For the InstructorThese student materials complement the Future of Food Instructor Materials. If you would like your students to have access to the student materials, we suggest you either point them at the Student Version which omits the framing pages with information designed for faculty (and this box). Or you can download these pages in several formats that you can include in your course website or local Learning Managment System. Learn more about using, modifying, and sharing InTeGrate teaching materials.
Plants that have similar flowers, reproductive structures, other characteristics, and are evolutionarily related, are grouped into plant families (See Figure 2). Species in the same plant family tend to have similar growth characteristics, nutrient needs, and often the same pests (pathogens, herbivores). Planting crops from different plant families on a farm and the landscape; and rotating crops of different plant families over time can interrupt the crop pest life cycles, particularly insect pests, and pathogens, and reduce yield losses due to pests. Increasing plant family diversity can also provide other agrobiodiversity benefits including, diverse seasonal growth and adaptation to weather stresses such as frosts, and drought; different soil nutrient needs, as well as producing diverse foods that provide for human nutritional needs.
Credit: The U. S. Botanic Garden and the National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany, Smithsonian Institution.
- What plants are your five favorite foods produced from?
- What plant families are they in?
- Are they annuals or perennials?
The Fabaceae/Leguminosae, commonly called the Legume plant family is important for soil nitrogen management in agriculture and for soil, human and animal nutrition. Legume plants can form a mutualistic, symbiotic association with Rhizobium bacteria which inhabit legume roots in small growths or nodules in the roots (seed images in the video listed below). The rhizobia bacteria have enzymes that can take up nitrogen from the atmosphere and they share the "fixed nitrogen" with their legume host plant. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for the plants and animals, it is a critical element in amino acids and proteins, genetic material and many other important plant and animal compounds. Legume grains crops, also called pulses are high in protein, such as many species of beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts. Most of their plant nitrogen is harvested in grain, although there is some in crop residues that can increase soil nitrogen content. Perennial legume crops are typically grown as forage crops for their high protein for animals. Because they allocate a large portion of their growth to vegetative plant parts and storage organs, perennial legumes also return a significant quantity of nitrogen to the soil, enhancing soil fertility for non-legumes crops grown in association or in rotation with legumes.Watch the following NRCS video about legumes and legume research.
Video: The Science of Soil Health: Understanding the Value of Legumes and Nitrogen-Fixing Microbes (2:30)
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What are some of the benefits of including legumes in a crop rotation?