The Plant Game: “Plant Strategies for Growth”

A CIBT Lab Exercise in Ecology and Evolution



This exercise presents an opportunity for students to think about—in a fun and enticing manner—how plants grow. In the Plant Game, teams of students “grow a plant” composed of “leaves,” “roots,” and “flowers.” The goal of the game is to produce a maximum number of flowers. This is possible only if the students have a good strategy to keep their “roots” in water and produce enough “leaves” to support adequate photosynthesis. Students “grow their plant” in a graduated cylinder in which the paper clip roots dangle in water. Measured amounts of water are added to and removed from the system by “rainfall” and “transpiration,” respectively, which are determined according to a roll of the dice. The game ends when another roll of the dice indicates a “frost.” Since the rate of growth of each students plant is limited by the “weather” and by the students choices in how they allocate their fixed carbon, a few repetitions of the game clearly demonstrate the functions of leaves, roots and flowers, and some of the environmental stresses on plants.

The data collected during this game lends itself well to graphical analysis. Students may graph various parameters of their plants’ growth and compare the results from one “season” to the next or between strategies for growth in a single season.


Appropriate Levels

Life Science, High School, Honors, or Advanced Placement Biology


Time Required

One 45-minute class period is enough time to run through two seasons of the game. Substantial teacher preparation time for lamination of game pieces is required the first time the activity is used. After that, minimal teacher preparation is required.



For the Whole Class:

  • 1 pair of dice

Per team of 2 students:

  • 1 100ml graduated cylinder (All cylinders in the entire class must be identical!)
  • pipet and pipet bulb or pi-pump
  • laminated green leaf cutouts, approximately 15
  • small sized vinyl coated paper clips, approximately 10
  • laminated brightly colored flower cutouts, approximately 8
  • laminated sugar tokens, about 20 monosaccharide and 10 tetrasaccharide
  • small beaker
  • paper towels
  • dowel rod or popsicle stick
Copyright for this material is held by Cornell University, the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers (CIBT), the Center for Nanoscale Systems Institute for Physics Teachers (CIPT), and or West Hill Biological Resources, Inc., 2014. This work may be copied by the original recipient from this web site to provide copies for users working under the direct supervision of the original recipient. All other redistribution of this content without the express written permission of the copyright holder(s) is prohibited.

Price:       No Charge 

Ronald Beloin, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Ithaca, NY. 

Marcia Cordts, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA. 

Mary Colvard, Cobleskill-Richmondville High School.