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Definition: botany from Greenwood Dictionary of Education

The branch of biology that studies plants. (tw)


Summary Article: botany
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Study of living plants, including form, function, interaction with the environment, and classification.

Botany is subdivided into a number of specialized studies, such as the identification and classification of plants (taxonomy), their external formation (plant morphology), their internal arrangement (plant anatomy), their microscopic examination (plant histology), their functioning and life history (plant physiology), and their distribution over the Earth's surface in relation to their surroundings (plant ecology). Economic botany deals with the utility of plants. Horticulture, agriculture, and forestry are branches of botany.

History The most ancient botanical record was carved on the walls of the temple at Karnak, Egypt, about 1500 BC. The Greeks in the 5th and 4th centuries BC used many plants for medicinal purposes, the first Greek ‘Herbal’ being drawn up about 350 BC by Diocles of Carystus. Botanical information was collected into the works of Theophrastus of Eresus (380–287 BC), a pupil of Aristotle, who founded technical plant nomenclature. Cesalpino in the 16th century sketched out a system of classification based on flowers, fruits, and seeds, while Joachim Jungius (1587–1657) used flowers only as his criterion. The English botanist John Ray (1627–1705) arranged plants systematically, based on his findings on fruit, leaf, and flower, and described about 18,600 plants.

The Swedish botanist Carl von Linné, or Linnaeus, who founded systematics in the 18th century, included in his classification all known plants and animals, giving each a binomial descriptive label. His work greatly aided the future study of plants, as botanists found that all plants could be fitted into a systematic classification based on Linnaeus's work. Linnaeus was also the first to recognize the sexual nature of flowers. This was followed up by the English naturalist Charles Darwin and others.

Later work revealed the detailed cellular structure of plant tissues and the exact nature of photosynthesis. Julius von Sachs (1832–1897) defined the function of chlorophyll and the significance of plant stomata. In the second half of the 20th century, much has been learned about cell function, repair, and growth by the hybridization of plant cells (the combination of the nucleus of one cell with the cytoplasm of another). With modern tools, such as the electron microscope, the inner structure of plant cells and the function of the intracellular organelles can be studied.

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