Guest Author - Deborah Watson-Novacek
Botany, sometimes referred to as plant science or plant biology, is the branch of biology that deals with the scientific study of plant life. The word botany is derived from the Greek word "botanikos," meaning "of herbs," and referring to pastures, meadows, grass, fodder. Botany is considered to be one of the oldest sciences as it began with the effort of early humans to identify edible, poisonous and medicinal plants.
When scientists first began grouping similar types of living things together, all organisms were identified as either plants or animals. Botany covered all organisms not classified as animals. As science has progressed, many organisms that were one included in the study of botany are no longer technically considered to be a part of the plant kingdom, such as fungi, lichens, bacteria, viruses and single-celled algae. Botanists continue, however, to study these some of these life forms and so it is common to see organisms such as fungi, lichens certain bacteria and photosynthetic protists covered by botanical studies.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BOTANY
The study of plants is of great importance to humans. Plants generate the oxygen we breathe, are a major part of the food consumed by humans and animals, and are used to create fibers, fuels and medicines essential to our lives. Plants absorb carbon dioxide, which is important in lowering greenhouse gasses, and are crucial to the water cycle.
Today it is estimated that botanists are studying over 350,000 species of plants, excluding the fungi. This includes over 250,000 known species of flowering plants (excluding subspecies and hybrids), 12,000 species of ferns and their related plants, and 14,000 species of Bryophyta. Included in the grand total are about 8,000 species of algae. What is incredible about these figures is that many botanists estimate that there are over 1 million additional species yet to be located and/or studied!
SUBDISCIPLINES OF BOTANY
The study of botany also includes the study of plant structure, growth, reproduction, evolution, biochemical processes, plant classification, the study of plant diseases and the study of intereactions between plants and their environment. Subdisciplines of botany include:
Agroforestry - The process of combining the practices of agriculture and forestry in order to create beneficial biological interactions.
Agronomy The application of plant science to crop production
Algology/Phycology - The study of algae
Bacteriology - The study of bacteria
Bryology The study of mosses, liverworts, and hornworts
Economic Botany The study of plants of economic use or value; plants of practical use to mankind
Ethnobotany The study of the relationship between humans and plants, including the use of plants by aboriginal peoples, now and in the distant past
Forestry The study of trees and their cultivation for use in lumber and other industries; also forestry management
Horticulture The study of the cultivation of cultivation of flowers, ornamental plants and fruits
Lichenology The study of lichens
Mycology - The study of fungi
Paleobotany The study of plant history through fossils.
Palynology The study of modern and fossil pollen and spores
Phycology/Algology The study of algae
Phytochemistry The study of the secondary chemistry and chemical processes of plants
Phytopathology The study of plant diseases
Plant Anatomy The study of plant cells and tissue structures
Plant Ecology The study of the relationship between plants and their environment under natural and uncontrolled conditions
Plant Geography - The study of the geographical distribution of plants. Why do particular plants grow in particular areas?
Plant Genetics The study of genetic inheritance in plants. This also includes the study of genetic engineering, or the alteration of the characterists of a plant or its offspring by changing the genetic makeup of plants.
Plant Morphology The study of the "form" of plants - their Structure and life cycles
Plant Pathology - The study of diseases in plants
Plant Physiology The study of the life functions of plants; the study of plant cells and tissues.
Plant Systematics The identification and ranking of all plants, including classification and nomenclature (naming). Plant taxonomy is a subdivision of plant systematics.
Pteridology - The study of ferns and their relatives
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