Plant life in the round

Principles of Botany - Plant Life
November 30, 2001

In the past 20 to 30 years, there has been some restructuring of biological subject areas in higher and secondary education. Boundary lines set by the type of organism (botanical or zoological) have been eradicated. Boundaries imposed by narrower scientific disciplines such as molecular biology or ecology have taken their place. A good case can be made in favour of these changes but, nevertheless, the former approach to certain biological studies still has validity and value. Principles of Botany serves well to emphasise this point. All aspects of the biology of plants are treated so that the reader can appreciate how various disciplines - morphology, anatomy, taxonomy, physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, ecology and so on - support each other to provide a coherent and comprehensive view. Three threads infuse this book - evolution, environment and the impact of plants on human affairs.

The reader is led into setting form and function, in their widest senses, in an evolutionary context. Throughout, we are reminded how a certain feature or property is important in adapting the plant to a particular environment. Frequent commentaries explain how an aspect of plant biology affects our lives, for example lectins used in blood typing, breakfast cereals or botany.

The book starts with a general introduction to plants, explaining their biological importance. Subsequent chapters include all aspects of plant physiology, biochemistry, genetics, morphology and anatomy, diversity and ecology, with particular emphasis on the flowering plants. Physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology are competently covered, and principles and concepts are explained lucidly. Chapters dealing with evolution, diversity and classification make informative, stimulating and pleasurable reading.

The first of the two appendices describes the DNA technology of genetic engineering, while the second introduces some fundamental chemistry for botany students. There are excellent boxed readings dealing with ancillary information, current controversies and recent discoveries and the subject matter is well illustrated by coloured diagrams, drawings, micrographs and some beautiful photographs.

Principles of Botany is a book written by educationists. Throughout the text the reader is confronted with thought-provoking questions, and each chapter ends with "thought questions" as well as essay topics. Numerous website links are given. An instructor's manual and software are also available.

The second title, Plant Life , might suggest that this is also a book on general botany. Its major concern, however, is plant diversity with, as stated in the preface, "a strong evolutionary theme". The emphasis is on structure and reproductive patterns with an eye cast in the direction of evolution.

All of this is set in a framework of plant habitat, as the chapters trace the evolutionary development of plants from floating microscopic organisms, through "life on the rocks" (the large green, red and brown algae), "life on the ground" (bryophytes), "life above ground" (pteridophytes) and "life from seeds" (gymnosperms and flowering plants). The environmental and evolutionary pressures likely to be faced by these plants feature prominently. Environmental aspects are more fully covered in part three, which considers the vegetation of habitats such as the wet tropics, stressful environments and water, and the morphological, reproductive and physiological adaptations that allow plants to survive under these conditions. An outline classification of plants is given in the appendix.

This is an enjoyable book for its novel and refreshing approach to plant diversity. These books would be eminently suitable for first-year students in British universities (and as an ancillary text for some advanced students in schools) following courses in general botany, biology, biodiversity, classification and environmental and functional biology.

Michael Black is emeritus professor of plant physiology, King's College, London.

Principles of Botany

Author - Gordon Uno, Richard Storey and Randy Moore
ISBN - 0 07 112371 7
Publisher - McGraw-Hill
Price - £34.99
Pages - 552

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