Written by Lola Gayle

The balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) is a species of herbaceous flowering perennial plant of the family Campanulaceae, and the only member of the genus Platycodon. It is native to East Asia (China, Korea, Japan and East Siberia). Depending upon the region, it is also referred to as the Korean bellflower, Chinese bellflower, Japanese bellflower, or common balloon flower (referring to the balloon-shaped flower buds).

This herbaceous perennial has dark green leaves and blue flowers which bloom typically in late summer. A notable feature of the plant is the flower bud which swells like a balloon before fully opening. The five petals are fused together into a bell shape at the base, like its relatives, the campanulas.

According to GardeningKnowHow.com, “The balloon plant is easy to grow and hardy in USDA Zones 3-8. It will thrive in sun or partial shade. It likes well-drained, slightly acidic soil; and although the balloon flower plant will tolerate dry conditions, it prefers (and needs) plenty of moisture. This cold hardy plant also prefers cooler conditions in summer, so afternoon shade is a good idea for warmer regions.”

They are perfect for kids in the garden because they’re easy to grow, easy to care for, and their little buds pop when you squeeze them, although waiting for them to bloom will bring you a rich purple color with even richer, deeper purple veins, as seen in the photo above.

Personally, I find that mine always die back in the late fall/early winter and seem to come back healthier, fuller and happier each spring. And I never have to overwinter them when the weather turns colder. Just spread some dead leaves on top and voila! A perfect cocoon.

So how does this apply to teaching kids about STEM and STEAM?

The study of plants, known as botany, falls into the science portion of STEM and STEAM education.

Botany, also called plant science or plant biology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist or plant scientist is a scientist who specializes in this field of study.

Horticulture also falls into the science, technology and art categories of STEM and STEAM.

Horticulture is the branch of agriculture that deals with the art, science, technology, and business of plant cultivation. It includes the cultivation of medicinal plant, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, sprouts, mushrooms, algae, flowers, seaweeds and non-food crops such as grass and ornamental trees and plants. It also includes plant conservation, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design, construction, and maintenance, and arboriculture.

Horticulturists apply their knowledge, skills, and technologies used to grow intensively produced plants for human food and non-food uses and for personal or social needs. Their work involves plant propagation and cultivation with the aim of improving plant growth, yields, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses. They work as gardeners, growers, therapists, designers, and technical advisors in the food and non-food sectors of horticulture.

Image Credit: Lola Gayle

This post is also available at STEAMRegister.com

Here’s another great way plants can be incorporated into STEM education. “Math and Science through Plant Exploration” – The Marigold School of Early Learning