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Harriman Expedition Retraced



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Extra Credit
Extra Credit


Harriman and Plant Identification


Grade levels: 3rd through 6th

Subjects: Science, history, geography, art, language arts

Time Needed for Completion: Three to seven class periods

Objectives for Students

  • To observe and record botanical details from plant specimens
  • To identify plants using sorting key and field guide
  • To classify specimens for preservation and display purposes


Language Arts:

  • Correlates to the national standards developed by MCREL.
  • The student: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process. (Standard 1)
  • Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing. (Standard 2)
  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes. (Standard 4)


  • Correlates to the National Science Education Standards.
  • Scientific Inquiry (Standard A)
  • Nature and History of Science (Standard G)


  • Correlates to the national standards set by the National Council of Geographic Education.
  • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information. (Standard 1)
  • How to apply geography to interpret the past. (Standard 17)
  • How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future. (Standard 18 )


  • Correlates to national standards set by the National Center for History in the Schools.
  • Chronological thinking (Standard 1)
  • Historical comprehension (Standard 2)


  • Correlates to national standards set by the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations.
  • A student should be able to communicate at a basic level in the four arts disciplines—dance, music, theater, and the visual arts. (Standard 1)


Each student will need a log book with lined and blank spaces, pen, pencils, Internet access, magnifying glass, map of Alaska, and access to a variety of field guides to wildflowers, plants, and trees.



The Harriman Alaska Expedition carried members of a remarkable scientific community that traveled by boat for two months along the coastal waters of Alaska in 1899. William Trelease, a botanist, was among this group. He was a careful and gifted scientist, with a true genius for classifying plants. In his job as Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, he identified and named 2500 species and varieties of flora. Trelease's botanical interests were broad: he published a paper on the giant cactus of Mexico in the same year that he published his findings about coastal species in Alaska.

In this five-part lesson plan students will focus on the importance of detailed observations and scientific techniques of verifying the identification of plants. They will view the species identification work done by the scientists on the Harriman Expeditions (1899 and 2001) as a guide for their own work.

Classroom Activities Part I – Building a Collection:

Work with the class to choose a site for plant collection and methods for preservation. Discuss the idea of collection and what is feasible in your school. Can you work on the school grounds? Can you work near the school? If not, can house or classroom plants be substituted, or are there other sources of plant specimens nearby? What about florist, public or private gardens?

Working on the school grounds or at a site near the school, have students collect plant specimens. This includes flowers, buds, stems and roots. Students will begin a collection of plants.

Explain the ideas of preserving and labeling to the students. Plants and flowers can be quickly "preserved" in a laminator, transparent contact paper, a small plant press, or pressed between newspaper and heavy textbooks. What should be on the label? Collector’s name, site gathered, date?

How is the method they chose different from the one used by our HAE retraced scientists?

Classroom Activities Part II – Sketching a Plant:

The students will choose one plant specimen to sketch and document in detail in their log book. Before beginning the sketches, have the students access the Library of Congress web site listed on the Harriman Links page to search for pictures of plants in the Harriman photo journal.

Page 294 Sitka Spruce

Page 263 Reindeer Moss

Page 246 Salmonberry

Page 217 Rhododendron.

The students can also review this PBS site for Frederick A. Walpole's paintings in Harriman Alaska Expedition, Volume II. (Walpole was sent back to Alaska in 1900 by the Division of Botany of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to draw and paint Alaska Plants.)

Students should also review photographs and sketches of plants in various field guides.

Once this is done, have the class begin sketching. Encourage them to draw several plants, using different views and focusing on different details each time.

Classroom Activities Part III – Sorting and Classifying Plants:

Introduce the students to a plant key and its classification system. Have them sort either real plants or pictures of plants into groups based on physical characteristics.

Students may work individually, in small groups, or as a class. Have them explain why they think a plant belongs with a certain group of plants or why it does not belong in a group.

Have the students review a variety of guidebooks. Ask them to compare the approaches for identification. Is color an important feature in dividing plants. What about flower shape, leaf shape?

Questions to Explore:

  • What can we learn from collecting and identifying plants?
  • How do you decide what to collect?
  • How do you know that you have identified your specimen accurately?
  • How do you know if you see a sketch, photograph, or painting of a plant that it is the same plant that you have collected?
  • How do you keep a plant preserved for a long time?

Assessment Suggestions

The student may be scored on the following:

  • participates in the discussions and activities you may have implemented after viewing the online souvenir album.
  • describes clearly the fieldwork questions(s) and procedures for collecting, organizing, and analyzing the fieldwork data.
  • gives specific information from the fieldwork results to support the conclusions drawn and described presents maps, sketches, and other supporting visuals that are accurate, clear, neat, appropriate for the data, and labeled.
  • uses visuals to make the journal presentation more effective
  • able to answer question from the audience clearly and with appropriate information when presenting their journal.


  • Have the students sketch imaginary plants or animals, then write description in the style of a field guide.
  • Visit a natural history or science museum, and study a collection on display. Arrange to interview a curator about the collection.
  • Invite a biologist, entomologist, or geologist into the classroom to talk about collecting, preserving, and organizing collections.


  • Trelease, William, Plant Materials of Decorative Gardening: The Woody Plants. Urbana, 1917.
  • Viereck, Leslie A., Alaska Trees and Shrubs, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1972.

Prepared by Lesley N. Yamauchi, Rogers Park Elementary School, Anchorage, Alaska




For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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