CSI Trees – investigating plant pathogens


A sickly tree might not look like much of a crime scene, but the influx of pathogens on plants is causing increasing concern in the UK. A serious outbreak of a plant disease could wipe out a species that holds significant impact to not only British biodiversity, but the economy too.

In this resource, students take on the role of plant pathologists, asking questions to determine the cause of a tree’s death, and deciding which tests should be carried out. The teacher will play the role of the landowner, and answer the students’ questions.

The activity concludes with  group questions to understand more about this disease, how diseases are spread, and what can be done to contain them.

This activity can be used across a wide range of ability levels: it ties in to the proposed GCSE syllabus from 2015, and can be extended to ‘A’ level (Level 3) or Foundation Degrees in Horticulture, Landscape Management, Countryside Management or Agriculture. The beauty of this practical is that it is very low-tech, making it easy to set up in numerous classrooms, and can be adapted to cover a wide range of pathogens.

Aims of the practical

  1. To work in teams to be able to recognise plant diseases in the environment
  2. To evaluate the costs to a business of testing for plant diseases, and the larger implications on the environment
  3. To understand how pathogens spread
  4. To suggest ways in which a pathogen might be controlled
  5. To suggest how plants might defend themselves from pathogens

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