Grade 5 Botany: Root Observation Lab

This has been one of most cool projects of our botany block. In this lab, we used a polymer from Miracle Grow, promoted as water crystals, as a germination and growth medium. These polymers are marketed at hydration crystals that help keep soil from getting too moist or too dry. They do this because they highly absorbent, enabling them to hold enough water for a cucumber seed to germinate and root. The medium is clear enough that the natural root development through the ‘soil’ can be plainly seen. We started this on the first day to our Botany Block, which allowed us plenty of time to observe the changes in the plant and the roots throughout the block.

We completed this activity several times over, so the instructions listed in the blog are a refinement from those presented in the video.

In this post, you’ll find

 Supplies Needed
Sterilization of the Containers
Preparing the Medium
 ‘Planting’ the Seeds

Video of our Process


glass vials
Miracle-Gro Water Storing Crystals
70% isopropyl alcohol
cucumber seeds
corn seeds


This step is likely unnecessary, but because some of the seeds I tested before doing the project with my daughter produced mold, I choose to sterilize everything. After doing this several times, I think the mold development had less to do with the lack of sterilization, and more to do with the seed. The cucumber and corn seeds we used germinated the best, and made for the clearest observation of the root growth. I was not able to successfully germinate a bean seed within this media. However, the classic paper-towel-in-a-jar germination project could be done to observer beans. 

To sterilize the containers, we used 70% isopropyl alcohol. We placed a little in the jar, returned the lid, then shook a few times. We then transferred the alcohol to another vial and repeated. We allowed the alcohol to sit for a few minutes, and then rinsed all the containers with boiled water before using.


The method that worked best was slightly different than the one in the video. We began by adding a tiny scoop, perhaps 1/8 or 1/16 of a teaspoon (a large pinch will work find if a scoop is not available) of the crystals into the bottom of each vial. This sprinkling of crystals doesn’t even cover the surface of the bottom of the vial. This polymer is super absorbent.

From here we filled the jar 2/3 to 3/4 full of boiling water. We were very careful here, so as not to get burned. I found the boiling water provided a clearer medium. After about 15minutes, we check to see if the water was absorbed by tipping the vial slightly. If we could see water flowing to the side, we took a small pinch of a few crystals and sprinkled them on top to absorb the rest of the water. We repeated this step until the crystals were fully hydrated, resulting in no real flow of water to the side when the vial was tilted. 


After the vials were fully cooled, we then ‘planted’ our seeds. We took a pair of forceps that were wiped with the alcohol, and picked up our cucumber and corn seeds, placing a seed in each vial just below the surface of the crystals. Then we placed all our vials in a sunny window. If the crystal medium became less clear, we just added a little water to the vial during our observation time. 

Cucumber Seed Germination and Growth

Click on the images to enlarge.


From this point we observed the plants each day during our botany block. The root development was pretty spectacular. With cucumbers being eudicots (formally known as dicots,) we could see the cotyledon emerge from the seed. The taproot of the eudicot was also obvious with lateral hair roots emerging from the tap root a few days later. Within two weeks, there were roots covering the entire container. The corn, the monocot, showed a clear presentation of germination. The two cotyledon leaves that the cucumber presented were not present, while the grassy main stem of the monocots were. The root structures were a little harder to see the difference. Some of our corn plants seemed to show a ‘taproot.’ However, if we look closely, we could see there were other roots coming from the same area, unlike the cucumber.

Corn Seed Germination and Growth

Click on image to enlarge.

Video of our Process

Below is the video of our process in real time. We tried many different seeds, but the cucumber and the corn seed worked the best, and they offered the best presentation of a monocot and a eudicot. Bean and peas seeds did not work for this lab. We tried them several times over, but they stained the media and encouraged mold growth.

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