Bio 103, Lab 1: Darwin's Voyage Revisited

Paul Grobstein's picture
Life has recently been discovered on two planets, currently named Nearer and Farther. Survey expeditions are being undertaken to characterize life on each, with the objective of comparing the charcteristics of life on the two planets both with each other and with life on earth. The general effort is to better understand general properties of living systems.

Expeditionary groups have been formed to undertake an initial survey of "plant" life on Nearer and Farther. Plant life on earth is characterized by substantial diversity; there are a large number of different kinds of plants. The goal of the expeditionary groups is to try and determine whether diversity of plant life is an idiosyncracy of life on earth or a more general property of life wherever it is found.

You are a member of one such expeditionary group. Your group must return with a scheme for categorizing plant life on the planet assigned that is well motivated by your observations, clearly described, and yields a definite quantitative result for the numbers of kinds of plants on that planet. You will of course need to use understandings of the meaning of "plant" derived from experiences on earth, but you should not presume that categories of plant life on Nearer and Farther are necessarily similar to those on Earth. Your report should note presumptions about what plants are, be clear about what observations motivate your categorizing scheme, provide some indication of the level of confidence you have in your quantitative results, and discuss what further observations are motivated by your findings . A preliminary report of your studies will be presented at a conference on "Diversity in BioSystems: New Findings From Additional Cases", focused on the question of whether "diversity" is or is not a fundamental characteristic of living systems.

Your group should also publish a summary of its findings in this forum. Be sure to include in the text of your summary the names of all team members.

Some related readings:

Expeditionary Groups
(click for enlargements)


cmcgowan's picture

As we set foot on our

Crystal, Eri, Luisana, Caitlin McG


As we set foot on our expedition our eager young minds were attempting to grasp the notion of what is a plant. After much discussion over brandy we came to the consensus that a plant is indeed something that grows out of the very ground upon which we were traversing.

When we arrived at the destination of our scientific inquiry on the planet of nearer we began our careful observation of the plant life. We discovered 11 types of plants on this new planet. We then sorted the plants into 3 main categories according to height: Ground level, Above ground level - 2 feet, Above 2 feet.

We felt that 3 types of plants fit into the ground level category. These 3 were grass, moss on the ground, and moss on a tree. We distinguished these as 3 seperate plants based their texture, shape, color, and vertical proximity to the ground.

3 types of plants fit into the Above ground - two feet level. We distinguised these plants using height, stem witdth, growth patterns, concentration of plants, color, and location in relation to neighboring plants.

Above two feet- leaves/needles/acorns at bottom of tree, trunks' texture, branches, height, width

Rachel Tashjian's picture


Kaitlin Cough
Elizabeth Harnett

We went on an extended expedition to Planet Nearer to observe the many forms of plant life. We defined plant life using our experience from Earth. First, we decided if the form came from the ground (in other words, if it had a root system). We also looked at whether or not the form was moving by its own accord (we also took into account the fact that we knew the plant was growing, as it had leaves of varying sizes). Finally, we decided plants were the forms which were green, because although there were similar forms (leaf-like) on the ground, these were brown (which on Earth are considered dead).
Our first Category's plants, Category A, shared several characteristics. They were:
-substantially taller than other categories
-had larger leaves
-possessed trunks, which in turn were encased in an outer shell.
Within Category A, however, there were two sub-categories. The first was characterized by several larger specimens. These four species possessed a straight central trunk that was large and thick, with a very rough outer shell. They were separate and generally stood alone. The second sub-category was, while similar, shorter than the first, with denser foliage that seemed to grow out in a cap like manner rather than straight up. These had not one central trunk but a cluster of several, smaller trunks entwined whose outer shells were thinner and light in color.
Our next category, Category B, shared the following characteristics:
-the plants were found most often on the ground,underneath the category D plants.
-were usually found in shades of vibrant green
-were usually thick, patchy and moist
Many different sub-categories made up Category B. In the first sub-category were plants found at the base of category A plants. They were usually of shades of green, yellow and brown. They were drier and found in patchier clumps. The next sub category was made up of very light, dense and moist patches found around rocks. The next sub-category were found in the moist crevasses of the category A plants, and were found in big, soft thick patches.
Category C plants all shared the following characteristics:
-they were found on Category A plants
-were different shades of light green
-were usually dry and rough in texture
There were three main sub-categories underneath Category C. The first sub-category was made up of plants that were light green, dense and very short-they almost couldn't be seen by the naked eye. The next category was made up with plants of a minty green color, and were found in flat clusters. The final sub-category of plant was also found in clusters, however they were layered and found abundantly on category A plants.
Category D was primarily characterized by the plants' low-lying position. Within this category, we divided plants into two sub-groups using leaf design and stem design. The first group had specimen with stems that had forms splaying out from it (there were 5 specimen in this group). In the second group, there were plants that were essentially simply stems - there were no forms branching out from the original form (there were 2 specimen in this group). In all, there were 7 types in this group.
Shanika's picture

Sharhea, Lakesha , Andy (Kee Hyun), Shanika

We did our exploration on Planet Farther. We found there were 18 different forms of plant life. We determined the differences between the plants by their size, color, texture, shape and form.

In one area of the planet, we found a lot of shrub like pants. One plant was flower-like, it contained a lot of leaves, and there were many of them. We also found many other plants within the shrubs and around these shrub-like figures. There were long grass-like plants, which were silky at touch; a light green shrub with bigger leaf; weed-like plants; spade shaped and clover shaped shrub.

As we moved across the planet, we walked through a short grass-like field. We came upon another round of flower-like clusters with jagged edges. Next to them, were perfectly oval shaped plants. Above them was tall tree-like form, with a thick trunk and spade shaped leaves. Around this trunk more shrubs seem to appear but were of different color. They were lighter, more of a yellowish color rather than the natural green surrounding the majority of this planet.

We continued our exploration toward the pine-like bushes. They were hard and prickly to the touch. We pass on to new jagged edge plants but these one had pods appearing in the middle. There was also another tree-like figure. This one was had an orange and brown trunk-like form. We also found some hairy, pollen-like plants among the long grass-like plants. They resembled what we call on Earth, a caterpillar. Within the shrubs on this side, there were leaves full of holes which somewhat might suggest insects may be on this planet.

At the end of our voyage, as we look around we tried to decide if the brown, rough leaf-like plants found around this planet was actually alive. We had less time to figure out what is alive or dead, but we used our definition and/or prior knowledge that we had on Earth to define plants.

vcruz's picture

Plants in Planet Farther

Eurie Kim

Saskia Guerrier

Vivian Cruz


Plants as we know it are usually green things that have some type of a root or stem. They grow in different shapes and forms.

This is what we observed on Planet Farther:


1) Thin, green  2) Fat, green  3)Brown  4) Fuzzy ends  5) "Hairy" leaves  6) 3 Round leaves  7) Curled, Heart leaves 8) Red stem  9) Fat, round leaves  10) Long, pointy leaves



1) Heart leaves  2) Flower-like, seedy, layered leaves  3) Baby, pointy, light colored leaves  4) Oval, light colored leaves  5) Long, straight leaves (all alone)  6) Huge, ruffly leaves, red-stem  7) Pointy edges, heart leaves, top layer (of leaves) shiny.



1) Skinny, spiky leaves, all over, round red berries



1)  Close-together branches, hanging leaves, over all oval shape  2)Clumped-together branches, higher up on the trunk, over all round shape.


We were able to differentiate the types of plants by height, shape of leaves, texture, and color.  We classified all the 20 different plants under Flat, Short, Medium, and Tall because we thought it would be easier to focus on the diversity of the plants within each group. And then under those headings, we subcategorized the plants by distinguishing the shape of the leaves, texture, and color.

Additionally, we also noticed that the lighter-colored plants were not under the tree and more exposed to the sun, which could show that the sunlight affects the plants' coloring.  Most of the different plants also grew in clumps, even though they would be next to another type of plant.  Furthermore, the existence of subcategories under the main groups shows the ability of plants to co-exist with another type.  This shows that diversity and interactivity could be possible ways of living on Planet Farther.

Samar Aryani's picture

Samar Aryani, Catrina Mueller, Kate Gould

On Nearer, we identified seven different types of plant life, with differences in size, color of foliage, bark texture and color, foliage of shape, and clustering of foliage.
Plants, according to observations we made on Earth, protrude from a foundation, use light, water, and nutrients for energy, and have some kind of foliage. The way in which we categorized our observations were done by using different characteristics found from the plants. We started our observations with the smaller plant-life and moved to the larger plants. Among the smaller plants were three distinct examples. The first being approximately five to six inches tall, dark green in color, and dense in population. The foliage had approximately eleven to twelve leaf-like objects per cluster. The foliage had a wax-like feeling and there was a vein-like design on each leaf. This specimen was found in the shade and protruded from a dirt-like substance. The next specimen we found was approximately six inches tall and the foliage was delicate and soft to the touch with scalloped leaves. This, as well, was found in the shade from a vine in a dirt-like substance. The third smaller specimen was at the very most one inch long in height. It was very densely populated and clumped in small groups. It seemed to spread across most of the planet. The foliage was long, fibrous, green blades with parallel veins that grew upward. This specimen grew in the shade as well as in the sunlight.
The larger plants that we found consisted of four distinct specimen. The first being a plant with large stalks that were characterized by zebra-like markings. The stalk split into many smaller stalks and from the stalks were foliage. The foliage was yellowish-green and each leaf-like object as about the size of two quarters in diameter. The plant was approximately twelve to fifteen feet tall. The second specimen was similiar to the first specimen but the bark on this plant was bumpy and dotted. The leaves, as well, were different in that they were long, pointy ovals. There were small red-colored flowers sprouting at random on the branch-like objects. This plant as well protruded from the dirt-like substance and was approximately twelve to fifteen feet tall. The third specimen was four to five feet in diamater and at least fifty feet tall. It came out of the dirt-like substance and it had light gray/brown bark with lighter streaks throughout. As one looked upward on the stalk, the design seemed to grow wavy and criss-crossed in nature. The main stalk split about one-fourth of the way up the tree and the leaves were clustered in groups of three. The foliage was green in color. The final specimen was approximately thirty feet tall with individual blade-like leaves, clustered, resembled that of tree number two but more rigid and dark green. The leaves at the top of the tree were brown and gold, perhaps from sun exposure. The bark was scaly, and gold, dark brown, and gray in color.
Therefore, it can be concluded that we had two main categories based on size and these categories branched off into sub-categories that described the plants in more detail.
Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

Ruth Goodlaxson Rachel

Ruth Goodlaxson

Rachel Mabe

Paige Safyer

A Categorization of Plants from Planet Nearer

Our survey of Planet Nearer included a triangular area of land, and served as a good basis for categorization of plant life on this planet. In the end, we divided the plants observed into three categories: Category G, Category P and Category T. We were then able to further divide based on observable characteristics. Our distinctions were based on color, texture and shape of different components of the vegetation, and we discerned three major categories and six different types of plant life. There were two major substances that made up these plants: one, soft and green which we call “leaves,” and the other hard and brown that comprises trunks.

Category G consists of one plant. It was the first we noticed upon arrival at Planet Nearer, and covers most of the ground. The plant is entirely green, thin and straight. The tallest examples averaged about four inches tall. It appeared to have no “base;” it grew directly from the ground even though it was similar in texture and color to the substance that emerged from the upper sections of plants in the T category.

Category P also consists of one plant. It covered an area of brown soil about 12 feet square bordering the area covered by G. It consists of individual stalks, ending in circles of leaves. There were small buds at the end of each stalk in the center which were a lighter green color than the leaves and the stalk. Each plant was about 6 to 12 inches in height. The leaves were about 2 inches wide and three inches tall, with a smooth papery texture and had small points on the half of the leaf farthest from the plant.

Category T contained four varieties. The common features were a hard, brownish trunk toward the ground and softer green leaves on top. The first variety noted was T1A; this plant grew amongst category P plants. It has many thin, interweaving trunks with knots and light green, ovular leaves with serrated edges. We also noted a similar Category T in the same area. T1B appears to be related to T1A due to a similar pattern of interweaving trunks and serrated leaves. However, the leaves were darker green and longer ovals, and grew closer to the trunk in addition to growing at the top. These grew next to Category P, but there was noted thinning of P under these plants. There was one plant we called T2; this had a straight trunk, bark streaked with white yellow-green leaves and very high branches. The leaves had 5 to 6 points each and we noted some of the same shape turning brown on the ground. There were two of the T3 variety, one very large and one smaller. This type had brown bark with green and white streaking. The leaves were speckled in brown, with very defined points. The tree also had large knots and branches that became smoother farther out from the trunk. Under this tree, we found many hard green ball-like objects. Downhill, we noticed smaller plants with the same kinds of leaves as this tree, which lead us to believe that the balls rolled downhill as a means of reproduction.

Kendra's picture

Kendra, Ashley, and Kerlyne's Adventure on Planet Farther!

Title: Planet Farther Expedition

Purpose: To observe and find a way of classifying plant life.

From our observations, we summarized that there are 12 different types of plant life. We defined plant life as something that is green-with variation- with improbable assembly, something stationary that grows from the surface and something that needs energy with variation.

From our prior knowledge from Earth, we know that plant life is overall green. So when we spotted greenery on this planet, we summarized that it was plant life. One type of plant life we observed we categorized as 'taller plant life' and we found two forms of this type. They both consisted of a thick central tube which looked as if it was to support this plant life. One type, Type A, had skinnier tubes that branched out and upward and carried thin, glossy green and paper thin objects. The other type, Type B, had a skinnier tubes which slightly drooped and the paper thin objects were a lighter shade of green facing downward.

Then we observed two types of 'medium plant life'. Though they both had smaller spiky objects, Type A of the medium plant life was a darker shade of green and the other, Type B, was a lighter shade of green that had small, circular, red objects with a sticky substance inside.

There were a variety of different types of 'smaller plant life' that we found growing under the 'taller plant life'. These smaller plants were bunched together and were rather low to the ground. There was an abundant amount of Type A and these also had small, green, paper thin objects on them. Type B had darker, glossier green, heart shaped objects and we observed that there was only one specimen of this type found on the planet. Type C had low, flat, and wider green objects and again, we only found one of these specimens on Planet Farther.

Finally, we have the 'smallest plant life'. Type A of this type of plant life had stringy green objects and very abundant. We also observed similar form of it, but in a brownish color, which we observed was dry. In the midst of that plant life, we observed Type B which had heart shaped green objects and cohabitated with the green stringy Type A. We also found furry, long strands which weren''t as abundant as Type A or B but also seemed to cohabitate in the same area.

The different types of plant life within these categories are ultimately plants because they fit the criteria: green- with variation- with improbable assembly and they grew from the surface. We also summarized that they needed energy with variation, for some of the 'smaller plant life' grew in an area where there was no sun. Due to these findings, we were able to also note that a diverse of plant life was able to exist together on Planet Farther.

kharmon's picture

Kyree Harmon Marie

Kyree Harmon

Marie Sager

Jennifer Bonczar


Our team made an expedition to planet Farther to classify different kinds of plant life. Based on our observations, we developed a working definition of a "plant" as they exist on planet Farther. A plant is or contains green parts, meets with the ground, and is stationary in the sense that it does not move on its own accord. On planet Farther we observed five different types of plants, some of which we were able to further categorize into subtypes using our own classification system. We named the types A, B, C, D, and E. We observed Type A plants to be tall with a thick, central, tubular core from which other smaller tubes extended and green things hung. The rest of the plant was covered with a brown, rough,outer coating. Within type A we noticed 2 varieties of the green things, one being thin, lightly colored, and serrated and the other being wider, darker, and wavy edged. Type B plants were medium masses of green needles attached to a smaller and less visible rough, brown structure. Type C was short and entirely green including a green tubular core that appeared to extend into the ground. The ends of the plants had different shapes not unlike the green shapes that hung from type A plants. There were, again, observable varieties. Type D plants were the most abundant of the five. They were freestanding strips that were low to the ground. Though we observed three varieties of type D, all were relatively small, thin, and flexible. The differences lay in the width, height, and color of the strips. Lastly, we observed type E, which did not share many characteristics with the other plants we had observed and was seemingly more difficult to classify. Type E was carpetlike and minute in size. Upon close inspection, they had qualities resemblant of the hanging green things, just on an incredibly smaller scale. Overall, we classified each using the following system where plant is the most general category: