Studying Wetland Plants

Two methods of surveying plants will be discussed, line transects and quadrats, as well as preservation and identification of common wetland plants.


  1. Students will be able to identify some common wetland plants.
  2. Students will be able to use the scientific method of surveying the plant community.
  3. Students will be able to use a field journal to record accurate data that they observe.


  1. journal
  2. pen or pencil
  3. scissors
  4. 5 meters of string, or for quadrat: hula hoop or 4 meters of string and 4 wooden or plastic stakes
  5. field guide to wetland plants
  6. plastic bags
  7. plant press (optional)


Scientists use two methods to survey the plants in the community: the linear transect and the quadrat. With a linear transect, a 5 meter piece of string is stretched out across an area and students draw a line at each meter point (1m, 2m, 3m, 4m, and 5m). Then they write down or sample all the plants at each marked point of the string. For a quadrat, normally a scientist will mark off a square sampling area, but for students the area within a hula hoop may be used. A count of the numbers and kinds of plants that fall within the designated area is made. You can either use your field guide or plant pictures to identify the plants, or cut a sample of each plant and save in plastic bags to identify and preserve in the classroom.


For Linear Transect:

  1. Have students from each group stretch 5 meters of string, premeasured and marked at 1 meter intervals, across the area to be surveyed. Be sure the area is clear of any obstacles, such as sudden drop-offs, holes, or obvious nesting sites. Part of the area may extend across shallow water in order to allow sampling of submergent vegetation.
  2. At each meter mark (1m, 2m, 3m, 4m, and 5m), have students drop down and either take a sample of the vegetation or record a description of any plants below or touching the string. If there is no vegetation present, record that. If students are taking samples, be sure they get enough stem to show how leaves are arranged, any flower structures or fruit present.

For Quadrat:

  1. Have students mark off a 1 meter area with the 4 meters of string and stakes, or throw the hula hoop randomly onto the ground to select an area to be studied.
  2. Students should then count and identify or sample each type of plant that falls inside the square area or hula hoop.
  3. Have students repeat this procedure 5 times for an accurate sampling of the area.

Hints: If time is limited, have each group do one meter of the transect or one quadrat sampling. You can compile data into a chart when you get back to the classroom, either by plant species or by herbaceous, woody, succulent, or habitat type, such as submergent, emergent, transitional, or upland. If desired, a plant press may be used to dry and preserve plant samples (or press them between pages of books). Mount preserved specimen on heavy stock paper or cardboard, labeled with common name, specific name, date, and location of sampling.