Botanical Discoveries


Students will understand the chronology of major events of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Students will use primary and secondary resources to obtain information about the plants identified by Lewis and Clark. Students will learn about characteristics of leaves, apply the information to Lewis and Clark plants, and estimate the surface area of a leaf.

Coin Type(s)

  • Nickel

Coin Program(s)

  • Westward Journey Nickels


  • Students will understand the chronology of major events of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
  • Students will use primary and secondary resources to obtain information about the plants identified by Lewis and Clark.
  • Students will learn about characteristics of leaves, apply the information to Lewis and Clark plants, and estimate the surface area of a leaf.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts
  • Science


  • 6th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Four
  • Session Length: 45-60 minutes
  • Total Length: 151-500 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Pairs
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

The students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • Louisiana Purchase
  • President Thomas Jefferson
  • Classifying

Terms and Concepts

  • Obverse (front)
  • Reverse (back)
  • Monticello
  • Botany
  • Naturalist
  • Parts of a leaf (axil, lamina, leaf apex, midrib, petiole, stem, stipule, vein)
  • Leaf structures (groupings, shape, margins, arrangements, venation)


  • Copies of the worksheets attached to this lesson plan (see "Preparations")
  • 1 copy of the Westward Journey Nickels Series™ Lesson PlansResource Guide (available at
  • 1 overhead projector
  • Blank overhead transparencies
  • Copies of field guides that provide basic information on plants and trees that Lewis and Clark identified (see "Preparations")
  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Magnifying glass
  • Rulers or tape measures
  • Index cards
  • Collection of leaves (see "Preparations")


  • Make copies of the following:
    • "Westward Journey Nickels Series" worksheet (from the Resource Guide, 1 per student)
    • "Anatomy of Leaves" worksheet (1 per student)
    • "Lewis and Clark Plants" chart (2 per student)
    • "Leaf Observation" worksheet (1 per student)
    • "Centimeter Graph Paper" (optional) (1 per student)
  • Make overhead transparencies of the following:
    • "Journey of Lewis and Clark" map (from the Resource Guide)
    • "Westward Journey Nickels Series" worksheet (from the Resource Guide)
    • "Anatomy of Leaves" worksheet
    • "Lewis and Clark Plants" chart
    • "Journal Entry Rubric"
    • "Dear Diary" page
    • "Leaf Observation" worksheet
    • "Centimeter Graph Paper" page (optional)
    • "Estimating Surface Area" worksheet
  • Copies of field guides that give basic information about plants and trees, such as:
    • First Field Guide: Trees by National Audubon Society
    • Peterson First Guides: Trees and Shrubs by George A. Petrides
    • Trees of North America by C. Frank Brockman
    • Trees by Herbert S. Zim and Alexander C. Martin
    • Flowers by Herbert S. Zim and Alexander C. Martin
    • First Field Guide: Wildflowers by National Audubon Society
    • Field Guide to Wildflowers, Western Region by National Audubon Society
    • Botanica: North America by Marjorie Harris
  • Gather tools for observing leaves, such as a hand lens or microscope, rulers, tape measures, pencils, and pens.
  • Gather extra leaves from plants or trees for students who do not bring in leaves for Session 4.


Worksheets and files (PDF)

Lesson Steps

Session 1

  1. Display the "Journey of Lewis and Clark" overhead transparency. Have the students note the position of the Louisiana Purchase in relation to your school's location. Explain to the students that the map shows the journey that soldiers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took to explore the land President Jefferson acquired for the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. Ask the students to recall what they already know about the journey. Record the students' responses on chart paper.
  2. President Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, commissioned Meriwether Lewis to put together a crew to make the journey; Lewis chose William Clark as co-leader. Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery were the first Americans to make this trip. President Jefferson had three main goals for the mission: to study the plants, animals, and land; to form relationships with American Indian tribes; and to search for a water route from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean.
  3. Tell the students that the focus of this lesson will be the plants that were found by Lewis and Clark on their journey. Explain to the students that Jefferson was fascinated by botany (the scientific study of plants). Jefferson saw farming as the backbone of the new American economy and believed that society would be built by farmers. In addition, he loved gardens and the beauty of plants and flowers, which he planted and studied at Monticello, his home in Virginia.
  4. Distribute one copy of the "Westward Journey Nickels Series" worksheet to each student. Ask the students to examine the worksheet and to look for similarities between the images on the coin reverses. Lead the students to the conclusion that all of the images contain:
    • The Latin phrase "E Pluribus Unum," which is translated as "out of many, one."
    • The coin's denomination.
    • The name "United States of America."
  5. Tell the students that, now that they have identified similarities between all the nickel designs, they will discover what makes each of these designs different. Ask the students to begin the worksheet by recording what they see in each nickel's design that may relate to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Ask the students to hypothesize why each image was selected and its relationship to the Expedition. If desired, allow the students to use their textbooks and other classroom resources. Ask the students to record their answers on their "Westward Journey Nickel Series" worksheet.
  6. Allow the students time to complete the worksheet individually.
  7. Lead a class discussion regarding the students' answers on their completed "Westward Journey Nickel Series" worksheets. Use the students' responses to complete a model "Westward Journey Nickel Series" worksheet on the overhead transparency. Explain that the new 2006 "Return to Monticello" nickel is the last of the Westward Journey Nickels Series.
  8. Collect the students' worksheets.

Session 2

  1. Explain the following to the students:
    • Before Lewis and Clark began their expedition, Lewis was sent by President Jefferson to Philadelphia to learn about botany from a notable botanist, Benjamin Smith Barton. There, Lewis learned how to collect, preserve, and dry specimens, and to make notes about each plant.
    • Both Lewis and Clark kept journals using quill pens and ink or pencils, a handheld magnifying glass, and a tape measure. They extensively described the plants and trees they encountered and drew pictures of them.
    • They collected seeds and pressed leaves or flowers to preserve them before sending them back to President Jefferson. President Jefferson planted the seeds in his own gardens at Monticello. Unfortunately, the environmental conditions in Virginia were not as favorable for many of these plants as they were in the West. Many of the plants either died or did not grow as well as they had along the Expedition's route.
    • Lewis and Clark identified about 178 plants during the 2 years of their expedition.
  2. Display the "Anatomy of Leaves" overhead transparency and distribute one copy of the "Anatomy of Leaves" worksheet to each student. Review the definitions with the students, showing them the appropriate space for each term.
  3. Tell the students they will take a look at a small sampling of the plants and trees that Lewis and Clark identified and describe each one in the same way that Lewis and Clark did.
  4. Divide the students into groups and assign each of them one of the four plant groups. For example, you could use these groupings with your student groups.
    • Group A: Douglas Fir, Osage Orange, Lewis' Prairie Flax, Red Columbine
    • Group B: Red Alder, Saskatoon (Western) Serviceberry, Jerusalem Artichoke, Violet Prairie Clover
    • Group C: Paper Birch, Sandbar Willow, Rocky Mountain Bee Plant, WesternJacob's Ladder (Western Polemonium)
    • Group D: Paw Paw, Lewis' Monkey Flower,Western White Pine, Indian Tobacco
  5. Distribute one "Lewis and Clark Plants" chart to each student. Explain to the students that they will identify the characteristics of the four plants they have been assigned. Tell the students that they will work in pairs for this activity, but they will individually fill in their own chart.
  6. Distribute various field guides to the students. Demonstrate how to use the field guides to find the plants or trees listed and the information and pictures about the different leaf structures. Discuss the different characteristics listed on the "Lewis and Clark Plants" chart. Using an example from one of the trees Lewis and Clark identified, show pictures of each characteristic listed and model how to fill in this chart (see the teacher key to the chart).

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Have students work in pairs throughout the lesson.
  • Provide materials on a variety of reading levels about the plants and trees identified during the Expedition.


  • Have students research John Muir and his conservation efforts. Direct students to the 2005 California quarter information found on the United States Mint H.I.P. Pocket Change™ Web site at
  • Have students research what is currently being done to restore and preserve many of the plants and trees Lewis and Clark encountered during their expedition as that area of the country has developed.
  • Have students collect and identify leaves and flowers in their area, press and preserve them like Lewis and Clark did, and put them into a class notebook.
  • Have students plant a garden of some of the western species that Lewis and Clark identi-fied and are suitable for gardens in most areas of the United States such as Blanket Flower, Clarkia, Lewis' Prairie Flax, Narrow-Leaved Coneflower, and Western Jacob's Ladder.
  • Have students locate information about other plants identified by Lewis and Clark such as: Bitter Root, Ragged Robin, Snowberry Bush, Rocky Mountain Maple, Camas, Oregon Grape Holly, and Bearberry.


Use the students' responses on the worksheet to evaluate the extent to which the students met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.6 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Key Ideas and Details

  • RI.6.1. Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.6.2. Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
  • RI.6.3. Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

Discipline: Math
Domain: 6.SP Statistics and Probability
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Summarize and describe distributions

  • 6.SP.4. Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots.
  • 6.SP.5. Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context, such as by:
    • Reporting the number of observations.
    • Describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.
    • Giving quantitative measures of center (median and/or mean) and variability (interquartile range and/or mean absolute deviation), as well as describing any overall pattern and any striking deviations from the overall pattern with reference to the context in which the data were gathered.
    • Relating the choice of measures of center and variability to the shape of the data distribution and the context in which the data were gathered.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.6 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • RI.6.7. Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
  • RI.6.8. Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
  • RI.6.9. Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: L.6 Language
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Conventions of Standard English

  • L.6.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive).
    • Use intensive pronouns (e.g., myself, ourselves).
    • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
    • Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
    • Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others' writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
  • L.6.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
    • Spell correctly.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: W.6 Writing
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • W.6.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.
  • W.6.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.
  • W.6.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
    • Apply grade 6 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres [e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories] in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics”).
    • Apply grade 6 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not”).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.6 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Craft and Structure

  • RI.6.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
  • RI.6.5. Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.
  • RI.6.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

National Standards

Discipline: Science
Domain: 5-8 Content Standards
Cluster: Life Science
Grade(s): Grades 5–8

  • Structure and function in living systems
  • Reproduction and heredity
  • Regulation and behavior
  • Populations and ecosystems
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms

Discipline: Mathematics
Domain: 6-8 Measurement
Cluster: Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements.
Grade(s): Grades 5–8

In grades 6–8 all students should

  • use common benchmarks to select appropriate methods for estimating measurements;
  • select and apply techniques and tools to accurately find length, area, volume, and angle measures to appropriate levels of precision;
  • develop and use formulas to determine the circumference of circles and the area of triangles, parallelograms, trapezoids, and circles and develop strategies to find the area of more-complex shapes;
  • develop strategies to determine the surface area and volume of selected prisms, pyramids, and cylinders;
  • solve problems involving scale factors, using ratio and proportion; and
  • solve simple problems involving rates and derived measurements for such attributes as velocity and density.

Discipline: Science
Domain: 5-8 Content Standards
Cluster: Science as Inquiry
Grade(s): Grades 5–8

  • Ability necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understand scientific inquiry