Target Grade Level / Age Range:
Three, 45-minute class periods
Students will gain a basic understanding of different types of lavender plants and work together to identify why the plants can thrive in the Loess Hills region of Iowa, by evaluating environment, soil, and climate.
- Poster boards for each group
- Supplies for making posters
- Sticky notes
- Writing utensils for students
Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)
- Brave Hearts: The Lavender Fairies by Piper Punches
Vocabulary (with definitions)
- Sachet – a small perfumed bag used to scent clothes
- Essential oils – a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.
- Potpourri – a mixture of dried petals and spices placed in a bowl or small sack to perfume clothing or a room.
Background – Agricultural Connections
Lavandula (common name lavender) is a genus of 39 known species of flowering plants in the mint family, lamiaceae. The most common cultivar of lavender is English lavender (lavandula angustifolia). Lavenders flourish best in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soils in full sun. The Loess Hills of Iowa were perfect for lavender as the loess dirt on a gentle slope naturally drains water. All types of lavender need good air circulation and little or no fertilizer. In areas of high humidity, root rot due to fungus infection can be a problem.
The Loess Hills of Iowa is a geologic formation spanning most of the western edge of the state. Loess (pronounced "luss") is a German word meaning "loose" and it is the name of a type of soil. Loess is a deposit of fine, yellowish-gray, clay-like sediment which can be found from north central Europe to eastern China and in the American Midwest. Loess deposits are especially common at the edges of large river basins and are generally thought to be made up of material carried by winds that went through the area during and after glacial periods.
Lavender essential oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used medically for centuries. Roman soldiers used lavender to dress battle wounds. In 16th century, lavender was used as protection against the Plague, and Queen Elisabeth used lavender tea to treat her frequent migraines. Lavender oil is commonly used today as a home remedy for acne, insect bites, burns and headaches. It can also be used in cooking and can be dried and used to decorate ones’ home.
English Lavender: Also known as Lavandula angustifolia, this herb can grow 2-3 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide. It blooms with blue to purple flowers in the mid-summer. It needs well-drained soils, and a lot of sunlight. As adults, they are drought tolerant. They are very hardy plants that originated in the Mediterranean. English Lavender can be used in lotions, perfumes, and room sprays. It can also be used in cooking.
Fern Leaf Lavender: Also known as Lavandula multifida, this type of lavender can grow two feet tall and wide. It blooms with blue to purple flowers from May to November. It grows best in hot and dry areas. This plant cannot survive cold winters. It needs well-drained soil. It can be used in cooking, soaps, scented sachets, and potpourri.
French Lavender: Also known as Lavandula dentata, this herb can grow 2-3 feet tall and wide. It blooms with purple flowers from June to August. It grows well in warm climates with well drained, non-acidic soil. It originated from the Mediterranean region of Spain. It does not handle cold well. It does dry well and can be put in sachets or used in decorations. It can also be used to make soap and perfume.
Spanish Lavender: Also known as Lavandula stoechas, this type of lavender can be 1.5-2 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. It blooms with lavender to purple blooms from mid to late summer. It originated from Spain, Turkey, and North Africa. The plant needs full sun, dry conditions, and well-drained soil. It will not thrive in cold climates. Spanish lavender can be used for cooking, soap, perfume, or lotion.
USDA Hardiness Map: The students will know what their plant’s hardiness zone is and should include it on their poster, but they will not see the map until the PowerPoint, when they are helping the farmer identify which type of lavender to grow. The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.
Interest Approach or Motivator
Start by having a classroom discussion on what plants can grow in Iowa. Make a list and encourage students to think about crops and plants in their parents’ gardens. Students should be able to come up with major commodity crops like corn and soybeans. They might also list specialty crops like apples, oats, sugar beets, etc. The list should NOT include things like citrus fruit, cotton, sugar cane and other plants that might need a warmer or more tropical environment.
- Introduce the lavender plant and explain that this plant also thrives in Iowa.
- Project the lavender picture on a smart board or large surface and tell students that lavender is an herb with purple flowers. It can be used to make essential oil, lotions, perfumes, sachets, or can be used in cooking.
- Students will be working individually to complete one of four worksheets on individual types of lavender (English, French, Spanish, and Fern leaf). Each student will get one fact sheet and one worksheet. The teacher can randomly pass out the fact sheets or pre-determine which students get which based on the preferred group assignments for the next step. Using the fact sheets, have students individually fill in the blanks on their worksheets. Allow at least five minutes for students to work independently.
- After they have completed their worksheets, ask students to get into groups based on the type of lavender they were assigned. Have students in each group check their worksheet answers to make sure everyone got the same answers.
- Pass out poster boards, markers, and other supplies for making posters. The students in each group will work together to create a poster on their type of lavender including the information on their worksheets. The students can design their poster however they like, but it needs to contain the correct information from their worksheet. Remind each group that they will be teaching the rest of the class about their specific type of lavender.
- Give the students the chance to finish their posters and then have each group do a short presentation on their type of lavender using the poster as a visual aid.
- Once each group has presented, have them hang their poster around the room, with enough space for each group to gather around and look at the posters.
- Give each student four purple sticky notes - one for each of the posters. Allow students to move around the room in their groups to identify the most interesting or “wow” fact that makes that type of lavender unique or different from the others. Have them write the unique fact on the sticky note and stick it to the poster around the perimeter of the poster.
- Give students enough time to read each poster.
- If there is additional time at the end of class, have students discuss what they learned about each type of lavender and what made it unique.
- Start Day 3 explaining that there is an area in Iowa that grows lavender very well, and the class is going to decide which type of lavender they would plant there by using their agronomy skills.
- Get the students excited about being an agronomist for the day by explaining that an agronomist is like a plant investigator!
- They can use their best investigative skills to help Iowa farmers decide which type would grow best.
- Set up the scenario of Farmer Herb’s Dilemma. Using the accompanying PowerPoint, walk students through the scenario. “Plant investigators, Farmer Herb is in a pickle! He wants to grow lavender to use to make some yummy lavender cookies and some sachets of delightful smelling lavender! However, he doesn’t know what type of lavender to grow, and he really needs your help. He’s afraid he won’t grow the best variety for where he lives. His farm is in Western Iowa, in the Loess Hills region. Have any of you heard of the Loess Hills region? You can see the Loess Hills region in orange on the Iowa map and Farmer Herb’s farm is marked with a yellow star!”
- Explain to students that “The Loess Hills are rolling hills in Western Iowa. The hills are made up of material that is gritty, lightweight, and porous. What do you think those words mean? Loess means “loose” in German. The material is great for growing agricultural products, like lavender! The slopes of the hills make for very well-drained soil. The climate is like the rest of Iowa, with very cold winters and very hot summers.”
- Allow one student from each group to talk about their specific type of lavender.
- French Lavender: Needs well drained soil, originated in the Mediterranean, thrives in the sunlight, not very hardy, and won’t tolerate the cold well, hardiness zones: 8-11
- Fern Leaf Lavender: Also native to the Mediterranean, in the United States, it grows best in areas like hotter parts of California, needs dry and warm conditions, it will not survive cold winters, needs well-drained soil!
hardiness zones: 8-14
- English Lavender: Is a very hardy plant and can withstand rough conditions, needs well drained, sandy soils, should be grown in an area with a lot of sun, they are drought tolerant, do not do well in humid climates, hardiness zones: 5-8
- Spanish Lavender: Thrives in hot weather, needs well-drained soil, does not do well in cold climates, hardiness zones: 8-11
- Ask students if they know what a Hardiness zone is? Based on what they know about the United States, do they think it is colder in Minnesota or Texas? Is it warmer in Washington or California? Is it colder in Maine or Florida? Explain that a hardiness zone tracks an annual extreme minimum temperature.
- Show the USDA Hardiness Map (near the end of the PowerPoint). Explain to students that the key on the right correlates to the colors on the map. Point out that the colors grow warmer (from purple to yellow) from the northern part of the United States to the southern part, and that different plants survive well in some climates compared to others. Explain the key on the right side of the map. The Fahrenheit temperatures are on the right of the key and the Celsius temperatures are on the right.
- Ask students if they know where Iowa is on the map, and if they can identify how many hardiness zones Iowa has, and which ones they are. Make sure to use the key and explain that the key is of the “Average Annual Extreme Minimum Temperature “which helps determine how cold it is in each zone. Growers can use this map to decide which plants to grow according to where they live.
- Ask students if they can think of any plants that would grow well in Florida, which has zones 9a-10b. (Some crops are citrus trees, sugarcane, and cotton)
- Ask students if they think that citrus trees could also grow well in North Dakota. Why or why not? (North Dakota has zones 3 and 4, which are very cold. Citrus trees need a lot of sunlight and warmth.)
- Ask students if they eat sweet corn during the summer. Sweet corn grows well in hardiness zones 4-8, so it can grow in a variety of places. Ask students to point out some states that sweet corn could grow according to hardiness zones.
- Ask students to think silently about their type of lavender. What were the hardiness zones? Have them look at the map and think to themselves about where their lavender should be grown.
- At the end, the students will turn to a partner and discuss which type of lavender they think would grow best in the Loess Hills. Remind them to look at their notes and specifically look at the hardiness zone for each variety. Ask students to turn back to the front and have a class discussion. Students should talk about different traits of the lavender and why they think it would grow best in the Loess Hills. Eventually, guide students to the answer of “English Lavender.” Flip back to the USDA Hardiness Zones Map to help them visualize that English Lavender grows best in zones 5-8, and the Loess Hills region is in region 5.
- Help students come to this conclusion by helping them to understand that all of the lavender plants need fairly similar soils types (well-drained).
- However, according to the climates that English lavender can survive in, they can draw the conclusion that the other kinds would not survive.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- French Lavender Fact Sheet
- English Lavender Fact Sheet
- Fern Leaf Lavender Fact Sheet
- Spanish Lavender Fact Sheet
- Lavender PowerPoint
Did you know? (Ag facts)
- The first people group in Canada and North America to successfully produce lavender were the Shakers, a group of English Quakers. Once developed, they were able to sell around the world.
- Lavender attracts bumble bees.
- Bridestowe Farm in Tasmania, Australia, is the largest privately-owned lavender farm. It is 260 acres!
- There are many hybrid lavender plants that horticulturalists have produced as a cross between different types of lavender.
- There are 39 known species of lavender.
- Plan a FarmChat® or a field trip with a local lavender producer.
- Make lavender products, like perfume or lavender sugar cookies with the class.
Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Agriculture Literacy Outcomes
- T2.3-5 c. Explain how the availability of soil nutrients affects plant growth and development
- T1. 3-5 e. Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals)
Iowa Core Standards
- 3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
- 3-LS3-2. Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.
- English Language Arts
- RI.3.1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
- SL.3.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.