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Pair the Plants:
An Introduction to Scientific Names



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  • Arts & Humanities
    Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Science
    Agriculture, Botany, Life Sciences, Natural History
  • Social Studies


3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Brief Description

Students learn why plants have both common and scientific names, then complete the activity by matching each common plant name with its scientific name. Work sheet included.



  • learn why plants species have common names and scientific names.
  • use library and/or Internet resources to explore plants' scientific names.
  • complete a work sheet in which they match common plant names with the plants' scientific names.
  • create a bulletin board showing plant species around the United States.
  • work in cooperative groups to create an ABC of Plants class book.


biology, botany, classification, genus, names, plants, scientific

Materials Needed

  • Plant books and other resources, including encyclopedias, field guides, and/or Internet resources (list of links provided)
  • Pair the Plant Names work sheet (provided)

Lesson Plan

In this activity, students use online or library resources to learn more about some common plants. They match the common names of those plants with their scientific names on the Education World Pair the Plant Names work sheet.

Start the lesson by explaining to students that most plants have both common names and scientific names. That might be confusing to students, but you can explain that the system of giving scientific names to plants resulted from the fact that scientists were confused too! They were confused because so many plants (and animals) had different names; people in different places, or people who spoke different languages, referred to the same plants and animals by different common names. In 1758, Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish biologist, proposed a universal system for naming all living things. That system provides two names for a species -- a family name (generic name or genus name), which always has a capital letter as the first letter, and a personal name (specific name), which is always in lower case letters.


Help make this point with students by comparing scientific family names to their own family names. Point out that each member of a family has a last name (surname) that identifies the family and a first name (specific or personal name) that identifies that individual member of the family.

After sharing that information, introduce students to the Noble Foundation Plant Image Gallery. Students can use this image gallery to search for plants by their common or scientific names. You might use this resource to show students that two different species of goldenrod have the same last name and different first names. Do this by clicking on the Forbs (plants other than grasses) link on the home page, then on Common Names. Click on the common name Tall goldenrod, which is identified by its scientific name Solidago gigantean. Then click on the common name Flat-topped goldenrod, which carries the scientific name Solidago nitida. Another example: The Spach evening primrose is known scientifically as Oenothera spachiana, and the four-point evening primrose is known as Oenothera rhombipetala. Note: This does not work for all common names.

Hand out the Pair the Plant Names! work sheet. Students can use plant encyclopedias, field guides, and other library resources to complete the activity. If students are able to use online resources, the Noble Foundation Plant Image Gallery site is an excellent resource -- and a great source of plant photographs too! Another good source is the Plants Database.

More Plant Photographs
The following sites are also excellent sources of plant photographs:

Extension Activities
The resources above -- as well as plant encyclopedias, field guides, and other library resources -- can be used to create countless classroom activities, including the following:

  • Plant Map: Use the online resources above to create a terrific teaching tool -- a Native Plants of the United States bulletin board. Students can print images of a wide variety of plants, paste the images on 3- by 5-inch cards, add brief descriptions, and then arrange the cards around a U.S. map. Extend colorful yarn from each card to the location on the map where each plant grows.
  • ABC Book of Plants: Students can use information on the Web and in the library to create an ABC Book of Plants. You might assign several letters of the alphabet to small groups of students. Each group must submit ten pages for the book. Add the book to your school library collection; other students will be eager to check out the book.
  • Personal Garden: As an extension to the ABC book activity, challenge every child to plan a personal garden made in the shape of the letters of his or her name. Each letter shape should be planted with a flower or another plant that begins with that letter in the student's name. Have the students plan and draw simple maps of what their gardens will look like. 


Students should achieve a score of 80 percent (12 correct answers out of 15) or better on the Pair the Plants work sheet activity.
ANSWERS: 1.d, 2.h, 3.c, 4.g, 5.b, 6.j, 7.e, 8.f, 9.i, 10.a.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards






See more lessons in the following Education World articles:

Return to the Plants and Gardens lesson plan page.


Originally published 03/29/2002
Links updated 02/23/2009