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. 371Ð287 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.
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 (1501Ð1566) 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 (1515Ð1544) authored a botanically and pharmacologically important herbal Historia Plantarum in 1544 and a pharmacopoeia of lasting importance, the Dispensatorium in 1546. 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.
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. Read more ...
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