Apr 9, 2020 | Science


I hadn’t thought about cotyledons since Botany class, when I was 15 or so. I probably wouldn’t have thought of the word “cotyledon” at all, unless there was a Lima bean attached, growing in a medium of tap water and cheap paper towels. Yesterday, while scavenging for peppers and signs of tomato life in my little garden out back, I found this:

I consulted my plant-friendly friends on Facebook. “Is this some mutant hybrid thing?” I wondered, half hoping that it was. The general consensus was “Virginia Creeper” (though guesses included “marigold,” “peony,” and “kill it with fire”). I know enough to feel safe holding it; it’s not poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. I learned to recognize those when I was nine. But while the top cluster of five leaves was definitely “Virginia Creeper,” that still didn’t explain the pair of non-serrated leaves below the cluster of five.

I swore to my friends that I wasn’t pranking them; I hadn’t doctored the photo or held two different plants together as if grafting them. Finally, the answer – cotyledons! The first, embryonic  leaves to emerge from the seed. And sure enough, “Virginia Creeper” is a dicotyledon, or “dicot,” meaning a plant whose embryonic leaves emerge as a pair.

Who remembers growing Lima beans in class, watching the little roots and embryonic leaves emerge? It’s a fun thing to watch at any age, and an especially easy science experiment to do at home.

Monocots or Dicots?

I’ve been throwing my pepper seeds into potting soil for a few weeks, now – not as a science experiment, but in hopes of feeding my hot pepper addiction. Unfortunately, I have no idea whether what’s emerging, finally, is spicy serrano or mild bell peppers. Probably both. I have been a little careless. There could be a few pequin peppers in there, too, but I suspect they would have put in an appearance before now. Can you tell from the photos whether these peppers are monocots or dicots?

Any guesses as to whether the turnip in the header photo, from which my “accidental turnip greens” emerged, is a monocot or a dicot? Here’s another fun thing to try – let a turnip sit for just a bit too long on your countertop, in the shade. If leaves emerge, put the turnip into a cup, jar, or bulb vase with just enough water to cover the bottom of the vegetable. Put it in a sunny window, and keep the bottom quarter submerged. When the leaves grow long and plentiful, pluck, chop, and sauté them with a little olive oil or butter, garlic, chopped bell pepper, or other veggies until they are bright and tender.

Peppers and turnip greens, too, are easy things to grow with kids. I dried the pepper seeds, soaked them in water overnight, then tossed them into the dirt. Some, I buried with a light blanket of potting soil. Others are just resting atop the dirt, fighting to find a foothold, but all seem to be thriving. Water lightly, daily. Don’t let the soil get muddy or dry.

Other things are beginning to emerge in our garden, now, as well.

The first flowers appeared on our flowering plum; two flowers, to be exact. Now, deep purple leaves have emerged, seemingly without flowering first.

The flowering cactus emerged: a tight, reddish bud that burst into bright orange flame-petals in the afternoon sun.

Research for the kids to do: Are these flowering cactii also dicots? What about the plum tree? Can you name some other dicots are growing in your garden? How about monocotyledons? I’ll bet you have some in your house right now, or you have some items made from them. How many can you name?



Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Mitchell Allen

    Professor Holly, in the (hot)house! I always loved biology, until chemistry came along with its fine, structured self. I was always lost when it came to biology’s surfeit of classifications. From hooves to leaves, I can’t recall the difference between ungulate and rosulate. LOL I even went to Wikipedia to find that second one. 🙂

    By the way, I can’t stand the taste of lima beans.


    Mitchell Allen recently posted…The Last SupperMy Profile

  2. Mahati ramya adivishnu

    I love gardening and I am missing it soo much this spring. Waiting for this Corona virus epidemic to end so that I can shop seeds and soul soon.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Can you order them by mail? Not sure exactly what the situation is, there, but our local home improvement/gardening stores are considered “essential” so we can still get supplies including seeds and plants.

  3. James

    How nice,
    I just discover gardening as my hobby. I start growing my own herbs and veggies indoors and now that the good weather starts I will start at the yard. My daughter love it to so we spend nice family time and we also become a little more self-sufficient, very convenient for these times of pandemic.
    James recently posted…9 Best Stealth Grow Box | Top Automated Grow Cabinets in 2020My Profile

  4. Jane

    The COVID situation really has more people gardening than ever. As for what is a monocot or dicot I don’t remember my biology. oy! But happy gardening and lovely veggies and flowers you have there!
    Jane recently posted…How to Care for Philodendron Florida GhostMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I’m moving well past “I kill plants and shouldn’t be allowed in the same space as living things” to making impromptu greenhouses from recycled egg cartons, and watching seedlings sprout! I do need to be more consistent in my care and benign neglect of these plants, though – they seem to appreciate routine, if not constant vigilance.


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