By Shauni McGregor
Did you know that nearly all of our food comes from plants? Or that approximately
half of the calories eaten by humans come from grass ? These were exactly the
kinds of facts that we wanted to draw attention to at our Plant Power event at
Sheffield Food Festival.
On the 25th of May, 2019, BSA Sheffield volunteers gathered to run a set of fun
activities all about plants. Surrounded by the beautiful foliage of Sheffield’s Winter
Gardens, there couldn’t have been a more fitting location to engage the public in
Visitors got to enjoy the beauty of Winter Gardens as they completed the event’s
quiz trail. Finding the clues hidden around the garden allowed visitors to discover a
number of fun plant facts. Along the trail our visitors learnt that vanilla comes from a
type of orchid, caffeine is actually a natural plant pesticide and that the fastest
growing plant is bamboo, which can grow up to an entire metre in a single day! Visitors that found all the clues would discover a secret word that they could
exchange for a goody bag full of BSA goodies. The thought of winning a goody bag
made this a particularly popular activity with our younger visitors, who could be found persistently searching for clues around the garden throughout the day.
As well as our trail, we also ran a stall of exciting plant activities, including our ‘Guess the Grass’ game. A huge amount of the food we eat comes from grasses like
rice, wheat, corn and barley but could our visitor identify these plants in real life? This proved to be a tricky challenge as although the corn was easy to spot with its
popcorn-like seeds, some of the grasses were much harder to recognise. Telling
apart the barley and the wheat was a particularly difficult challenge as these plants
are very closely related and look very similar.
Alongside our ‘Guess the Grass’ game we also had some rhizotrons on display.
Rhizotrons are clear containers that allow a plant’s roots to be viewed growing
through the soil. Around half of a plant is hidden underground in the soil and having our rhizotrons on display allowed us to talk to our visitors about the importance of plant roots and how they can maintain healthy soils. We even had some worksheets for our visitors to take home, showing them how to make a rhizotron for themselves from old plastic bottles.
Throughout the day, we met lots of visitors passing through the Winter Gardens who
were completely new to BSA events. “It was great to see not only kids engaging with
the activity but also several adults came around and we had some interesting
discussions” said Antonio, the Sheffield BSA branch chair who was volunteering on
the day. We were given plenty of lovely feedback from our visitors who particularly
enjoyed the child-friendly quiz trail and felt that the event had given them a new
positive outlook into the world of plants and plant science.
- Cang, F. A., Wilson, A. A. & Wiens, J. J. Climate change is projected to
outpace rates of niche change in grasses. Biol. Lett. 12, 20160368 (2016).
- Eshel, A. & Beeckman, T. Plant roots : the hidden half. Boca Ranton: CRC
About the author
Shauni McGregor is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield studying plant
biology. Her research focuses on plant gas exchange and water use, specifically in
grasses and cereals. Alongside her PhD, Shauni is a keen science communicator,
volunteering regularly with the Sheffield BSA and working with the University of
Sheffield to deliver fun and exciting science events for all ages. You can learn more
about Shauni’s work or get in touch through her twitter page @shauni_mcgregor.