New Native Plants Resource for Teachers

Education module available for download

Cherokee uses for the sassafras tree include food, fertilizer, furniture, and medicines. Photo by Julia Kirschman, USFS.

A plant module developed in partnership by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is now available online for teachers to download and use with K-12 students. The module integrates current science-based knowledge with the traditional knowledge passed down from generation to generation of Cherokee.

Partners from the Southern Research Station, Cherokee experts, Cherokee elders, and Barbara Duncan at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian contributed to the project. Julia Kirschman, a technology transfer specialist at the SRS Upland Hardwood Ecology and Management Unit, led the U.S. Forest Service team.

The module, called What’s That Plant?was developed in 2015 and is now available to the public. Its interactive activities help students develop an awareness of the cultural and ecological importance of native plants–species such as white oak, flowering dogwood, ramps, river cane, and sochan–in upland eastern hardwood forests.

What’s That Plant? materials include information sheets, plant identification cards, and bingo games. Photo by Julia Kirschman, USFS.

The materials in the module fulfill content requirements for state education Standard Course of Study in the Science area under Life Science and Ecosystems for several grades and can be shortened or lengthened to accommodate younger and older students and to fit time constraints.

The plant module encourages investigation through observations, oral language, memorization, classification, and comparing physical properties through indoor and outdoor activities. It introduces scientific vocabulary words and the plant’s taxonomy classification system including common, scientific, and Cherokee names.

A resource guide includes a general overview about the plants, along with a description of each activity, appropriate grade levels, duration, skills and vocabulary words learned, subjects taught, materials needed, and space needed, both indoor and outdoor.

Plant information cards include ways to identify the plant, its ecosystem requirements, sustainability and restoration efforts, and correct harvesting techniques.

The module highlights the human use and cultural significance of each plant. Plant cards list the traditional Cherokee uses for food, products, or medicine.

They also contain the Cherokee syllabary—85 characters that make up the written Cherokee language. Links to audio recordings by a native elder and a scientist help students with plant name pronunciation.

The module includes several activities with downloadable materials:

  • Activity 1 – “Plant Bingo” is an audio bingo game that teaches Cherokee, scientific, and common names of fourteen plants. Each plant can be studied further using the plant information cards.
  • Activity 2 – “Plants and the Cherokee” is a movie that shows the Cherokee cultural significance of each plant (movie purchase required, see resource list for details).
  • Activity 3 – “Plants Outdoors” takes students outside with a set of small cards that they can use to identify plants in their communities.
  • Activity 4 – “Native Plant Garden” provides information on creating a native plant garden.
Bloodroot blooms early in the spring, sometime when snow still covers the ground. Photo by Julia Kirschman, USFS.

Suggestions to extend learning activities include inviting a scientist, botanist, or Cherokee elder to the class, working in teams on a scavenger hunt to locate plants, or working with plant specialists to restore plants on the landscape or demonstrate proper harvesting techniques.

Youth participating in this educational program will develop a heightened awareness of the natural world around them–including the challenges they face in protecting cultural and natural resources.

View and download the What’s That Plant? resource.

For more information contact, Julia Kirschman at

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.