Botany



Botany is the branch of biology that deals with plants. It involves the study of the structure, properties, and biochemical processes of all forms of plant life, including trees. As a branch of biology, it is also sometimes referred to as plant science(s) or plant biology. Botany covers a wide range of scientific disciplines that study the growth, reproduction, metabolism, development, diseases, and evolution of plants.

Also included within its scope are plant classification and the study of plant diseases and of the interactions of plants with their physical environment. Over the years various specialized branches of botany have developed, and the principles and findings of botany, moreover, have provided the base on which depend such applied plant sciences as agriculture, horticulture, and forestry.

Botany originated as Herbalism, the study and use of plants for their medicinal properties. The early recorded history of botany includes many ancient writings and plant classifications. Examples of early botanical works have been found in ancient sacred texts from India dating back to before 1100 BC, archaic Avestan writings, and works from China before it was unified in 221 BC.

Modern botany traces its roots back to Ancient Greece, specifically to Theophrastus (c. 371287 BC), a student of Aristotle who invented and described many of its principles and is widely regarded in the scientific community as the "Father of Botany".His major works, Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants, constitute the most important contributions to botanical science until the Middle Ages, almost seventeen centuries after they were written.

These professionals, in seeking plants useful in medicine, began seriously to observe plants themselves, as reflected in the woodcuts with which their herbal books were illustrated.




16th Century


In mid-16th century, "botanical gardens" were founded in a number of Italian universities - the Padua botanical garden in 1545 is usually considered to be the first which is still in its original location. These gardens continued the practical value of earlier "physic gardens", often associated with monasteries, in which plants were cultivated for medical use. They supported the growth of botany as an academic subject. Lectures were given about the plants grown in the gardens and their medical uses demonstrated. Botanical gardens came much later to northern Europe; the first in England was the University of Oxford Botanic Garden in 1621. Throughout this period, botany remained firmly subordinate to medicine.

German physician Leonhart Fuchs (15011566) was one of "the three German fathers of botany", along with theologian Otto Brunfels (1489-1534) and physician Hieronymus Bock (1498-1554) (also called Hieronymus Tragus). Fuchs and Brunfels broke away from the tradition of copying earlier works to make original observations of their own. Bock created his own system of plant classification.

Physician Valerius Cordus (15151544) authored a botanically and pharmacologically important herbal Historia Plantarum in 1544 and a pharmacopoeia of lasting importance, the Dispensatorium in 1546.[20] Naturalist Conrad von Gesner (1516-1565) and herbalist John Gerard (1545-c. 1611) published herbals covering the medicinal uses of plants. Naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) was considered the father of natural history, which included the study of plants. In 1665, using an early microscope, Polymath Robert Hooke discovered cells, a term he coined, in cork, and a short time later in living plant tissue.




17th Century ... On


In the 17th century, as a result of the earlier revival of learning and of increased facilities for travel and study in Europe and Asia, many more plants became known, and some botanists turned from medical botany to attempts to name and catalog all known kinds of plants.

In the 18th century the greatest figure in botany was the Swedish scientist Carolus Linnaeus. His most valuable and lasting contributions were his careful descriptions of approximately 6,000 species arranged in genera (the same arrangement used today), his collation of the species that he knew with the names and descriptions of previous botanists, and his rules of nomenclature.

He established binomial nomenclature - i.e., the naming of each species by two words, of which the first is the name of the genus to which it belongs and the second is a qualifying word, usually an adjective (e.g., the dog rose is Rosa canina).

Even in this early period, botany was becoming specialized. While many botanists were occupied only with the classes and names of plants, the foundations of anatomy, morphology, and physiology were being laid. The important field of genetics was initiated in the 19th century, principally through the work of the Austrian botanist Gregor Mendel.

Modern botany is a broad, multidisciplinary subject with inputs from most other areas of science and technology. Research topics include the study of plant structure, growth and differentiation, reproduction, biochemistry and primary metabolism, chemical products, development, diseases, evolutionary relationships, systematics, and plant taxonomy. Dominant themes in 21st century plant science are molecular genetics and epigenetics, which are the mechanisms and control of gene expression during differentiation of plant cells and tissues. Botanical research has diverse applications in providing staple foods and textiles, in modern horticulture, agriculture and forestry, plant propagation, breeding and genetic modification, in the synthesis of chemicals and raw materials for construction and energy production, in environmental management, and the maintenance of biodiversity.

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In the News ...





Amber fossil reveals ancient reproduction in flowering plants   PhysOrg - January 3, 2014

A 100-million-year old piece of amber has been discovered which reveals the oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant - a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous Period - with one of them in the process of making some new seeds for the next generation. The perfectly-preserved scene, in a plant now extinct, is part of a portrait created in the mid-Cretaceous when flowering plants were changing the face of the Earth forever, adding beauty, biodiversity and food. It appears identical to the reproduction process that "angiosperms," or flowering plants still use today.




Gold in trees leads to hidden deposits   BBC - October 22, 2013
Money might not grow on trees, but scientists have confirmed that gold is found in the leaves of some plants. Researchers from Australia say that the presence of the particles in a eucalyptus tree's foliage indicates that deposits are buried many metres below. They believe that the discovery offers a new way to locate the sought-after metal in difficult-to-reach locations.




Flowering plant origins pushed back 100 million years   BBC - October 2, 2013

Flowering plants may have originated more than 100 million years earlier than previously thought, according to scientists in Switzerland and Germany. The previously oldest known flowering plant-like pollen dates from the Early Cretaceous period. But the team described six types of fossil pollen grains from older Middle Triassic core samples that closely resemble these earliest examples.




Plants 'seen doing quantum physics'   BBC - June 21, 2013

The idea that plants make use of quantum physics to harvest light more efficiently has received a boost. Plants gather packets of light called photons, shuttling them deep into their cells where their energy is converted with extraordinary efficiency.




Centuries-old frozen plants revived   BBC - May 28, 2013
Plants that were frozen during the "Little Ice Age" centuries ago have been observed sprouting new growth, scientists say. Samples of 400-year-old plants known as bryophytes have flourished under laboratory conditions. Researchers say this back-from-the-dead trick has implications for how ecosystems recover from the planet's cyclic long periods of ice coverage.




An Inside Look at Carnivorous Plants   Science Daily - April 3, 2013

When we imagine drama playing out between predators and prey, most of us picture stealthy lions and restless gazelle, or a sharp-taloned hawk latched on to an unlucky squirrel. But Ben Baiser, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard Forest and lead author of a new study in Oikos, thinks on a more local scale. His inter-species drama plays out in the humble bogs and fens of eastern North America, home to the carnivorous pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. "It's shocking, the complex world you can find inside one little pitcher plant," says Baiser.




Scientists find out how nature makes colors that never fade   MSNBC - September 10, 2012

Scientists have found nature's way of creating color that never fades, a technique they say could replace pigments used in industry with natural plant extracts in products from food coloring to security features in banknotes. Layers of cellulose that reflect specific wavelengths of light - "structural color" found in peacock feathers, scarab beetles and butterflies - make a particularly intense blue in the Pollia condensata plant, scientists say. Layers of cellulose that reflect specific wavelengths of light - "structural color" found in peacock feathers, scarab beetles and butterflies - make a particularly intense blue in the Pollia condensata plant, scientists say. Samples of the fruit in plant collections dating back to the 19th century had not lost any shine or intensity, they found.




Study sheds light on plants' 'spring switch'   BBC - March 21, 2012
Researchers have identified the genetic "switch" that triggers the flowering process in plants as they respond to warmer temperatures. They found that a gene, known as PIF4, activated the flowering pathway when a certain temperature was achieved. The team added that the findings could be used in future research to improve crops' resilience to projected changes in the climate.




Plants' natural circadian rhythm genes revealed   BBC - March 11, 2012
A gene that triggers plants to become dormant at night and controls flowering has been discovered by scientists. Computer models of cress plants genes showed how 12 genes work together to set plants' internal clocks, University of Edinburgh researchers said.




Russians revive Ice Age flower from frozen burrow   PhysOrg - February 20, 2012
It was an Ice Age squirrel's treasure chamber, a burrow containing fruit and seeds that had been stuck in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years. From the fruit tissues, a team of Russian scientists managed to resurrect an entire plant in a pioneering experiment that paves the way for the revival of other species.




How Plants Helped Make the Earth Unique   Live Science - February 1, 2012
Plants have helped shape our planet. New research indicates the first arrivals on land not only helped alter nutrient cycles, but contributed to one of Earth's mass extinctions. And as plants evolved, so did rivers, creating more habitats for green things and the animals that followed. This is further evidence that the Earth has been molded by more than physical processes, write the editors of journal Nature Geoscience in an editorial accompanying two new studies. The findings help explain why Earth is probably unique in the universe: because it co-evolved with the life that inhabits it.




Humble moss helped to cool Earth and spurred on life   BBC - February 2, 2012
Primitive moss-like plants could have triggered the cooling of the Earth some 470 million years ago, say researchers. A study published in Nature Geoscience may help explain why temperatures gradually began to fall, culminating in a series of "mini ice ages". Until now it had been thought that the process of global cooling began 100 million years later, when larger plants and trees emerged. The simple plants' interactions with rocks are believed to be the cause. The humble moss has created the climate which we enjoy today.




Behemoth Seagrass Clones Among Earth's Oldest Organisms   Live Science - February 2, 2012
Seagrass meadows can be composed of ancient giant clones, organisms stretching up to nearly 10 miles wide that may be up to tens of thousands of years old, scientists find.




Ancestors of land plants revealed   PhysOrg - April 18, 2011
t was previously thought that land plants evolved from stonewort-like algae. However, new research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology shows that the closest relatives to land plants are actually conjugating green algae such as Spirogyra.




Rare, unique seeds arrive at Svalbard Vault, as crises threaten world crop collections   PhysOrg - February 25, 2011
he Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) celebrated its third anniversary today with the arrival of seeds for rare lima beans, blight-resistant cantaloupe, and progenitors of antioxidant-rich red tomatoes from Peru and the Galapagos Islands. The arrival of these collections, including many drought- and flood-resistant varieties, comes at a time when natural and man-made risks to agriculture have reinforced the critical need to secure all the world's food crop varieties.




Fossils of earliest land plants discovered in Argentina   BBC - October 12, 2010

The discovery puts back by 10 million years the colonization of land by plants, and suggests that a diversity of land plants had evolved by 472 million years ago. The newly found plants are liverworts, very simple plants that lack stems or roots.

How plants drove animals to the land   PhysOrg - September 30, 2010
A new study of ancient oxygen levels presents the first concrete evidence that after aquatic plants evolved and boosted the levels of oxygen aquatic life exploded, leading to fierce competition that eventually led some fish to try to survive on land.




Learning to live on land: How some early plants overcame an evolutionary hurdle   PhysOrg - September 15, 2010
The diversity of life that can be seen in environments ranging from the rainforests of the Amazon to the spring blooms of the Mohave Desert is awe-inspiring. But this diversity would not be possible if the ancestors of modern plants had just stayed in the water with their green algal cousins. Moving onto dry land required major lifestyle changes to adapt to this new "hostile" environment, and in turn helped change global climate and atmospheric conditions to conditions we recognize today.




Plants 'can think and remember'   BBC - July 14, 2010
Plants are able to "remember" and "react" to information contained in light, according to researchers. Plants, scientists say, transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems. These "electro-chemical signals" are carried by cells that act as "nerves" of the plants. The researchers used fluorescence imaging to watch the plants respond. In their experiment, the scientists showed that light shone on to one leaf caused the whole plant to respond.




Behavior Breakthrough: Like Animals, Plants Demonstrate Complex Ability to Integrate Information   Science Daily - June 25, 2010




How did flowering plants evolve to dominate Earth?   PhysOrg - December 1, 2009
Today a study in Ecology Letters reveals the evolutionary trigger which led to early flowering plants gaining a major competitive advantage over rival species, leading to their subsequent boom and abundance.




Plant experts unveil DNA barcode   BBC - November 11, 2009

Hundreds of experts from 50 nations are set to agree on a "DNA barcode" system that gives every plant on Earth a unique genetic fingerprint. The technology will be used in a number of ways, including identifying the illegal trade in endangered species. The data will be stored on a global database that will be available to scientists around the world.




Secrets In A Seed: Clues Into The Evolution Of The First Flowers   Science Daily - October 28, 2009
Approximately 120-130 million years ago, one of the most significant events in the history of the Earth occurred: the first flowering plants, or angiosperms, arose. In the late 1800s, Darwin referred to their development as an "abominable mystery." To this day, scientists are still challenged by this "mystery" of how angiosperms originated, rapidly diversified, and rose to dominance.




World's First 'Self-Watering' Desert Plant: Desert Rhubarb   Science Daily - July 1, 2009
Researchers from the Department of Science Education-Biology at the University of Haifa-Oranim have managed to make out the "self-irrigating" mechanism of the desert rhubarb, which enables it to harvest 16 times the amount of water than otherwise expected for a plant in this region based on the quantities of rain in the desert. This is the first example of a self-irrigating desert plant, the scientists say.




Where giant plants dare to grow   BBC - June 24, 2009

Tropical plants like to grow tall, while temperate zone plants are dwarfs in comparison. This global pattern to plant height has been discovered for the first time, after scientists reviewed the size and locations of more than 7000 species. Species growing at the equator are around 30 times taller on average than those at high latitudes, they found. Their analysis also shows that rainfall has a bigger influence on plant height than temperature or soil fertility. Finding such a clear global trend in plant height surprised the researchers who conducted the analysis.




Arctic ice no barrier for plants   BBC - June 15, 2007
Arctic plants are able to migrate the distances needed to survive changes to the climate, scientists have suggested. Habitats are expected to shift further north as the planet warms, and plants' inability to move quickly enough has been a cause for concern. But researchers, writing in the journal Science, suggest seeds can be carried vast distances by the wind and sea ice. The biggest challenge, they added, was likely to be their ability to establish themselves in the new habitat.




Plants Can Recognize, Communicate With Relatives, Studies Find   National Geographic - June 15, 2007
Plants have family values, too, it seems, with new research suggesting they can recognize close relatives in order to work together. An ability to tell family from strangers is well known in animals, allowing them to cooperate and share resources, but plants may possess similar social skills, scientists believe.




2,000-Year-Old Seed Sprouts, Sapling Is Thriving   National Geographic - November 25, 2005
A sapling germinated earlier this year from a 2,000-year-old date palm seed is thriving, according to Israeli researchers who are cultivating the historic plant. It's 80 centimeters [3 feet] high with nine leaves, and it looks great.




Giant rare bloom gives off stench   BBC

Commonly known as the "corpse flower" by Indonesians in its native Sumatra, the blood-red flower is 2.11m tall and last bloomed at Kew in 2003.




Plants that sprout messages   BBC - January 26, 2005

Ever wanted to say "I love you" and never found the words? Well now you can buy a plant that says it for you. Two Japanese manufacturers, toy makers Tomy and Takara, have both produced bean plants which sprout to reveal a special message. Takara said its plant was "a new type of message card to convey your feelings to your loved ones", according to the French news agency AFP. The gift comes with a choice of six different messages such as "Good Luck" and "I Love You" inscribed through the plant with a laser beam.




Plants that play music   NBC - September 13, 2004

The therapeutic power of flowers takes on new meaning with a Japanese gadget that turns plants into audio speakers, making the petals and leaves tremble with good vibrations. Called Ka-on, which means "flower sound" in Japanese, the machine consists of a donut-shaped magnet and coil at the base of a vase that hooks up to a CD player, stereo or TV. Place the flowers into the vase, turn on Ka-on and the magnet and coil relay the sound vibrations up the stems through the plant's water tubes. Near your ear and hear the music emanate from the petals. Touch a leaf, and feel it shake as though in a quiet dance. Later this month, you'll be able to carry on a telephone conversation with a flower with a planned speaker phone model. Unlike regular speakers, which send sound in one direction, Ka-on shoots it in all directions, filling an entire room with music in a more natural ambiance.




Europe's Ancient "Magic" Plants National Geographic - January 21, 2004
The first complete survey of the part played by European plants in agriculture, folklore, magic, religion, and herbal medicine. The result of a 20-year investigation, the English-language edition has now been published. It represents the first complete survey of the part played by European plants in agriculture, folklore, magic, religion, and herbal medicine. Experts in how different peoples and cultures use indigenous plants, the field known as ethnobotany, believe the work could prove a catalyst for medical breakthroughs, putting scientists on the trail of new, life-saving drugs.




Oldest evidence of photosynthesis   BBC - December 17, 2003

Scientists claim to have found the oldest evidence of photosynthesis - the most important chemical reaction on Earth - in 3.7-billion-year-old rocks. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants, algae and certain bacteria convert sunlight to chemical energy.




When plants conquered land   BBC - September 18, 2003

Evidence from deep beneath the desert in Oman suggests that plant life began its takeover of the Earth's land surfaces about 475 million years ago. The timing is much earlier than previously believed. The plants themselves were miniscule. If you'd have been a botanist alive at the time, you'd have been crawling around on your hands and knees with a magnifying glass looking for them. Charles Wellman and his colleagues painstakingly recovered tiny fossilized spores from Omani rock known to date from the Ordovician Period, 443 - 489m years ago. At that time, today's Oman was part of the supercontinent scientists refer to as Gondwanaland.




Plants And People Share A Molecular Signaling System   Science Daily - June 6, 2003
Scientists announce in the current issue of the journal Nature their discovery that plants respond to environmental stresses with a sequence of molecular signals known in humans and other mammals as the "G-protein signaling pathway," revealing that this signaling strategy has long been conserved throughout evolution.




Fossilized Chinese plant may have been the first flower   BBC - May 3, 2002

The ancestor of all the grains, fruits and blossoms of the modern world may have been a fragile water plant that lived in a Chinese lake approximately 125 million years ago. The plant, called Archaefructus sinensis for "ancient fruit from China," is of a species never before seen and carries the clear characteristics of the most primitive of flowering plants.



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