Microscopy – Looking at xylem and specialised cells


Microscopes are all too often tucked away at the back of the lab, only brought out on special occasions. Teacher Vicki Cottrell (our Nuffield Teaching Fellow) wants to encourage you to get more out of your microscopes. This  series of resources shows how you can use microscopes to liven up teaching about xylem, plant adaptations, specialised cells and plant defences. What’s more, the material needed can be bought cheaply at your local supermarket.

If you’re teaching the structure and function of xylem and phloem, microscopes offer a great way in. Did you know that carnations are an excellent way see the spirals of lignin? Under a x10 magnification, the lignin is easily visible if you take a small scrape from the stem. There’s no need to stain your slide, so this is quick, cheap and easy to do. You can then use the carnations to look at transport systems further.

Tomatoes on the vine are now increasingly available in supermarkets throughout the year, and are a useful resource for looking at specialised plant cells. In this case, students look at trichomes and glandular trichomes in particular, and consider their role as a defense mechanism.

Don’t forget that you can borrow a set of microscopes completely free from the Royal Microscopy Society, or from local kit clubs via your regional Science Learning Centre.

You may also wish to show your students our animation on Transport in Xylem and Phloem

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