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Green Plants Under Snow

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Nadejda S. Lazareva, Russia, 2001

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Green plants under snowThis manual describes how different plants over-winter, different plant adaptations to winter and the difference between evergreen and wintergreen plants. The field study focuses on the study of green plants under the snow cover and includes selection and location of sites, description of vegetation cover and report preparation.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


This activity is aimed at the study of plants which are found green under snow. It is advised to choose several biotopes (habitats) which greatly differ from each other, for instance, dark-coniferous (spruce) forest, light-coniferous (pine) forest, deciduous forest and meadow. It is necessary to locate sites in each habitat. All the snow should be dug out from these sites, then all green plants should be counted and determined. The activity will result in lists of species and relative numbers of green plants in different habitats.

Measuring tapes, shovels and plant guidebooks (illustrated ones are preferable) will be required for the lesson.

Prior to practical work, a teacher should start from an introduction into the theme of study, so that students will better understand results of subsequent studies and obtained results. The teacher should discuss with students the problem of life conditions for plants in winter, plant adaptations to unfavorable weather conditions, and classification of plants which winter- green.

Plant adaptations to weather conditions

It is commonly known that winter is a hard and unfavorable season for plants.

Insiccation is the main threat to plants in winter. This is the largest danger, as water in soil gets frozen. If any part of the plant starts drying out in winter, it will inevitably die. As it is known, there is no water transportation within the plant in winter, so it cannot replenish water losses. At the same time, water evaporates well in winter (just remember how quickly fabrics get dry in frost).

Thus all plant adaptations to winter are aimed at reduction of water losses. The main method of trees and shrubbery for fighting the dryness of winter is by the abscission of leaves. Plants that employ this method are called deciduous, as all their leaves fall in autumn and live during only one season. The plants receive their necessary amount of light and water in spring and summer, as their large leaves work efficiently enough to provide plants with nutrients for the beginning of the following season. Such plants fall into dormancy in winter as they spend almost no water and do not photosynthesize.

Coniferous plants use another method – there is little water in their needles, as non-freezing essential oils, alkaloids and sugars dominate. All physiological processes in coniferous plants, including photosynthesis, are very slow; however, they can proceed in low temperatures, even in winter. The leaves of coniferous trees evolved into needles, which are quite hard and are protected with a layer of wax in order to minimize water losses. Each leaf (needle) lives for 2-5 years, and they fall not all at the same time, but in turns in the course of a year.

Additional methods of protection for trunks and branches, the subereous layer of bark, and bud scales – reduce winter losses of water and ensure long wintering of the mentioned plants.

Delicate herbage is quite another matter. Their main method of survival in winter is by complete dying off of the above-ground part (perennial plants) or the whole plant (annual plants), or special “tangled” adaptations (evergreen and winter-green plants). This lesson will be devoted to the latter two types of plants.

Evergreen and winter-green plants under snow

The main condition of existence of herbaceous green plants in temperate climates is the presence of enough snow cover.

The main function of snow in the given case is protective or heat-insulating. Snow cover has a loose structure due to the shapes of snowflakes. Interstices among snowflakes are filled up with air, which is characterized by low heat conductivity, so we owe such a wonderful property of snow to air. The air, as we sometimes (but incorrectly) say, “is a good insulator.”

Due to the low heat conductivity of snow, day-to-day temperature variation penetrates into the snow cover only for a depth...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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