Motte Rimrock Reserve: Lesson Plan for Flora

General Information

Grade Level: 11th &12th grades
Location: Motte Rimrock Reserve:  Riverside County,  California
Habitat(s): Coastal Sage Scrub, Grassland, Riparian
Time Allotment: 7 hrs and 15 minutes


  1. To become familiar with flora at Motte Rimrock Reserve
  2. To observe physical differences of organisms in their natural environment
  3. To make a class plant collection using a plant press
  4. Students will learn how to identify plants by making their own dichotomous key
  5. Students will become familiar with plant terminology through the use of a dichotomous key to identify plants that have been collected.


Instructor will have to gather materials and will have to collect plant cuttings in advance for group activity. Instructor will have to determine which five plants to assign to groups. Each plant must be representative type from the major five families at Motte (refer to flora handout). Instructor will need to show five group leaders how to proceed through the activity on the reserve. I suggest consulting The Jepson Manual at a local library and taking time to become familiarized with plant species at the Motte reserve. You will need to know how to use a plant press and a dichotomous key.

Background Information

The instructor will need to know common flora at the Motte Rimrock Reserve. The Motte Reserve is a coastal sage scrub habitat with grasslands that are composed of mostly non-native grasses. The landscape is scattered with granite boulders. There is a riparian area in the southern part of the reserve due to a wash that runs through this area. Migratory birds use the reserve as a nesting site or as a resting place. There are 189 species of plants within 52 families. Twenty-eight species are non-native. Approximately 34% of the non-native flora come from the family Poaceae, 21% come from Asteraceae, 14% from Brassicaceae. The remaining 31% come from the following families: Anacardiaceae, Chenopodiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fabaceae, Geraniaceae, Lamiaceae, Rubiaceae, Solanaceae and Tamariaceae. There is one non-native representative from each of these remaining families. Major families of native species are Asteraceae, Boraginaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fabiaceae, Hydrophyllaceae, Lamiaceae, Onagraceae, Polygonaceae, Scrophulariaceae. Please refer to the Flora Handout at the Motte Rimrock Reserve. 


1. (45 min.) Brainstorm – instructor poses the following question to students “How are ___?___ plants different from other plants?” Students are given 15 minutes to come up with at least 75 ways plants are different. Once students are finished, posters are put up around the room and numbered (depends on the number of groups). Each group starts out at a different poster (the one to the right of where their group’s is posted) and in their journals they write any unique descriptions not on their lists. Groups spend 5 minutes at each poster and circulate in a clockwise direction. Students get their posters and update them with acquired information. Additionally, they are given a handout with plant identification terminology.

2. (2 hours) Students are taken out to observe at Motte Rimrock. Instructor’s objective is to introduce students to five major families of plants at Motte. These families are Asteraceae, Poaceae, Fabaceae, Scrophulariaceae and Boraginaceae. Five group leaders are chosen to lead groups around Motte. These group leaders will have been previously taken on the exact exploration activity. Groups will collect two pieces of five plants as well as essential information about each species by filling out the appropriate specimen form for each specimen. Groups should collect five plants (10 pieces in total) unique to their group. Each student will individually journal about their species being as descriptive as possible. Emphasize that we are looking for physical descriptions of the plant. Suggest that students bring their master lists into the field and the handouts with plant terminology. Once this has been done groups should find a rock and share their descriptions and make any additions to their list they may not have observed. 

3. (20 minutes) Students return and should be given a 20-minute break. 

4. (30 minutes) Slideshow is presented to students. It is of plants at Motte Rimrock. Families categorize the slideshow so students are introduced to the taxonomic breakdown of flora. Students should each be given a handout of the flora at Motte Rimrock.

5. (1 hour) Students will make cards for each of their specimens. Students will write descriptive information on each card and one card will go into the plant press and the other card will be put on the table next to a page with family and species name and a list of characteristic features. There should be 25 plants in total (five sets of five). 

6. (1 hour) Students should break up into groups of three and each group should be given 5 to 10 minutes to see the other four sets of plants and to see the relationship between plants in the same family. Groups should spend 10 minutes looking at each group’s set of specimens. Students should respond to the following question in their journals:  What do plants in the same family have in common? As you look at each set compile a list of characteristics for each family. 

7. (30 minutes) Before students create a dichotomous key, they should be given a sample key, and everyone in the class should key out the same plant. Taking three other plants, the students should make a dichotomous key together so everyone will understand how to make a key.

8. (10 minutes) Instructor should obtain five cuttings, from the Motte Reserve, with easily identifiable features. Each group should be given one plant cutting and using a dichotomous key and plant terminology handout find out the species of the cutting. 

9. (1 hour) Taking their set of specimens, students can make a dichotomous key. Once this is complete, key out all of your specimens to species.

10. (Homework) Students are joined into groups of three. Each group is assigned 10 to 11 families off of the Motte flora handout that they are responsible for describing. Students must compile a handout of family descriptions. It must be alphabetized and typed. The document should be submitted as a handout and also sent via e-mail. A glossary of terms that defines unfamiliar plant terminology must be submitted with the handout. Illustrations or drawings should be included with each description. The last part of the handout should be a chart that compares each family’s differences and should be one page in length. The handout will serve as a field-guide when the class is out in the field. 

11. Evidence of mastery: Students will receive the compiled group of families and will be required to differentiate between species of plants by describing family characteristics.


  • Plant press
  • slide projector
  • ziploc bags
  • scissors
  • plant identification books
  • giant post-it posters
  • large markers
  • hand lens
  • field scope
  • flora handout
  • index cards
  • clipboard
  • journal
  • dissecting scopes

Student Responsibilities

1. Participation in all group activities is expected as you are a crucial member of your group.
2. Students are responsible for keeping their journal with them at all times.
3. Throughout this activity, you will be compiling several master documents that all group members are required to have completed. Master documents must be compiled into one packet submitted for each group. Each individual member must also have a copy:
-Document #1: How are plants different?
-Document #2: Group Dichotomous Key (include a photocopy of your plants).
-Document #3: Copies of Specimen ID Card Sets with one-page description and copy of index cards with family, species, specific information.
-Document #4: Copy of each member’s journal descriptions of plants during “Plant Explorations Hike.”
-Document #5: Copy of compiled group journal answering What do plants in the same family have in common?
-Document #6: Motte Rimrock Reserve Plant Family Guide – Handout of 10 to 11 families, their descriptions and one-page chart.


1. Your instructor will assign you to a group of three. Brainstorm about all the possible differences between plants. Obtain markers and a poster. On the poster propose 75 ways that plants are different. You have 15 minutes.
2. Place your group number in the upper right corner and then stand at the poster to the right of yours. You have five minutes to write down all differences between this poster and your poster. When time is called move to the next poster in a clockwise direction. Once you have finished writing all the differences return to your groups.
3. Update group posters and compile a master list for your group.
4. Group leaders will take their group on a “Plant Exploration Hike,” an observational activity. Collect two of each specimen. There are five specimens in total. Write down pertinent information on a specimen ID card. Individually journal about each plant for 7 to 10 minutes. Be very detailed
5. Find a large rock. Group members should share their plant descriptions. Make additions to your list. 
6. Group should return to meeting area and be given a 20-minute break.
7. Slideshow of different families at Motte. Students should receive handout of flora.
8. View a slideshow of plants at Motte Rimrock. 
9. Make specimen ID cards for each specimen. There should be two for each plant – one that goes into the plant press and one for class activity. The one for the class collection should have family, species, and a page of characteristic descriptive information. Every group should have one set (five cards) for the plant press and a set for the class activity.
10. In your group spend 10 minutes looking at each group’s set of specimens. In your journal respond to the question:  What do plants in the same family have in common?  As you look at each set, compile a list of characteristics for each family.
11. Obtain a plant cutting from your instructor. Using a dichotomous key and your plant terminology handout, find out the species of the cutting.
12. Take your set of specimens and make a dichotomous key. Once this is complete, key out all of your specimens to species.
13. Students are assigned to groups of three and asked to prepare a 10 to 11 plant family description and compile a handout. A one-page chart must be put together differentiating all the families. The title of the handout is “Motte Rimrock Reserve Plant Family Guide.”


Additional Reading

Miller, G. Tyler Jr. Living in the Environment, 11th Ed. Brooks Cole Publishing Company, pp.156-171.