Botany, plant science(s), phytology, or plant biology is a branch of biology and is the scientific study of plant life and development. Botany covers a wide range of scientific disciplines that study plants, algae, and fungi including: structure, growth, reproduction, metabolism, development, diseases, and chemical properties and evolutionary relationships between the different groups. Botany, the study of plants, began with tribal efforts to identify edible, medicinal and poisonous plants, making botany one of the oldest sciences. From this ancient interest in plants, the scope of botany has increased to include the study of over 550,000 kinds or species of living organisms.
Scope and importance of botany
As with other life forms in biology, plant life can be studied from different perspectives, from the molecular
level through organelles
, individuals, plant populations
, and communities of plants. At each of these levels a botanist might be concerned with the classification (taxonomy
), structure (anatomy
), or function (physiology
) of plant life.
Historically all living things were grouped as animals or plants, and botany covered all organisms not considered animals. Some organisms once included in the field of botany are no longer considered to belong to the plant kingdom – these include fungi (studied in mycology), lichens (lichenology), bacteria (bacteriology), viruses (virology) and single-celled algae, which are now grouped as part of the Protista. However, attention is still given to these groups by botanists, and fungi, lichens, bacteria and photosynthetic protists are usually covered in introductory botany courses.
The study of plants is vital because they are a fundamental part of life on Earth, which generates the oxygen, food, fibres, fuel and medicine that allow humans and other higher life forms to exist. Through photosynthesis, plants also absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that in large amounts can affect global climate, they prevent soil erosion and impact the water cycle. Paleobotanists study ancient plants in the fossil record. It is believed that early in the earth's history, the evolution of photosynthetic plants altered the global atmosphere of the earth, changing the ancient atmosphere by oxidation. A good understanding of plants is crucial to the future of human societies as it allows us to:
- Produce food to feed an expanding population
- Understand fundamental life processes
- Produce medicine and materials to treat diseases and other ailments
- Understand environmental changes more clearly
Virtually all foods eaten come from plants, either directly from staple foods and other fruit and vegetables, or indirectly through livestock or other animals, which rely on plants for their nutrition. Plants are the fundamental base of nearly all food chains because they use the energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil and atmosphere and convert them into a form that can be consumed and utilized by animals; this is what ecologists call the first trophic level. Botanists also study how plants produce food we can eat and how to increase yields and therefore their work is important in mankind's ability to feed the world and provide food security for future generations, for example through plant breeding. Botanists also study weeds, plants which are considered to be a nuisance in a particular location. Weeds are a considerable problem in agriculture, and botany provides some of the basic science used to understand how to minimize 'weed' impact in agriculture and native ecosystems. Ethnobotany is the study of the relationships between plants and people.
Fundamental life processes
Plants are convenient organisms in which fundamental life processes (like cell division
and protein synthesis
for example) can be studied, without the ethical dilemmas of studying animals or humans. The genetic laws of inheritance
were discovered in this way by Gregor Mendel
, who was studying the way pea
shape is inherited. What Mendel learned from studying plants has had far reaching benefits outside of botany. Additionally, Barbara McClintock
discovered 'jumping genes'
by studying maize
. These are a few examples that demonstrate how botanical research has an ongoing relevance to the understanding of fundamental biological processes.
Medicine and materials
and recreational drugs
, like tetrahydrocannabinol
, and nicotine
come directly from the plant kingdom. Others are simple derivatives
of botanical natural products; for example aspirin
is based on the pain killer salicylic acid
which originally came from the bark
There may be many novel cures for diseases
provided by plants, waiting to be discovered. Popular stimulants
, and tea
also come from plants. Most alcoholic beverages
come from fermenting
plants such as barley
) and grapes
Plants also provide us with many natural materials, such as cotton, wood, paper, linen, vegetable oils, some types of rope, and rubber. The production of silk would not be possible without the cultivation of the mulberry plant. Sugarcane, rapeseed, soy and other plants with a highly-fermentable sugar or oil content have recently been put to use as sources of biofuels, which are important alternatives to fossil fuels, see biodiesel.
Plants can also help us understand changes in on our environment in many ways.
In many different ways, plants can act a little like the 'miners canary', an early warning system alerting us to important changes in our environment. In addition to these practical and scientific reasons, plants are extremely valuable as recreation for millions of people who enjoy gardening, horticultural and culinary uses of plants every day.
βοτάνη = "pasture
", perhaps via the idea of a livestock
keeper needing to know which plants are safe for livestock to eat.
Early examples of plant taxonomy occur in the Rigveda
, that divides plants into Vṛska
(herbs useful to humans) and Virudha
(creepers). which are further subdivided. The Atharvaveda
divides plants into eight classes, Visakha
(spreading branches), Manjari
(leaves with long clusters), Sthambini
(bushy plants), Prastanavati
(which expands); Ekasṛnga
(those with monopodial
(creeping plants), Amsumati
(with many stalks), and Kandini
(plants with knotty joints). The Taittiriya Samhita
and classifies the plant kingdom into vṛksa
(shrubs with spreading branches), sasa
(a spreading or deliquescent
(bushy plant), pratanavati
(creeper), and alasala
(those spreading on the ground).
Manusmriti proposed a classification of plants in eight major categories. Charaka Samhitā and Sushruta Samhita and the Vaisesikas also present an elaborate taxonomy.
Parashara, the author of Vṛksayurveda (the science of life of trees), classifies plants into Dvimatrka (Dicotyledons) and Ekamatrka (Monocotyledons). These are further classified into Samiganiya (Fabaceae), Puplikagalniya (Rutaceae), Svastikaganiya (Cruciferae), Tripuspaganiya (Cucurbitaceae), Mallikaganiya (Apocynaceae), and Kurcapuspaganiya (Asteraceae).
Important medieval Indian works of plant physiology include the Prthviniraparyam of Udayana, Nyayavindutika of Dharmottara, Saddarsana-samuccaya of Gunaratna, and Upaskara of Sankaramisra.Ancient China
In ancient China, the recorded listing of different plants and herb concoctions for pharmaceutical purposes spans back to at least the Warring States (481 BC-221 BC). Many Chinese writers over the centuries contributed to the written knowledge of herbal pharmaceutics. There was the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) written work of the Huangdi Neijing and the famous pharmacologist Zhang Zhongjing of the 2nd century. There was also the 11th century scientists and statesmen Su Song and Shen Kuo, who compiled treatises on herbal medicine and included the use of mineralogy.Greco-Roman world
Among the earliest of botanical works in Europe, written around 300 B.C., are two large treatises by Theophrastus: On the History of Plants (Historia Plantarum) and On the Causes of Plants. Together these books constitute the most important contribution to botanical science during antiquity and on into the Middle Ages. The Roman medical writer Dioscorides provides important evidence on Greek and Roman knowledge of medicinal plants.
The Kurdish biologist Al-Dinawari (828-896) is considered the founder of Arabic botany for his Book of Plants, in which he described at least 637 plants and discussed plant evolution from its birth to its death, describing the phases of plant growth and the production of flowers and fruit.
In the early 13th century, the Andalusian-Arabian biologist Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati developed an early scientific method for botany, introducing empirical and experimental techniques in the testing, description and identification of numerous materia medica, and separating unverified reports from those supported by actual tests and observations. His student Ibn al-Baitar (d. 1248) wrote a pharmaceutical encyclopedia describing 1,400 plants, foods, and drugs, 300 of which were his own original discoveries. A Latin translation of his work was useful to European biologists and pharmacists in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Early modern botany
In 1665, using an early microscope, Robert Hooke
, and a short time later in living plant tissue. The German Leonhart Fuchs
, the Swiss Conrad von Gesner
, and the British authors Nicholas Culpeper
and John Gerard
published herbals that gave information on the medicinal uses of plants.
During the 18th century systems of classification became deliberately artificial and served only for the purpose of identification. These classifications are comparable to diagnostic keys, where taxa are artificially grouped in pairs by few, easily recognisable characters. The sequence of the taxa in keys is often totally unrelated to their natural or phyletic groupings. In the 18th century an increasing number of new plants had arrived in Europe, from newly discovered countries and the European colonies worldwide, and a larger amount of plants became available for study.
In 1754 Carl von Linné (Carl Linnaeus) divided the plant Kingdom into 25 classes. One, the Cryptogamia, included all the plants with concealed reproductive parts (algae, fungi, mosses and liverworts and ferns).
The increased knowledge on anatomy, morphology and life cycles, lead to the realization that there were more natural affinities between plants, than the sexual system of Linnaeus indicated. Adanson (1763), Jussieu (1789), and Candolle (1819) all proposed various alternative natural systems that were widely followed. The ideas of natural selection as a mechanism for evolution required adaptations to the Candollean system, which started the studies on evolutionary relationships and phylogenetic classifications of plants.
A considerable amount of new knowledge today is being generated from studying model plants
like Arabidopsis thaliana
. This weedy species in the mustard family was one of the first plants to have its genome
sequenced. The sequencing of the rice
) genome and a large international research community have made rice
the de facto cereal
model. Another grass species, Brachypodium distachyon
is also emerging as an experimental model for understanding the genetic, cellular and molecular biology of temperate grasses. Other commercially-important staple foods like wheat
, pearl millet
are also having their genomes sequenced. Some of these are challenging to sequence because they have more than two haploid
(n) sets of chromosomes
, a condition known as polyploidy
, common in the plant kingdom. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii
(a single-celled, green alga
) is another plant model organism that has been extensively studied and provided important insights into cell biology.
In 1998 the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group published a phylogeny of flowering plants based on an analysis of DNA sequences from most families of flowering plants. As a result of this work, major questions such as which families represent the earliest branches in the genealogy of angiosperms are now understood. Investigating how plant species are related to each other allows botanists to better understand the process of evolution in plants.
Subdisciplines of Botany
- Ibn al-Baitar (d. 1248), Andalusian-Arab scientist, botanist, pharmacist, physician, and author of one of the largest botanical encyclopedias.
- Al-Dinawari (828-896), Kurdish botanist, historian, geographer, astronomer, mathematician, and founder of Arabic botany.
- Luther Burbank (1849-1926), American botanist, horticulturist, and a pioneer in agricultural science.
- Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), English botanist and explorer. Second winner of Darwin Medal.
- Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895), English biologist, known as "Darwin's Bulldog" for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Third winner of Darwin Medal.
- Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of Binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.
- Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884), Augustinian priest and scientist, and is often called the father of genetics for his study of the inheritance of traits in pea plants.
- Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati (c. 1200), Andalusian-Arab botanist and agricultural scientist, and a pioneer in experimental botany.
- Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian polymath; a scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician and writer.
- Agustín Stahl (1842-1947), conducted investigations and experiments in the fields of ethnology, and zoology in the Caribbean region.
Popular science style books on Botany
- Attenborough, David The Private Life of Plants, ISBN 0-563-37023-8
- Bellamy, D Bellamy on Botany, ISBN 0-563-10666-2 an accessible and short introduction to various botanical subjects
- Capon, B: Botany for Gardeners ISBN 0-88192-655-8
- Cohen, J. How many people can the earth support? W.W. Norton 1995 ISBN 0-393-31495-2
- Halle, Francis. In praise of plants ISBN 0-88192-550-0. English translation of a poetic advocacy of plants.
- King, J. Reaching for the sun: How plants work ISBN 0-521-58738-7. A fluent introduction to how plants work.
- Pakenham, T: Remarkable Trees of the World (2002) ISBN 0-297-84300-1
- Pakenham, T: Meetings with Remarkable Trees (1996) ISBN 0-297-83255-7
- Pollan, M The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World Bloomsbury ISBN 0-7475-6300-4 Account of the co-evolution of plants and humans
- Thomas, B.A.: The evolution of plants and flowers St Martin's Press 1981 ISBN 0-312-27271-5
- Walker, D. Energy, Plants and Man ISBN 1-870232-05-4 A presentation of the basic concepts of photosynthesis
Academic and Scientific books on Botany
- Buchanan, B.B., Gruissem, W & Jones, R.L. (2000) Biochemistry & molecular biology of plants. American Society of Plant Physiologists ISBN 0-943088-39-9
- Crawford, R. M. M. (1989). Studies in plant survival. Blackwell. ISBN 0-632-01475-X
- Crawley, M. J. (1997). Plant ecology. Blackwell Scientific. ISBN 0-632-03639-7
- Ennos, R and Sheffield, E Plant life, Blackwell Science, ISBN 0-86542-737-2 Introduction to plant biodiversity
- Everitt, J.H.; Lonard, R.L., Little, C.R. (2007). Weeds in South Texas and Northern Mexico. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press. ISBN 0-89672-614-2
- Fitter, A & Hay, R Environmental physiology of plants 3rd edition Sept 2001 Harcourt Publishers, Academic Press ISBN 0-12-257766-3
- Lambers, H., Chapin, F.S. III and Pons, T.L. 1998. Plant Physiological Ecology. Springer-Verlag, New York. ISBN 0-387-98326-0; 2nd compltely revised edition to appear in 2008.
- Lawlor, D.W. (2000) Photosynthesis BIOS ISBN 1-85996-157-6
- Matthews, R. E. F. Fundamentals of plant virology Academic Press,1992.
- Mauseth, J.D.: Botany : an introduction to plant biology. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, ISBN 0-7637-2134-4, A first year undergraduate level textbook
- Morton, A.G. (1981). History of Botanical Science.Academic Press, London. ISBN 0-12-508380-7 (hardback) ISBN 0-12-508382-3 (paperback)
- Raven, P.H, Evert R.H and Eichhorn, S.E: Biology of Plants, Freeman. ISBN 1-57259-041-6, A first year undergraduate level textbook
- Richards, P. W. (1996). The tropical rainforest. 2nd ed. C.U.P. (Pbk) ISBN 0-521-42194-2 £32.50
- Ridge, I. (2002) Plants Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-925548-2
- Salisbury, FB and Ross, CW: Plant physiology Wadsworth publishing company ISBN 0-534-15162-0
- Stace, C. A. A new flora of the British Isles. 2nd ed. C.U.P.,1997. ISBN 0-521-58935-5
- Strange, R. L. Introduction to plant pathology. Wiley-VCH, 2003. ISBN 0-470-84973-8
- Taiz, L. & Zeiger, E. (1998). Plant physiology. 3rd ed. August 2002 Sinauer Associates. ISBN 0-87893-823-0
- Walter, H. (1985). Vegetation of the earth. 3rd rev. ed. Springer.
- Willis, K (2002) The evolution of plants Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-850065-3 £22-99
- Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation
- plant growth and the plant cell from Kimball's Biology Pages
- Botanical Society of America: What is Botany?
- Science and Plants for Schools
- Teaching Documents about Botany Teaching documents, lecture notes and tutorials online: an annotated link directory.
- American society of plant biologists APSB
- Why study Plants? Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
- Botany Photo of the Day
- Anales del Jardín Botánico de Madrid, Journal published by Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC (scientific articles in Spanish, English, and other languages)
- Collectanea Botanica, Journal published by Institut Botànic de Barcelona, CSIC (scientific articles in Spanish, English, and other languages)
Flora and other plant catalogs or databases