AskDefine | Define botany

Dictionary Definition

botany n : the branch of biology that studies plants [syn: phytology]

User Contributed Dictionary



17th century. From botanical.


  1. The scientific study of plants, a branch of biology. Typically those disciplines that involve the whole plant.
  2. The plant life, or the properties and life phenomena exhibited by a plant, plant type, or plant group.
  3. A botanical treatise or study, especially of a particular system of botany or that of a particular place.

Derived terms

Related terms


scientific study of plants
  • Czech: botanika
  • Finnish: kasvitiede
  • German: Botanik
  • Hebrew: בוטניקה (bot'aniqa)
  • Japanese: 植物学
  • Swedish: botanik
plant life, or the properties and life phenomena
  • Japanese: 植物生態
botanical treatise or study

Extensive Definition

For other meanings, see Botany (disambiguation)
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 The study of plants and botany began with tribal lore, used 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

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

Many medicinal and recreational drugs, like tetrahydrocannabinol, caffeine, 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 of willow trees. There may be many novel cures for diseases provided by plants, waiting to be discovered. Popular stimulants like coffee, chocolate, tobacco, and tea also come from plants. Most alcoholic beverages come from fermenting plants such as barley (beer), rice (saki) and grapes (wine).
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.

Environmental changes

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.


From Greek βοτάνη = "pasture, grass, fodder", 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 Vrska (tree), Osadhi (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); Ekasrnga (those with monopodial growth), Pratanavati (creeping plants), Amsumati (with many stalks), and Kandini (plants with knotty joints). The Taittiriya Samhita and classifies the plant kingdom into vrksa, vana and druma (trees), visakha (shrubs with spreading branches), sasa (herbs), amsumali (a spreading or deliquescent plant), vratati (climber), stambini (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 Vrksayurveda (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).
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.
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.
Important medieval works of plant physiology include the Prthviniraparyam of Udayana, Nyayavindutika of Dharmottara, Saddarsana-samuccaya of Gunaratna, and Upaskara of Sankaramisra.
In 1665, using an early microscope, Robert Hooke discovered cells in cork, 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.
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).

Modern botany

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 (Oryza sativa) genome and a large international research community have made rice the de facto cereal/grass/monocot 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, maize, barley, rye, pearl millet and soybean 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

Notable Botanists

See also


Further reading

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
  • Weeds in South Texas and Northern Mexico 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

External links

Flora and other plant catalogs or databases

botany in Arabic: علم النبات
botany in Aragonese: Botanica
botany in Franco-Provençal: Botanica
botany in Azerbaijani: Botanika
botany in Banyumasan: Botani
botany in Belarusian: Батаніка
botany in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Батаніка
botany in Bavarian: Botanik
botany in Bosnian: Botanika
botany in Breton: Louzawouriezh
botany in Bulgarian: Ботаника
botany in Catalan: Botànica
botany in Czech: Botanika
botany in Corsican: Botanica
botany in Welsh: Botaneg
botany in Danish: Botanik
botany in German: Botanik
botany in Dhivehi: ގަހަވީ އިލްމު
botany in Estonian: Botaanika
botany in Modern Greek (1453-): Βοτανική
botany in Spanish: Botánica
botany in Esperanto: Botaniko
botany in Basque: Botanika
botany in Extremaduran: Botánica
botany in Persian: گیاه‌شناسی
botany in French: Botanique
botany in Friulian: Botaniche
botany in Galician: Botánica
botany in Korean: 식물학
botany in Hindi: वनस्पति विज्ञान
botany in Croatian: Botanika
botany in Ido: Botaniko
botany in Indonesian: Botani
botany in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Botanica
botany in Interlingue: Botanica
botany in Ossetian: Ботаникæ
botany in Icelandic: Grasafræði
botany in Italian: Botanica
botany in Hebrew: בוטניקה
botany in Javanese: Botani
botany in Pampanga: Botany
botany in Georgian: ბოტანიკა
botany in Swahili (macrolanguage): Botania
botany in Haitian: Etid plant
botany in Ladino: Botánika
botany in Latin: Botanica
botany in Latvian: Botānika
botany in Luxembourgish: Botanik
botany in Lithuanian: Botanika
botany in Limburgan: Plantkónde
botany in Lojban: spaske
botany in Hungarian: Botanika
botany in Macedonian: Ботаника
botany in Malay (macrolanguage): Botani
botany in Dutch: Plantkunde
botany in Japanese: 植物学
botany in Pitcairn-Norfolk: Botenii
botany in Norwegian: Botanikk
botany in Norwegian Nynorsk: Botanikk
botany in Narom: Botannie
botany in Novial: Botanike
botany in Occitan (post 1500): Botanica
botany in Pushto: بوټپوهنه
botany in Low German: Botanik
botany in Polish: Botanika
botany in Portuguese: Botânica
botany in Romanian: Botanică
botany in Quechua: Butanika
botany in Russian: Ботаника
botany in Sanskrit: वनस्पति विज्ञानं
botany in Scots: Botany
botany in Sicilian: Butànica
botany in Sinhala: උද්භිද විද්‍යාව
botany in Simple English: Botany
botany in Slovenian: Botanika
botany in Serbian: Ботаника
botany in Serbo-Croatian: Botanika
botany in Sundanese: Botani
botany in Finnish: Kasvitiede
botany in Swedish: Botanik
botany in Tagalog: Botanika
botany in Tamil: தாவரவியல்
botany in Thai: พฤกษศาสตร์
botany in Vietnamese: Thực vật học
botany in Tajik: Ботаника
botany in Turkish: Botanik
botany in Ukrainian: Ботаніка
botany in Urdu: نباتیات
botany in Venetian: Botànega
botany in Volapük: Planav
botany in Yiddish: באטאניק
botany in Samogitian: Buotanėka
botany in Chinese: 植物學
botany in Slovak: Botanika

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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