Choose easy plants for kids to grow and help facilitate a love of the natural world with one of its smallest components: plant seeds. I’ve always thought seeds can uniquely capture the interest of children. Seeds start as one thing and become another – in short, they transform. As a child, I wasn’t fascinated with pea seeds when I planted rows by hand. But certain seeds always enticed me to handle and examine them and to daydream of what they’d ultimately produce.

Easy Plants for Kids to Grow

The following plants have intriguing seeds, create harvestable products, or fill important ecosystem roles. Add the anatomical features I’ve highlighted, and these plants and their seeds are well-suited for providing children’s first lessons in botany.


Also known as “bachelor’s button,” cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) are beautiful whether fresh-cut or dried. They also attract native pollinators in abundance. The seeds of this annual have a striking appearance, like the heads of little paint brushes, and they’re quite easy to gather, even for children. Alternatively, they’ll readily self-seed.

Cornflowers have “actinomorphic” blossoms. This means the flowers have radial symmetry, or many planes of symmetry: Draw a line through its center at various angles, and you’ll have mirror images on each side. This is a trait common to the Asteraceae family, of which cornflower is a member. It’s easy to spot that cornflowers are also “epigynous,” meaning their floral components originate at or near the upper end of the flower ovaries. The seeds of this flower develop underneath the petals.


Poppies have it all. Vibrant petals; volumes of pollen for honeybees and native pollinators; and pronounced, harvestable seed heads. These colorful flowers can be perennials, such as the Icelandic poppy (Papaver nudicaule), or readily self-seeding annuals, such as the common poppy (P. rhoeas) and the breadseed poppy (P. somniferum). Though the seeds aren’t necessarily visually compelling, few garden tasks can equal the allure of gathering them from the flower head – it’s like emptying out a saltshaker! Plus, the seeds of P. somniferum are edible.

In contrast to the epigynous cornflower, the poppy is “hypogynous.” Its seeds are in a capsule situated above the attachment point of the flower petals. Notice that the “epi-“(“above”) and “hypo-” (“below”) are a reference to the petals in relation to the ovary – they’re attached either above the ovary (epigynous) or below the ovary (hypogynous).


Calendula (Calendula officinalis) can be picked for fresh or dried bouquets, or the flowers can be de-stemmed for dried floral accents. The autumnally colored fresh petals are also edible. It’s considered very easy to grow, as it will tolerate most soils, and it can flower all season in proper conditions.

Calendula leaves are simple, which means they have undivided blades. Interestingly, petals are modified leaves; they’re typically colorful to attract pollinators. The petals of a flower head are collectively referred to as the “corolla.” Sepals are modified leaves that attach directly below the petals, and they’re usually green and less impressive. The collective noun for the sepals is “calyx.” The corolla and calyx together form the “perianth” of the flower.

The seed of calendula is cool: It resembles a curved claw or tiny, thorny bone. But what you’re looking at isn’t a seed but an “achene” – a dry, one-seeded fruit that doesn’t open to release the seed inside. Specifically, achene of the Asteraceae family are called “cypsela.”

Dry Bean

It’s easy to see why just about any dry bean are easy plants for kids to grow. They’re big and can be quite colorful, and you can eat the end product!

As members of the Fabaceae family, or the “bean family,” beans have “zygomorphic” flowers. This means the flowers are bilaterally symmetrical; in other words, there’s only one way to draw a line through the center of the flower to produce mirror images. This is largely due to the singular appearance of their petals, which are so distinct they have special names. The upper petals are called the “standard,” or “banner,” of the flower, while the lower ones are called the “keel.” In many cases with Fabaceae flowers, the sepals are fused together at their bases, forming what’s called a “calyx tube.”


When you apply friction to the seeds of the nigella (Nigella sativa), they’ll emit a fascinating aroma. How neat is that! To me, the smell seems to be similar to grape. Like poppy seeds, they, too, can head straight to the kitchen (popular in Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, and Polish cuisines), and they’re also found in a showy seed capsule.

Sometimes, the petals aren’t the most colorful and noticeable feature of a flower; the sepals are. This is the case with nigella, which has relatively smaller petals and large, colorful, petal-like sepals. At other times, petals and sepals may be quite similar or there may be no petals at all, only colorful sepals. In all cases, the word “tepal” can be used to refer to the modified leaves of the perianth.

Tennessee Dancing Gourd

What could be better than raising a toy in the garden? Whether fresh or dried, the harvested ‘Tennessee Dancing Gourd’ (Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera) spins like a top with a snap of the fingers on its neck. These are such easy plants for kids to grow; vining prolifically and picturesquely with gourds at frequent and regular intervals.

The flowers of Tennessee Dancing Gourds are “sympetalous,” a trait found in the squash family. “Sympetalous” means a flower’s petals are attached at the edges, forming a tube.


Loved by pollinators and songbirds, and with sweet, often pink petals, here’s another member of the Asteraceae Family. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is excellent for fresh-cut bouquets, and it’s a favorite in both gardens and for landscaping, with its swaying flower heads and feathery (or “bipinnate”) leaves composed of many small leaflets.

Some plants have “bracts” (modified leaves), which are easy to spot when cosmos are still in bud. Located near buds and flowers and often functioning to protect them, bracts are (anatomically) quite distinct from the flower itself. Occasionally, bracts may be especially large and colorful and much showier than the flower itself (as is the case with the poinsettia).


Who doesn’t want to raise their own pumpkin? Not to mention that pampering plants with watering and fertility applications can yield extra-special results!

As with the Tennessee Dancing Gourd, which is in the same plant family, pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima) have sympetalous flowers. They also have “palmately lobed” leaves. “Lobed” means the leaf margin follows a pattern of projections and indentations, and “palmate” describes the pattern of lobing as originating from a common point. Think of maple leaves!


Perhaps the quintessential flower for children, sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) can now be found in a variety of forms: red or pale yellow petals, “fuzzy” centers, and much more. However, if you avoid pollenless and excessively hybridized varieties, you’ll have a flower favored by pollinators and visited by songbirds once its seeds mature. The matured flower head of the sunflower can also be collected if there are chickens to feed, who’ll peck seeds from the flower head themselves.

I saved the biggest surprise for last: The sunflower is not a single flower but many flowers or florets together in an “inflorescence,” or flower head. The flowers in the center of the sunflower are called “disk flowers,” while those around the perimeter (with the petals) are called “ray flowers.”

Now, let’s plant some seeds of curiosity and knowledge!

Leah Smith is a freelance writer and home and market gardener. She works on her family’s farm in mid-Michigan called Nodding Thistle (Certified Organic from 1984 to 2009, principally by Organic Growers of Michigan). A graduate of Michigan State University, she can be reached at

Where to Find Seeds

  • Botanical Interests
  • Territorial Seed Company
  • Pinetree Garden Seeds
  • Fedco Seeds
  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
  • Ferry-Morse Seed Company
  • Renee’s Garden
  • Seed Savers Exchange

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