fruit and squeeze some lemon juice over the top after you learn about citrus next. To make a quick, thickener that adds a bit of flavor, try adding some instant vanilla pudding mix into the fruit to coat the fruit. The coating will thicken as it sits.
Lemons: Discover the design of citrus fruits
Cut across the lemon (or orange or tangerine) crosswise. Count how many carpels it has. A secret inside the tiny pistil of the citrus flower had the same amount of sections, or carpels as the fruit you are looking at. Most of the carpels have one or two seeds. Sometimes they have a lot more. If you have other citrus fruits, it would be fun to discover how many carpels they have. Then you can scoop out the sections, throw the seeds away and have a nice fruit salad!
Will the seeds of a citrus fruit grow more citrus?
That’s a tricky question. Technically, it will grow a citrus tree. The trouble is, the time it takes for a seed to grow into a tree that’s big enough to have fruit can take several years. Then, depending on the variety, there may be no fruit at all! Ever. Or, the fruit will be different from the fruit that you started with.
Why is that?
Much of the fruit we eat in our modern age has been developed by botanists to produce fruit with certain traits that we like. So, they control the kind of fruit we grow by grafting branches off the perfect fruit tree onto a “root stock” that is very healthy but doesn’t produce fruit that we like as much as the fruit from the new variety the botanist developed. That is the most common way to get exactly what the botanist (and growers) want. Now, this is getting complicated and is for another botany lesson. Just know that you can plant your seeds and watch it grow, but you may not get the fruit you were expecting.
Day Four: Melons and Cucumbers
Cantaloupe and watermelon
When we cut a cantaloupe, we usually cut it from stem to bottom. Then, we scoop out the seeds, and slice the melon into wedges.
The produce section of your grocery store may have them already cut up and maybe you didn’t know what a melon looks like inside. Get a whole cantaloupe or watermelon and cut it across the middle.
Do you see carpels? How is it the same as a fruit? How is it similar to a tomato? You can scoop the seeds out and slice the fruit into half wedges now!
You can see God’s design for melons when you cut it across the middle. Can you see the different sections that hold the seeds? The outer part, or skin of the melon is called the rind. We don’t normally eat that part because it’s too hard. Some really smart people cut the very outer part off and then make pickles out of the whitish green hard part just under the skin. You might find them in a jar at the produce stand, labeled as pickled watermelon rind.
Oh no, here we go again. I thought a cucumber was a vegetable. Cucumbers have the same design as a melon inside. Cut the cucumber into slices and you will find seeds arranged around the middle the same way. So, is a cucumber a fruit or a vegetable? What do you think?
- It has seeds
- It ripened from an ovary
- It has a swollen, juicy part that we eat.
Day Five: Grains, Pineapple and Raspberries
Grains are fruit
Have you ever taken a close look at a wheat kernel? How about a kernel of brown rice? You won’t be able to cut it so you can see inside, but it, too, is a fruit that has been dried. The kernel is almost all seed with a very thin skin. The skin is attached to the inside so well that it takes machines to get it off. There’s lots of vitamins and minerals in the outer part, so many people eat rice and wheat whole. “Whole” grains are the way God made them.
Eating grains with the outer part removed can be considered a treat but many people prefer to eat their grains as whole as possible so they can be sure to get all the goodness of the fruit. White bread is the result of taking the outer skin off and ground into white flour.
So, what are grains used for? When you grind them up, they make up much of our food. For example, ground wheat is where we get flour to make breads and pasta. Try naming ten things made from wheat flour. I gave you some examples, so what specific parts of our meal do we make with bread or pasta? (see the student workbook chapter for a place to write it down.)
Fruits hold seeds
One way to tell if a food is a fruit is the fact that it holds seeds. Now that you have learned a lot about fruit and the definition of a fruit, what are the questions you would ask to determine if a food is a fruit? Here is a list for you to decide if it is a fruit or not:
- Whole green beans
- Bell peppers
But not all fruits have seeds
Some fruit has been bred to not have seeds. Seeds can be a bit of a hassle sometimes. When I was a little girl, I ate citrus and watermelon outside because there were so many seeds in them that it was better to spit them out on the ground. That was no big deal for a little girl, but adults don’t seem to want to spit seeds, so botanists developed fruit that had very few or no seeds. For example, some watermelons are said to be “seedless”. Grapes are often seedless and navel oranges also do not have seeds. Even though they have no seeds, they are still fruits because they would normally have seeds in them.
What do raspberries and pineapple have in common?
Some fruits grow differently than the rest. Try breaking apart a raspberry (or blackberry). After you get some of the little pieces apart, try gently smooshing the part between your fingers. Oh, there’s where the seeds are!
Each of those sections is an individual fruit!
A pineapple has a similar design. Each “diamond” shape is an individual fruit. When you cut a pineapple crosswise, you can see how the “one big group of fruits” is designed. Each fruit is attached to the stem in the center of the pineapple. We call that part the core. The core is usually thrown away because it’s hard, but if you are lucky enough to get a ripe pineapple, the core is quite tasty too.
What about bananas?
Do bananas have seeds? What do you think? Look again! Cut your banana in half, crosswise. Do you see the pattern that reminds you of the carpels in a tomato or orange? The tiny black dots are actually seeds. They began to form and then didn’t grow anymore. The banana plant doesn’t need the seeds to make new plants. They reproduce from the roots by growing a new plant from the bottom! Smart banana trees!
Some Spices are fruit
Next time you have a pickle, you may see seeds in the juice that the cucumber is soaking in. Those seeds are actually little fruits that add a lot of flavor to your favorite pickle. Dill and mustard are teeny little fruits, much like whole grains are dried fruit. But the flavor is really strong for such small fruits! Just a few dill seeds will add flavor to a whole jar of cucumbers.
I bet you never look at fruit the same again! You can appreciate how God gives us food to nourish our bodies and he made them very good!
Have fun with fruit.
Veteran Homeschooler, avid gardener, and proud grandma
I believe that you can design a peaceful lifestyle while you homeschool, complete with a garden if you want, and meals that will make the best memories you ever could imagine!
I homeschooled seven kids through high school, starting them all with a lot of planned, hands-on activities. Then, I centered the subjects around the activities. That gave them lots of room for their natural curiosity to be satisfied as they learned about God’s world.
Let me help you teach kids, grow food, and stay calm!
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. – Mat 6:33 CSB