Plant Light Shoebox Maze Experiment

Experiment: Plant Light Shoebox Maze Experiment

Grades: K – 7

An experiment to test if a plant can find its way through a box maze towards light.

Set up: 45 minutes

Growing time: 3-4 days, depending on seed variety

The word phototropism is a mouthful! It’s made up of two parts: photo which means light and tropism which comes from the Greek word tropos meaning to turn.

To grow tall and strong, plants use energy from light to make food in a process called photosynthesis. We think of plants as being stuck in one place, but they can move their stems to grow towards light. This movement is called phototropism: where plants turn or orient towards a source of light. This happens in plants and even some fungi.

Here’s how it works: Plants use many hormones to grow. One hormone in particular called auxin, tells individual cells to grow longer. It’s one of the ways that plants grow taller. Normally, plants growing with an unshaded light source will grow straight up towards the sun because auxin is evenly distributed all around the shoot.

But when something blocks or shades the sun like a tree or other plants, something interesting happens. Auxin starts to concentrate on the shaded side of the plant instead, and as a result, the cells on the sunny side stay the same size but the cells on the shaded side grow longer. This causes the plant to turn or bend towards the light.

Phototropism is an evolutionary adaptation that helps plants to move access light needed for photosynthesis.

Materials needed for the plant:

  • Small plastic plant container about 7 – 10 cm high (or recycled paper cups with a drainage hole in the bottom) Plant Light Shoebox Maze Experiment
  • Potting soil (soilless medium)Cotton balls or rockwool
  • 2 – 3 pole bean seeds per plant container (ensure that you use pole bean seeds which grow long and tall, not bush beans which are short)

Materials needed for the shoebox maze:

  • Shoebox with lid
  • Scraps of light cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape or masking tape
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Science journal to record observations




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