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BOTANY. The history of botany in America has several themes: the identification and study of new species discovered in the New World; the transformation of the field away from classification based on morphology, or shape, and toward interest in physiology and, later, genetics; the concomitant specialization and professionalization of botany, a subject that was originally relatively open to amateur practitioners, including women; and the development of American botanical research to rival the initially dominant European centers in England, France, and Germany. The European Renaissance had seen a revival of interest in botany and in ancient botanical works that was aided by the invention of the printing press in 1453, which allowed for a uniformity of plant depictions that hand-drawn manuscripts could not ensure.

Discoveries in the New World

The exploration of the New World, beginning with Columbus's voyage of 1492, was marked by the discovery of new flora and fauna, enthusiastically documented and described by travelers. It was not uncommon for those who wrote about the Americas to describe the plants and animals they had seen in terms of familiar European species, and, indeed, sometimes to mistakenly identify American species as being the same as European species. However, since plants do not move—unlike animals that might offer colonial settlers and travelers only a glimpse before disappearing—many American plants were quickly identified to be distinct from similar species in the Old World. Although Native Americans had developed their own classifications of North American flora, and although Native Americans were often a source of knowledge for colonists learning about the uses of new plants, Europeans tended to impose their own classifications onto the plants of the New World.

At the time, the discovery of new species posed a theological problem for European Christians, as the description of Noah's Ark insisted that Noah had gathered every kind of plant, while the New World contained many plants not part of the European and Asian ecosystems. Questions quickly arose as to whether there had once been a land bridge between the Americas and Eurasia and, even prior to Darwin, whether American plant species were modified variations on European species.

Moreover, some plants from the Americas became quite profitable crops for Europeans, most notably tobacco and chocolate, and many Europeans came over to explore and study the new plants. The first notable publication on the flora of the Americas was by Nicolás Monardes, who never traveled to the New World but wrote on its plants in his 1574 Historia Medicinal, which was translated into English by John Frampton as Joyfull Newes out of the Newe Founde Worlde (1577). The work was primarily concerned with the medicinal benefits of the plants and herbs in the Americas, and, indeed, many of the practitioners of botany in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and even into the nineteenth centuries were also trained in medicine and were interested in the possible new cures available in undocumented American plants.

However, amateurs also made important contributions to the study of American botanicals, examining the plants in local areas, presenting their findings at botanical societies, swapping samples with other botanists and sending plants back to Europe, and cultivating herbaria and arboreta. From colonial times until the mid-nineteenth century, the work of amateurs in finding, studying, and documenting new species was important to the study of botany as a whole. A primary example is Jane Colden (1724–1766), the daughter of the botanist Cadwallader Colden. Tutored only by her father, Jane Colden studied and drew the plants of New York, classifying hundreds of plants, including the gardenia, which she discovered.

Jane Colden was especially renowned for understanding and using the Linnaean classification scheme. Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), a Swedish doctor and botanist, developed his hierarchy throughout his life, his most notable publications including the Systema Naturae (1735), GeneraPlantarum (1737), and Species Plantarum (1753). The Linnaean system, which has since been greatly revised, divided animals and plants into kingdoms, classes, orders, genera, and species, all written in Latin. Each species was given a two-part (binomial) name of genus and species.


Linnaeus's classification system greatly influenced eighteenth-century botany in America. Some of his students came over to categorize the species of the New World, most significantly Pehr Kalm, who traveled through the Great Lakes, the Mid-Atlantic colonies, and Canada, bringing back samples. Meanwhile, colonial settlers like John Bartram (1699–1777), Cadwallader Colden (1688–1776), Humphry Marshall (1722–1801), and others worked to incorporate the local flora into the work of Linnaeus, which provided a new sense of order for those working on studying the plants and animals of the overwhelmingly diverse and novel New World.

But although the Linnaean system was helpful, it could not survive the strain of the thousands of new discoveries in the Americas and Asia. Plant classifications based on reproduction resulted in categories that contained obviously widely diverging plants. In particular, Linnaeus was challenged by French botanists who emphasized grouping plants by shape (morphology). Antoine Laurent de Jussieu's (1748–1836) 1789 Genera Plantarum prompted the reorganizing of classification by appearance and added levels to the taxonomy.

The Jussieu modifications quickly, but not uncontroversially, became added to botanical literature, although the Linnaean system continued to be used in many prominent American publications through the early nineteenth century. Meanwhile, French botanists made other contributions to the study of North American plants. André Michaux (1746–1802) and his son, François André (1770–1855), traveled through much of eastern North America, from Canada to the Bahamas, observing and collecting. The end result of their massive researches was the 1803 Flora Boreali-Americana, the first large-scale compilation of North American plants. The work of the Michaux drew, not uncritically, on the reforms of Jussieu.

Nineteenth-Century American Botanists

The Michaux volumes encouraged revisions, the first coming in 1814 with the Flora Americae Septentrionalis of Frederick Pursh (1774–1820), which incorporated findings from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and thus contained information about western America. Pursh's contemporary, Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859), was born and died in England, but his interest, education, and work in botany were conducted primarily in America, where he explored the south and west, collecting and publishing his findings. Although he is known for his extensive discoveries, Nuttall also wrote the 1818 Genera of the North American Plants and 1827 Introduction to Systematic and Physiological Botany. His work is symbolic of a turn from European-dominated study of North American plants toward American specialists in native species. Although Americans had always played important roles in the discovery, cataloging, and study of local plants, the early and mid-nineteenth century saw the burgeoning of work by American botanists, both amateur and professional. Meanwhile, the American government sponsored expeditions to find and collect plant species in the less studied areas of the south and west of America.

Among the American botanists of the early nineteenth century, the most famous are Jacob Bigelow (1786–1879), Amos Eaton (1776–1842), John Torrey (1796–1873), and Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859). Bigelow, who was trained as a doctor, was primarily interested in the medicinal uses of plants, but he also surveyed the flora of Boston for his Florula Bostoniensis (1814). Additionally, he did work in physiology, which was already a topic of considerable interest in the first decades of the century and would come to dominate morphology in botanical concerns by the end of the nineteenth century.

Amos Eaton gained his reputation primarily through his Manual of Botany (first published in 1817, but revised and enlarged through many editions), which became the basic botanical teaching text of the first half of the nineteenth century. Eaton, who also worked in geology and chemistry, encouraged the participation of women in science, although indeed women were already quite well represented in botany, which he noted. In part this botanical activity by women was due to the fact that contemporary botany required little laboratory equipment: discoveries could be made by anyone who was diligent and well read in botany, and so graduate degrees or access to laboratories—both largely denied at the time to women—were unnecessary to botanical work. However, although Eaton emphasized field work, the most accessible kind of botanical study, he was also part of a trend toward including laboratory experiments.

Eaton's teaching and text were very influential, perhaps most importantly in botany upon John Torrey, whom Eaton met while serving a prison sentence for forgery—a charge he denied. Torrey was the son of a man who worked for the State Prison of New York, and Eaton gave the young Torrey lessons in a variety of scientific subjects, including botany. While Torrey went on to have a career that included work in medicine, geology, mineralogy, and chemistry, he is primarily remembered for his botanical work, cataloging New York flora, collaborating with Asa Gray, creating a renowned herbarium, promoting government-financed expeditions, utilizing—albeit inconsistently—the classification work of John Lindley, and serving as the first president of the Torrey Botanical Society, a group of prominent amateur and professional botanists in New York. The Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Society, which began publication in 1870, is the oldest American botanical journal.

Although Bigelow, Eaton, Torrey, Nuttall, and others did much to encourage and expand knowledge of native plants, it is Asa Gray (1810–1888) who takes center stage in the history of American botany in the nineteenth century. Gray published A Flora of North America (1838–1843) with Torrey, which drew on the Lindley classification system, which was a development from Jussieu's "natural system." Gray's textbooks replaced those of Eaton, and the botanical research center he set up at Harvard cultivated many of the next generation of botanists and encouraged work in anatomy, cellular structure, and physiology, realms that were dominated by German botanists. Interested in East Asian flora as well as that of North America, Gray quickly supported Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory as expounded in the 1859 Origin of Species because he had noticed regional variation himself. This drew him into conflict with another Harvard professor, the zoologist Louis Agassiz, who was a prominent anti-Darwinian. However, evolution soon became a guiding principle in botanical study.

Theoretical Research

The twentieth century saw the rise of American research devoted to the theoretical aspects of botany, areas in which America had typically lagged behind Europe, as American botanists became more involved in experiments, physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics, and less involved in the discovery of new species. While Darwin could not provide an explanation for the origins of variation and the inheritance of characteristics, Gregor Mendel (1822–1884), a Moravian monk, offered hereditary principles based on experiments with pea plants in his Versuche über Pflanzenhybriden (Experiments in plant hybridization; 1865, 1869). Although Mendel's research went unacknowledged until 1900, when rediscovered it was profoundly influential in turning the research edge of botany, which was already moving from morphology to physiology, toward genetics as well. In addition, during the first half of the twentieth century, ecological research, which tied together the plants and animals of a habitat, began to thrive, as evidenced by the work of Henry Chandler Cowles (1869–1939) and others. Mathematics was put to use in the study of plant and animal populations, and in 1942 Raymond Lindeman (1915–1942) demonstrated the "trophic-dynamic aspect" of ecology to show how energy moves from individual to individual through a local environment.

Since the 1960s, plant physiology has looked more to understanding the relationship between plants and their surrounding environment: studying plant reactions to environmental change, both with a look to the evolutionary mechanisms involved and concerning the ongoing degradation of the global environment.

Moreover, the introduction of genetic research has prompted yet another change in taxonomy, with the rise of phylogenetics, in which variation is traced to the genetic level, allowing botanists to reorganize classification by evolutionary relatedness, replacing previous categories. Relatedly, work on population genetics, genetic engineering, and genomics (the study of all of the genes in a DNA sequence) has blossomed since the 1960s, a no-table recent achievement being the completion of the Arabadopsis thaliana genome—the first plant genome completely sequenced—in 2000. Although some of the work was completed by American researchers and partly funded by the American government, the project represents the prominent international collaborations that are shaping botany today, with aid also provided by the European Union and the Japanese government and research carried out in America, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan.


Evans, Howard Ensign. Pioneer Naturalists: The Discovery and Naming of North American Plants and Animals. New York: Henry Holt, 1993.

Greene, Edward Lee. Landmarks of Botanical History. Edited by Frank N. Egerton. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983.

Humphrey, Harry Baker. Makers of North American Botany. New York: Ronald Press, 1961.

Keeney, Elizabeth B. The Botanizers: Amateur Scientists in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Mauseth, James D. Botany: An Introduction to Plant Biology. 2d ed. Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 1998.

Morton, A. G. History of Botanical Science: An Account of the Development of Botany from Ancient Times to the Present Day. New York: Academic Press, 1981.

Reveal, James L. Gentle Conquest: The Botanical Discovery of North America with Illustrations from the Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: Starwood, 1992.

Stuckey, Ronald L., ed. Development of Botany in Selected Regions of North America before 1900. New York: Arno Press, 1978.

Caroline R.Sherman

See alsoBotanical Gardens .

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BOTANY. From antiquity into the late eighteenth century, the medical utility of plants provided the primary motive for studying them. However, from the late fifteenth century on, other reasons for the investigation of plants became increasingly important and gave botany a disciplinary and professional identity distinct from medicine. These included: explicating classical texts; portraying plants accurately in works of art; collecting rarities for natural history cabinets, gardens, and museums; exploiting natural resources; glorifying the wonders of creation; and satisfying the curiosity of natural philosophers. The primary thrust of botany in early modern Europe was plant identification, description, and classification, an effort that culminated in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when systematics assimilated morphology, reproduction, anatomy, and geography.


While editing the ancient authorities on medicinal plantsPliny's Natural History and Dioscorides' De Materia medica (On the materials of medicine)in the late fifteenth century, Italian humanists looked at living plants to resolve textual problems. In contrast to medieval doctors' dependence on illiterate herb-gatherers, medical humanists in the early sixteenth century strove to emulate Dioscorides' and Galen's firsthand experience with medicinal plants.

The lack of a shared vocabulary for plant description and nomenclature was circumvented by the addition of accurate, detailed, naturalistic woodcut illustrations to printed herbalsa key innovation introduced by Otto Brunfels's (14881534) Herbarum Vivae Eicones (Living images of plants, 1530) and Leonhard Fuchs's (15011534) Historia Stirpium (Notable commentaries on the history of plants, 1542), and imitated by virtually every herbal thereafter. The failure of Leonardo da Vinci's (14521519) superb drawings and observations of plant formsunfinished at his death in 1519to influence early modern botany underscores the scientific consequences of coupling the technology of printing to skill in depicting plants.

Beginning in the 1530s, medical schools at Padua, Pisa, Basel, and Montpellier established chairs of botany, required lectures, demonstrations, and field trips, and built botanical gardens. Students of Luca Ghini (15001556), professor of botany at Bologna and Pisa, spread his technique of preserving pressed, dried specimens throughout Europe.


The humanist physicians' desire to prescribe the precise plants named by classical authorities spurred Pietro Andrea Mattioli (15011578), a Habsburg court physician, to prepare a voluminous illustrated commentary on Dioscorides (first edition, 1544), the best-selling herbal of the period. Its revisions and enlargements helped Renaissance botanists realize that they knew far more plants than their ancient counterparts.

The immense "universal" herbals of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centurypublished or projected by major botanists from most European countries, including William Turner (c. 15081568), Conrad Gessner (15161565), Ulisse Aldrovandi (15221605), Jacques Dalechamps (D'Aléchamps, Dalechampius, 15131588), Charles de L'Escluse (Clusius, 15261609), Matthias de L'Obel (Lobelius, 15381616), Rembert Dodoens (Dodonaeus, 15171585), Jean Bauhin (15411612), Caspar Bauhin (15601624), and John Gerard (15641637)represented efforts to describe both long-familiar plants and the flood of new species. Plants entered European gardens and herbaria through the voyages of discovery and conquest and by exploration of local habitats. Informal networks of professional and amateur enthusiasts surmounted religious and political divisions and fostered a rapid international exchange of specimens, books, pictures, and observations.

To organize their entries, most herbals used a pragmatic mixture of systems, grouping some plants by their uses, others by similarities of form or habitats. Some herbals, emblem books, and books on natural magicreflecting astrology, Paracelsan chemistry, and the search for symbolic significance in naturestressed plants' hidden, inner properties, manifested by distinctive external "signatures." Appealing to Aristotle and Theophrastus's philosophical emphasis on growth and reproduction as the essential characteristics of the vegetative soul, Andrea Cesalpino (Caesalpinus, 15241603) stressed resemblances of seeds and fruits in grouping plants in his influential De Plantis Libri XVI (On plants, 1583).


Caspar Bauhin (15601624), professor of botany and anatomy at Basel, took the first critical step toward a single botanical lexicon of plant names: his Pinax Theatri Botanici (Pinax, i.e., Index, for the botanical realm, 1623) summarized the synonyms and literature for some six thousand plantsten times the number in Dioscoridesand assigned them brief descriptive Latin names that emphasized their affinities. (Pinax remains an indispensable guide to identifying plants in earlier works.) An equally important step came from Joachim Jung's (15871657) astute analysis of plant parts, which reached John Ray (16271705)English cleric, naturalist, natural philosopher, and fellow of the Royal Societyby 1660 in manuscript. Between 1660 and 1704, Ray linked taxonomy, nomenclature, morphology, and bibliography in a series of strictly botanical books that brought together first-hand accounts of many previously undescribed plants, new technical terminology (such as petal, calyx, cotyledon), close observations of growth and form, and deep reflection on method.

Ray spelled out the combinations of essential morphological features that defined natural classes of plants. While acknowledging natural groupings at least at the genus/species level (categories that went back to Aristotle), the French botanist, J. P. de Tournefort (16561708), countered with a convenient and widely adopted artificial system of classification based primarily on the disposition of flower parts.

The chemical composition of plants and the form and function of plant parts, previously regarded as unimportant, came under the scrutiny of botanists trained in iatrochemistrynotably Guy de la Brosse (15861641), the founder of the Paris Jardin des Plantes in 1640and in microscopy. Robert Hooke (16351703) and Nehemiah Grew (16411712) in England and Marcello Malphighi (16281694) in Italy reported to the Royal Society in the late seventeenth century on their experimental investigations of plant cells and tissue structures. Stephen Hales (16771761) in the 1720s and Joseph Priestley (17331804) and Jan Ingen-Housz (17301799) half a century later devised chemical and physical experiments to measure plant nutrition and metabolism.

The demonstration of sexual reproduction in flowering plantsin an obscure 1694 publication, De Sexu Plantarum Epistola (On the sex of plants), by Rudolf Jacob Camerer (Camerarius), professor of medicine at Tübingenboth resolved a longstanding question and provided the brilliant Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (17071778) with the basis of a taxonomic system that overrode all earlier proposals.

Believing that God had created species and genera, Linnaeus embedded their essential characters in his binomial nomenclaturehenceforth giving the terms "genus" and "species" distinctive scientific meanings. Although Linnaeus clearly recognized larger natural groupings (plant families were methodically elucidated by the French botanists Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu [17481836] and Michel Adanson [17271806] in the late eighteenth century), his Species Plantarum (Species of plants, 1753) constructed a deliberately artificial system of classification, easily understood by anyoneeven "ladies"who could count the sexual parts of flowers. By imposing a common language and rational organization on the plant kingdom, Linnaeus made botany both a symbol of divine order and the epitome of Enlightenment science.

See also Aldrovandi, Ulisse ; Biology ; Boerhaave, Herman ; Enlightenment ; Gardens and Parks ; Gessner, Conrad ; Hooke, Robert ; Leonardo da Vinci ; Linnaeus, Carl ; Malpighi, Marcello ; Medicine ; Museums ; Natural History ; Natural Philosophy ; Nature ; Paracelsus ; Priestley, Joseph ; Ray, John ; Scientific Illustration ; Scientific Method.


Primary Sources

Bauhinus, Casparus. Pinax Theatri Botanici. Basel, 1623.

Brunfelsius, Otho. Herbarum Vivae Eicones. Strasbourg, 1530.

Camerarius, Rudolphus Jacobus. De Sexu Plantarum Epistola. Tübingen, 1694.

Caesalpinus, Andreas. De Plantis Libri XVI. Florence, 1583.

Linnaeus, Carl. Species Plantarum. London, 19571959. A facsimile of the first edition, 1753.

Meyer, Frederick G., Emily Emmart Trueblood, and John L. Heller. The Great Herbal of Leonhart Fuchs: Vol. 1, Commentary; Vol. 2, De Historia Stirpium Commentarii Insignes, 1542: Facsimile. Stanford, 1999.

Secondary Sources

Arber, Agnes. Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution: A Chapter in the History of Botany, 14701670. 3rd ed. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1986. Facsimile reprint of second edition (1938), with an introduction and annotations by William T. Stearn.

Findlen, Paula. Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy. Berkeley, 1994.

Koerner, Lisbet. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Cambridge, Mass., 1999.

Morton, A. G. History of Botanical Science: An Account of the Development of Botany from Ancient Times to the Present Day. London and New York, 1981.

Reeds, Karen Meier. Botany in Medieval and Renaissance Universities. New York, 1991.

Karen Reeds

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54. Botany

See also 44. BIOLOGY ; 167. FLOWERS ; 188. GRASSES ; 241. LEAVES ; 319. PLANTS ; 401. TREES .

the branch of systematic botany that studies grasses. Also called graminology. agrostologist , n. agrostologic , agrostological , adj.
the branch of botany that studies seaweeds and algae. Also called phycology . algologist , n. algological , adj.
the branch of botany that studies the cultivation of grapes. ampelographer , n.
an abnormal change in the form of a plant that falsely gives it the appearance of a different species. anamorphic , adj.
the state or condition of certain flowers or plants of having different dimensions along different axes. See also 316. PHYSICS . anisotropic , adj.
the branch of botany that studies brambles. batologist , n.
in botany, the condition of having two planes of symmetry at right angles to one another. bisymmetric , bisymmetrical , adj.
a major division of biology that studies all plant life. Also called phytology. botanist, n. botanical, adj.
the branch of botany that studies mosses and liverworts. bryologist, n.
the pollination process of figs, in which fig wasps, attracted by the caprifigs, or inedible fig-fruit, pollinate the figs. caprificator, n.
a person who specializes in the study of sedges.
the branch of botany that studies the structure of fruits and seeds. carpologist, n. carpological, adj.
abnormal coloration in parts of a plant that are usually green. See also 92. COLOR .
one proficient in cryptogamic botany, i.e., the study of plants, as ferns and mosses, that have no true flowers or seeds.
the branch of botany that studies trees. dendrologist, n. dendrologic, dendrological, adj.
the study of the character, ecology, and causes of plant diseases, as blight, which destroy a large number of susceptible plants in a large area simultaneously. epiphytologist, n.
a specialty in botany that studies the lore and uses of plants as illustrative of the customs of a (usually primitive) society. ethnobotanist, n. ethnobotanic, ethnobotanical, adj.
the study of ferns. Cf. pteridology. filicologist. n.
the scientific study of fungi. fungologist, n. fungological, adj.
agrostology. graminologist, n. graminologic, graminological, adj.
Obsolete, a descriptive botanist. See also 319. PLANTS .
herbarian, herbarist
Obsolete, a herbalist.
Obsolete, botany.
a collection of dried plants, assembled and arranged for botanical study.
the study of lichens. lichenologist, n. lichenologic, lichenological, adj.
a system of botanical nomenclature following the binomial procedures established by Swedish botanist Carl von Linné. Linnaean, Linnean, adj.
the study of mosses. muscologist, n.
1. the branch of botany that studies fungi.
2. a catalogue of the fungi found in a specific area. mycologist, n. mycologie, mycological, adj.
the branch of botany or horticulture that studies orchids. orchidologist , n.
a scientific description of seaweed. phycographic , adj.
algology. phycologist , n.
any of the basic divisions of the plant or animal kingdom. Cf. phylon .
the science and history of the development of plants. Also phytogeny. phytogenetic , phytogenetical , adj.
the study of plants according to their geographical distribution. phytogeographer , n. phytogeographic, phytogeographical , adj.
the branch of botany that studies plant measurement and plant taxonomy. phytographer, phytographist , n. phytographic, phytographical , adj.
the branch of ecology that studies the interrelations of plants and plant communities. phytosociologist , n. phytosociologic, phytosociological . adj.
1. the branch of botany that studies the cultivation of fruit.
2. the science of growing, storing, and processing fruit. pomologist , n.
the systematic description of ferns.
the branch of botany that studies ferns. Cf. filicology . pteridologist , n.
the theory that lichens are parasitic fungi growing upon algae, first advanced by the German botanist S. Schwendener.
the study of the sphagnum mosses. sphagnologist , n.
selective breeding to develop strains with particular characteristics. stirpicultural , adj.
production by union of elements that were formerly separate. symphyogenetic , adj.
a botanical or zoological name in which two terms are combined, the generic name and the specific, with both being the same. (a practice no longer approved by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.)
a branch of mycology that studies rusts. uredinologist , n.

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Botany is a branch of biology that deals with plant life. It is the study of the structure and the vital processes of plants, including photosynthesis, respiration, and plant nutrition. Among the plants studied are flowering plants, trees, shrubs, and vines. Specialized areas within the field of botany include the study of mosses, algae, lichens, ferns, and fungi.

Divisions of botanical study

Biochemists study the effects of soil, temperature, and light on plants. Plant morphologists study the evolution and development of leaves, roots, and stems, with a special focus on the tissues at various points on stems (called buds) where the cells have the ability to divide. Plant pathologists investigate the causes of plant disease and the effect that pathogens, such as bacteria and fungi, have on forest trees, vegetable crops, grain, and ornamental plants. Economic botanists study the impact of plants as they relate to human needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Plant geneticists study the arrangement and behavior of genes (the physical units of heredity) in plants in order to develop crops that are resistant to diseases and pests. Fossil plants are studied by paleobotanists (pronounced pale-ee-oh-BOT-uh-nists) to determine the earliest appearances of various groups of plants and the conditions under which they existed.

Words to Know

Binomial nomenclature: System of naming plants and animals in which each species is given a two-part name, the first being the genus and the second being the species.

Fossil: Plant or animal remains or impressions from past geologic ages that are preserved in rock.

Gene: A section of a DNA molecule that carries instructions for the formation, functioning, and transmission of specific traits from one generation to another.

Genus: A category of classification made up of species sharing similar characteristics.

Mendelian laws of inheritance: Laws of heredity set forth by Gregor Mendel based on his experiments in breeding pea plants.

Pathogen: A disease-causing organism.

Photosynthesis: Process by which plants capture sunlight and use it to manufacture their own food.

Potato blight: A disease of potatoes caused by a fungus.

Primary producer: Organisms that manufacture their own food from nonliving substances, usually by photosynthesis.

Transpiration: The loss of water from the surfaces of leaves and stems of plants.


Plants and animals depend on one another for their survival. Plants are primary producers that, through photosynthesis, provide nutrients that animals use to carry out vital body processes. Animals, in turn, contribute to plant distribution, plant pollination, and every other aspect of plant growth and development. Together with zoology (the study of animals), botany is an important aspect of the study of ecology (the interrelationship of living things and their environments).

History of botany

The field of botany began to take form with the work of Greek philosopher Aristotle (384322 b.c.), the first person to classify plants.

He divided them into categories according to size and appearance. Many years later, Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (17071778) contributed greatly to the study of botany by devising a comprehensive classification system for plants that is still used today. In 1753, Linnaeus published his Species Plantarum, in which he classified every known species of plant according to its structure and its similarity to other species. He also gave each plant a two-part name (called binomial nomenclature), consisting of the genus (the biological classification between family and species) and a second descriptive word.

The first scientific experiment in plant nutrition was conducted by Belgian physician Jan Baptista van Helmont (15771644). In growing a tree using only water as nourishment, van Helmont proved that the soil in which the tree was planted was not the only source of plant nutrients. English physiologist Stephen Hales (16771761) studied plant transpiration (loss of water from the surfaces of plant leaves and stems) and is credited with establishing plant physiology as a science.

During the nineteenth century, advances were made in the study of plant diseases, spurred by the potato blight in Ireland in the 1840s. Caused by a fungus that destroyed the entire potato crop, the potato blight resulted in over one million deaths from starvation and led to a mass migration of Irish to America.

The modern science of plant genetics developed from the work of Gregor Mendel (18221884), an Austrian botanist and monk. His breeding experiments with pea plants provided information on the nature of genes and their role in the inheritance of characteristics between generations. He formulated the Mendelian laws of inheritance, which were applied after 1900 to plant breeding.

Research in botany includes developing new and hardier species of crops, controlling plant diseases, discovering new medicines from plants, and studying the effects of human intervention (such as pollution and logging) on plant life. Exploring ways of maintaining an ecological balance that continues to sustain both plant and animal life is an important subject of study as well.

[See also Plant ]

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Soil, plant fragments, and pollen, maybe in trace amounts, are often left behind at the scene of a crime. Most people entering a house will bring in some soil or mud from outside. Even if they take off their shoes, their clothing may contain tiny smears of mud where they have been splashed or come into contact with a surface. Tools like shovels might also contain significant traces of mud. An expert in botany, the science of plants, can often help unravel the identity and significance of such trace evidence . Soil and mud, in particular, are often present in footprints or tire tracks and can help link a suspect to the scene of a crime. The pattern of mud on clothing can also be significant.

Soil is a mixture of mineral, plant, and animal matter that is often characteristic of a particular area and may reveal something about a suspect's movements. Often soil also contains some man-made products such as glass or paint. The forensic scientist is interested in the patterning of soil and mud staining and how it might relate to the circumstances of a crime. For instance, if an assault takes place out-of-doors, then the mud staining of a suspect's clothes could naturally be revealing.

The visual and chemical analysis of a soil trace can often link it to a particular geographical region. This, in turn, can help to track the movements of a suspect if he or she has traveled to the area where the crime was committed. If a body has been moved for burial, then soil or plant material in a vehicle could be important.

The forensic botanist, first with the naked eye, looks at any soil or mud and assesses its color and texture. Microscopic examination reveals more about the content of the soil and the range of particle sizes it contains. Large samples might be sieved to separate them into different portions, depending upon particle sizes. Then these can be further examined to give more information.

Chemical analysis using advanced techniques like atomic absorption spectroscopy will give the mineral composition of a soil sample, such as chalk or clay, which is often characteristic of the area it came from. The acidity of the soil is also measured, as this varies greatly with place of origin. Thermal analysis of the soil, heating it in an oven till it decomposes, is also often characteristic of its origin. There may be dramatic color change or the soil may absorb heat in a characteristic way.

Suspects and victims also, often unknowingly, carry various items of plant debris on their bodies and clothes such as flower petals, seeds, and pollen. These are often native to a specific area. For instance, if pine needles are found around a victim who seems to have perished in an area where there are no evergreens, it may tell the investigators something important and specific about the suspect and his or her movements. The botanist can investigate what species carries these particular needles and so help link the perpetrator to a specific source.

Pollen grains are tiny and are not usually noticed by those involved in a crime. Pollen is often found almost everywherein hair, on surfaces, and on paper. If pollen is found on the envelope of a threatening letter or a ransom note, for instance, it may provide a valuable link to the suspect. There are pollen databases which can show the investigators where a particular pollen sample may have come from.

When a body is left out in the open or in a shallow grave, plant debris, including leaves and needles, may cover the remains. Analysis of this growth can often help establish the time and season of death and burial.

In one British case from 1887, a 15-year-old boy was found drowned in a ditch. Footprints led down the bank of the ditch. Sand grains were found on the suspect's trousers and matched to the ditch. Mud on the clothing of the suspect's daughter, who turned out to be an accomplice, was examined microscopically. Hairs from the seeds of the groundsel plant were found. This mud matched samples taken from the part of the ditch where the body was found, but not mud found from other areas. If botany helped solve a case so long ago, it can be even more powerful today with modern analytical techniques.

see also Geology; Geographic profiling; Minerals; Pollen and pollen rain; Soils; Spores.

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botany, science devoted to the study of plants. Botany, microbiology, and zoology together compose the science of biology. Humanity's earliest concern with plants was with their practical uses, i.e., for fuel, clothing, shelter, and, particularly, food and drugs. The establishment of botany as an intellectual science came in classical times. In the 4th cent. BC, Aristotle and his pupil Theophrastus worked out descriptions and principles of plant types and functions that remained the prototype for botanical observation for 1,000 years. During the stagnant period of the Middle Ages the knowledge of the classical scholars was preserved in the European monasteries and by the Arabs in the Middle East. In the 16th and 17th cent. an interest in botany revived in Europe and spread to America by way of European conquest and colonization. At that time both botany and the art of gardening (see garden) stressed the utility of plants for man; the popular herbal, describing the medical uses of plants, mingled current superstition with fact. In the late 17th and the 18th cent. the influence of the ancient scholars was modified by the growth of scientific botany. Through careful and accurate observation the sciences of taxonomy and morphology (see biology) were developed, providing the basis for the first systematic classification of organisms, chiefly in the work of Linnaeus. With the microscope came the development of plant anatomy and research on the cell. New knowledge of the principles of chemistry and physics spurred experimentation in plant physiology, notably the early work of Stephen Hales on the sources and manufacture of plant food, which led to studies of such basic processes as photosynthesis. Modern botany has expanded into all areas of biology, including molecular biology, and has developed such specialties as ethnobotany, which studies the use of plants in preindustrial societies. Perhaps most significant was the work of Mendel in plant breeding at the middle (1859) of the 19th cent., from which grew the science of genetics. Allied with experimental botany are the various practical aspects that have developed into specific scientific disciplines (e.g., agriculture, agronomy, horticulture, and forestry).

See J. von Sachs, History of Botany (tr. 1890, repr. 1967); C. L. Wilson and W. E. Loomis, Botany (4th ed. 1967); C. B. Lees, Gardens, Plants and Man (1970); A. G. Morton, History of Botanical Science (1981).

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A botanist is a scientist who studies plants. The study of plants encompasses their evolution, classification, anatomy, physiology, development, genetics, diversity, ecology, and economic uses. Professional botanists typically specialize in one of these areas, or more likely in a smaller subspecialty, such as the evolution of the angiosperms (flowering plants), the biochemistry of photosynthesis, or the cultivation of roses for the wholesale market. Botanists may be employed by universities as professors or researchers; by the government to (for instance) conduct field studies of plant diversity in a national park or to compare crop planting systems; by agricultural industries to perform research on crops or to breed new types of plant varieties; or by pharmaceutical companies to discover new sources of plant-based drugs in the tropical rain forest, or to develop them in the lab from plant sources.

Botanists may work in laboratories or greenhouses performing experiments, or they may work outside in fields, forests, or other plant habitats. For many botanists, the opportunity to work with plants in their natural settings is a principal attraction of the discipline, along with an intellectual curiosity about how plants work, or a desire to improve their usefulness to humans. A career in botany requires at least a bachelor's degree from a four-year college. This would enable someone to begin work as a research assistant, for instance. Most professional botanists entering the field today earn a Ph.D., which gives them the qualifications and credentials to conduct research or manage a plant breeding program, for example. To pursue botany as a major in college, high school students should take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and math, and would benefit from getting hands-on experience with plants, either by gardening, farming, working in a nursery or greenhouse, or simply exploring the natural world around them.

see also Angiosperms; Agronomist; Anatomy of Plants; Conifers; Evolution of Plants; Photosynthesis; Plant

Richard Robinson


Careers in Botany from the Botanical Society of America. <>.

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Botany is the study of plants. Plants make up a large fraction of all living organisms, and the study of botany is equally broad, including the physiology , genetics, anatomy, and morphology of plants, as well as their taxonomy, evolution, ecological relationships, and the many ways in which plants are used by people.

Like other scientific endeavors, the field of botany has grown immensely during the last decades of the twentieth century. It might also be said to have shrunk, however, as botanists have more carefully defined what a plant is. Fungi, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria, which were once classified as plants, are now placed in other kingdoms. Nonetheless, many who study these organisms still consider themselves botanists, and many university botany departments continue to include these organisms as topics of study within their departments.

Plants have an enormous influence on our lives through their use as foods, fibers, and fuels, as well as their critical role in recycling the gases of the atmosphere. More complete knowledge of botany improves our understanding of these influences, allowing us to use them more effectively, and more wisely.

see also Ecology, History of; Evolution of Plants, History of; Physiology, History of.

Richard Robinson


Raven, Peter H., Ray F. Evert, and Susan E. Eichhorn. Biology of Plants, 6th ed. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1999.

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bot·a·ny / ˈbätn-ē/ • n. the scientific study of plants, including their physiology, structure, genetics, ecology, distribution, classification, and economic importance. ∎  the plant life of a particular region, habitat, or geological period: the botany of North America. DERIVATIVES: bo·tan·ic / bəˈtanik/ adj. bot·a·nist / -ist/ n.

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botany Study of plants and algae, including their classification, structure, physiology, reproduction, and evolution. The discipline used to be studied in two halves: lower (non-flowering) plants, which included the algae (now in the kingdom Protoctista), moss and ferns; and higher (seed-bearing) plants, including most flowers, trees and shrubs.

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botany The scientific study of plants, including their anatomy, morphology, physiology, biochemistry, taxonomy, cytology, genetics, ecology, evolution, and geographical distribution.

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botanist •Hispanist • Zenist • pyrotechnist •Jainist • liberationist •machinist, tambourinist •hygienist • trampolinist •mandolinist, violinist •unwitnessed •misogynist, philogynist •Stalinist • Hellenist • feminist •illuminist • determinist • Leninist •alpinist • larcenist • Latinist •Byzantinist • Calvinist • chauvinist •Darwinist •honest, monist •corniced, hornist •trombonist • vibraphonist •sousaphonist •balloonist, bassoonist, cartoonist, lampoonist •opportunist • communist • pianist •Fabianist • accordionist • alienist •unionist • Zionist • urbanist •hedonist • modernist • telephonist •symphonist •saxophonist, xylophonist •agonist, antagonist, protagonist •tobogganist • organist • revisionist •diffusionist, exclusionist, fusionist, illusionist •religionist • tobacconist • mechanist •Africanist • Vaticanist • colonist •Mammonist •harmonist, shamanist •humanist • Germanist • canonist •expansionist • onanist • timpanist •accompanist • ironist • Saxonist •Jansenist • arsonist • abstractionist •expressionist, impressionist, progressionist, secessionist •insurrectionist, perfectionist, projectionist, protectionist, rejectionist, vivisectionist •interventionist • receptionist •accommodationist, associationist, collaborationist, conservationist, creationist, deviationist, educationist, federationist, isolationist, preservationist, representationist, restorationist, revelationist, salvationist, situationist, vacationist •abolitionist, coalitionist, demolitionist, exhibitionist, intuitionist, nutritionist, partitionist, prohibitionist, requisitionist, traditionist •fictionist, restrictionist •abortionist, contortionist, extortionist •Confucianist, devolutionist, elocutionist, evolutionist, revolutionist •constructionist, percussionist •obstructionist, reductionist •excursionist •Neoplatonist, Platonist, satanist •botanist •earnest, Ernest

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botanyLéonie, peony •Tierney •Briony, bryony, Hermione •tourney • ebony • Albany •chalcedony • Alderney •Persephone, Stephanie, telephony •antiphony, epiphany, polyphony, tiffany •symphony •cacophony, homophony, theophany, Zoffany •euphony • agony • garganey •Antigone •cosmogony, mahogany, theogony •balcony • Gascony • Tuscany •calumny •felony, Melanie, miscellany •villainy • colony •Chamonix, salmony, scammony, Tammany •harmony •anemone, Emeny, hegemony, lemony, Yemeni •alimony, palimony •agrimony • acrimony •matrimony, patrimony •ceremony • parsimony • antimony •sanctimony • testimony • simony •Romany • Germany • threepenny •timpani • sixpenny • tuppenny •accompany, company •barony • saffrony • tyranny •synchrony • irony • saxony • cushiony •Anthony • betony •Brittany, dittany, litany •botany, cottony, monotony •gluttony, muttony •Bethany • oniony • raisiny •attorney, Burney, Czerny, Ernie, ferny, gurney, journey, Verny

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