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    Explore Your Natural Habitat
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    Explore Your Natural Habitat

    This experiment is courtesy of 

    A Natural Habitat:
    What, How and Why


    Ronald S. Miller
    Biology Teacher

    Frankford High School
    Philadelphia School District

    Scott Killam
    Research Scientist
    Rohm and Haas Company
    Spring House, PA

    Grade Levels:

    Grades 5 through 12


    Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science


    1. To understand what a habitat is.
    2. To understand why a habitat is important to our environment no matter where it is located.
    3. To be able to observe and recognize natural habitats in one's surroundings.
    4. To be able to establish a natural habitat in a desired area if one wishes to do this.
    5. To understand the interrelationship of the living and non-living in a natural habitat.
    6. To understand the ecological significance that a habitat has on our natural resources.

    Specific Objectives:



    1. Students will design a working plan to establish their own habitat.
    2. Students will suggest what type of flora would be used dependent on soil and water conditions.
    3. Students will be able to identify what type of fauna might inhabit the area.
    4. Students will formulate a habitat "care" schedule.
    5. Students will observe and record data on growth rates and varieties of flora and fauna in their habitat.
    6. Students will analyze results periodically and make adjustments that are necessary.
    7. Students will observe and record data on the impact that the habitat has on the environment

      For example:
      water table
      soil characteristics (pH, nitrogen, oxygen)



    A. Benefits of Habitat Enhancement

    • First, effective natural areas have a great deal of diversity. Diversity of plant life will supply a variety of food sources, nesting areas and shelters for animals. Thus, plant variety will produce animal variety.
    • Second, areas should have plants which are native and which are well-suited to the conditions on the site so that plant communities will thrive and because native plants are more likely to remain in balance.
    • Third, habitat areas should enhance people's enjoyment of the site. Pedestrian paths permit us to experience and appreciate the beauty and complexity of nature.
    • Lastly, the plan should be able to be implemented economically.

    B. Habitat Types

    Successional Woodlands

    A woods is a complex entity, which in this area typically contains dozens of plant species and thousands of individual plants per acre. Characteristic of a natural woods are plants at all levels from the ground to the tree canopy. It is very difficult to create a man-made woods with the abundance and diversity of one made by nature. Fortunately, in this part of the country when man leaves an area alone it will naturally become a woods with all its complexity and beauty. This process is called succession, a term which refers to the natural progression of land from meadow, to old field, to young woods, to mature woods. If allowed, each stage will naturally follow the next, producing a continually changing landscape. Successional woodlands could be produced simply by not mowing and waiting. A meadow would begin to appear within weeks and would progress to a climax woods decades later.

    Woodlands provide important habitat for a wide variety of animals including many mammals, insects and birds as well as a wide variety of plants.


    Meadows are open areas where the plant community is characterized by a dominance of wild-flowers and/or grasses. Under natural circumstances meadows are temporary, giving way to shrubs, woody plants and trees, finally becoming woods. However, if mowed only once a year, areas can be maintained as meadows indefinitely.

    A meadow could be established in one of three ways. Each of the three approaches produces a somewhat different type of meadow.

    Grassy meadows - A meadow dominated by grasses could be established simply by mowing only annually. Over time, an increasing number of wildflowers would naturally invade the meadow.

    Perennial wildflower meadow - A second option which produces more dramatic results where wildflowers would be more prevalent than in the grassy meadow requires the area to be plowed once or twice to destroy the existing turf, followed by seeding with a mix of perennial wildflower seeds. The seed mix probably should have some annual wildflowers as well because the annual flowers do better the first year and tend to be more showy.

    Annual wildflower meadow - The most dramatic, most colorful, and showiest type of meadow is a field of annual wildflowers. The proper seed mixture will provide vivid color throughout the entire growing season. Establishing an annual meadow is done in the same way as for the perennial meadow. However, plowing and seeding must be done each spring.

    All meadows need to be mowed just once a year in either late fall or late winter. Fall mowing removes the stalks of the previous summer's flowers and gives a neat appearance. A late winter mowing has the advantage of providing good cover and habitat for animals during the winter. Aside from annual mowing, meadows require occasional cutting or spraying of unwanted nuisance plants. Such treatment would be only where the plant occurs and not over the entire meadow.

    A meadow is good habitat for numerous creatures. It provides good cover for small mammals and many birds. The many plants, flowers and seeds provide a rich food supply for animals. For humans, meadows provide an attractive landscape with constantly changing areas of brightly colored flowers.

    Areas of Planted Trees and Shrubs

    Specified plants are selected because they are indigenous, attractive, specifically suited to soil conditions, and provide cover or food for wildlife.

    Examples of some native shrubs which are recommended:

    Mapleleaf Virburnum

    Cranberry Viburnum


    Spice Bush


    Winterberry Holly

    Red Osier Dogwood

    Silky Dogwood

    Red Maple



    Pin Oak


    Sweet Gum

    Swamp White Oak

    River Birch

    Shagbark Hickory

    Black Willow




    1. Appropriate site - examples
      A. An area on an established lawn (small area)
      B. A roadside
      C. A barren piece of land
      D. A windowbox
    2. Roundup� - For wildflower site preparation
      A. Roundup�
      B. Polyethylene Cover
    3. Wildflower mixture - appropriate for soil and water
      (see accompanying example sheets)
    4. Shrubs and trees - appropriate for soil and water if desired
      (see examples in background information)
    5. Seed spreader - not necessary
    6. Rake
    7. Stakes - if a boundary is desired

    (Suggested starting date - September or April)

    Procedure A:


    For Wildflower Area

    1. Stake an appropriate site.
    2. Treat the site with Roundup� 10 to 12 days before seeding.
      A. To clear the area of all competition except grasses and other flora.
      B. To prepare the area for seed germination.
    3. Rake the site to break the surface and loosen the soil before seeding.
    4. Cast the seed on the area.
      A. Seed spreader can be used.
      B. Seed can be cast by hand.
    5. Exhibit patience, allow the area to develop without disturbing it.
      A. No weeding.
      B. No lawn mowing, except boundary, if that.

    Procedure B :

    Non Wildflower type Habitat

    1. Determine characteristics of soil.
      A. Wet, dry, sandy, clay.
    2. Select trees and/or shrubs which are compatible with soil characteristics and which appeal to wildlife.
    3. Soil should be prepared properly - for plant holes.
      A. Loosen soil.
      B. Enrich with organic matter.
    4. Plant in early spring or late fall.
      A. Mulch in first year.
      B. Stake and/or support in first year.
    5. Minimal management of area depending on use.
      A. Remove poison ivy.
      B. Limit invasive plants.
    6. Analyze growth success and failure.
    7. Supplement with additional or alternate planting periodically.
    8. Natural vegetation should be left alone.
    9. Exhibit patience - evolution takes time and is ever changing.
      A. No mowing.
      B. No weeding.



    1. Give your explanation of what a natural habitat is.
    2. What advantages does the Habitat have in the surrounding environment?
    3. What disadvantages are there to a natural habitat?
    4. What animal and plant life might be affected by the establishment of a natural habitat?
    5. What makes a habitat "natural?"
    6. How would a natural habitat affect the ecology of the surrounding environment?
    7. What thoughts do you have in comparing a natural habitat with a well-established typical lawn area? Why?
    8. Where do humans fit into a natural habitat? Discuss your answer.

    Teacher Suggestions:

    The videotape of the Habitat Project will show a series of areas which are in various stages of growth and maturity. Some explanation accompanies each site. You may desire to have students number and name different locations. They might give explanations, or find out information about various components of a natural habitat such as this. They may ask questions or pose problems. Hopefully, discussion might be initiated. You may, of course, use your own judgement, ingenuity and expertise. It is the hope of those involved in this project that an appreciation of nature might be aroused and/or enhanced. The natural succession that occurs in all living things can be observed if we take notice. It is truly a phenomenon to behold.

    The videotape and additional information on the Habitat and on wildflowers is available from: Mr. Paul Ciotta, Rohm and haas Company, 727 Norristown Road, Spring House, PA 19477.

    This experiment is courtesy of 

    My Dog Kelly

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    Last updated: June 2013
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