Build your very own mini ecosystem

Mini Ecosystems Activity

For a science project -- or just for fun -- make your own mini ecosystem with a display of the world's forests, deserts, and grasslands.

What You'll Need:

  • Aquarium or gallon glass jar
  • Potting soil
  • Sand
  • Charcoal for house plants
  • Purchased or collected plants

How to Create a Mini Ecosystem:

Step 1: Clean and dry an aquarium or gallon glass jar. Pour a 1/2-inch layer of charcoal in the bottom, then add about four inches of potting soil. (For a desert use a mixture of 1/2 potting soil and 1/2 sand.)

Step 2: Buy plants, or ask someone for permission to collect plants from their property or garden. Never collect plants from nature because they could be endangered. Here is a list of biomes and some suggestions of plants you can use:

  • Tundra (such as Northern Canada and Alaska): lichens, mosses, and any of the small alpine plants sold for rock gardens. These will need a sunny window.
  • Northern coniferous forest (such as Southern Canada, Northern United States): Piggyback plants and small ferns.
  • Deciduous forest (such as Eastern United States): Violets, Wintergreens, strawberries, and small ferns.
  • Grassland (such as the Midwestern United States): Plant a prairie wildflower seed mix that includes several grasses.
  • Desert (such as the American Southwest): Purchase cacti or aloe vera plants. Don't overwater or overfertilize. Leave the lid off.
  • Tropical Rain Forest (such as the Amazon Basin): Most common houseplants come from the tropics. Try African violets, creeping Charlies, or aluminum plants.

Keep reading to try your hand at another miniature environmental activity.

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