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A-level set practicals: dissection and microscopy of a plant stem

This experiment provides a quick and eye-catching way to teach about the vascular tissue in plants and the structure of plant stems. It provides students with the opportunity to develop (and demonstrate) their scientific drawing skills as well as their use of a light microscope and eye-piece graticule.

The viewed specimen clearly shows the location of vascular bundles and the xylem, phloem and sclerenchyma or collenchyma. The use of the stain toluidine blue provides a colour difference between lignified and non-lignified cell walls, clearly highlighting specialised cells and one adaptation they have.

Simple extensions to the basic protocol would allow students to collect data in cell diameters of different specialised cells, or from different plant species very quickly. Student could also explore modifications to the protocol to try to get clearer images of the vascular tissue, thereby developing their skills of experimental design.

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