plant anatomy alternatives

Margaret A. Kuchenreuther kuchenma at CAA.MRS.UMN.EDU
Wed Aug 21 18:03:05 EST 1996

>  Next week I will begin teaching an upper level plant anatomy course to
>seniors and masters students here.  I have inherited a 30 year old syllabus.
>I will be using it as a guideline.  My question... Does anyone have any
>suggestions/tips on teaching the course?  My worry is that 16 weeks of
>looking at cross sections will be rather dry.  The syllabus basically
>follows the chapter outlines in Fahn's book.  I want to spiff this class up
>a bit.  Any neat demos, techniques, etc?  Any batter way to teach than
>simply regurgitating book material?  I am not trained as a plant anatmoist
>though I have had the class (14 years back) and have taught basic anatomy in
>intro botany classes.
>  Any thoughts, suggestions, horror stories, etc. appreciated.  This is a
>two hr lec, 3 hr lab per week.
>  Thanks
>    Dave Starrett
>*                                       *
>*  Dr. David Starrett                   *
>*  Biology Department, MS 6200          *
>*  Southeast Missouri State University  *
>*  Cape Girardeau, MO 63701             *
>*  Ph: (573) 651-2382                   *
>*  Fax: (573) 651-2223                  *
>*  email: dstarret at     *
>*                                       *

Dear Dave and others,

This suggestion won't help you with only a week to go before you start teaching 
but may give you some food for thought.

When I came to my present post a few years ago, I inherited an ancient course 
syllabus also, though mine was for Plant Morphology.  Though I am a plant 
ecologist by training, I was expected to teach something along the Plant Morph, 
as well as Plant Systematics (in which I have a decent background).  I had taken
courses in Plant Anatomy and Plant Morphology but felt unqualified to teach 
either with the rigor that they deserve, and was, like you, not thrilled with 
the "spit back" format that so many of these offerings have had (at least 

So I took a completely different tack altogether.  I now teach a course called 
Plant Evolution in which we learn about the "big questions" in the evolution of 
land plants:  origin of the land habit, origin of the seed, origin of 
angiosperms, origin of monocots/dicots, etc. as well as some stuff on 
coevolution of plants and pollinators/seed dispersers, etc.  This approach sort 
of melds together Plant Anatomy and Plant Morphology, and throws in some 
systematic theory, too.  For example, in order to look at evolution of the land 
habit we have to understand vascular systems, so at the beginning of the course 
we look at basic plant anatomy, different stele types, etc. so we can talk about
them in context.  Lots of molecular, structural and paleobotanical work is going
on currently to address these questions, so this also gives me the opportunity 
to bring in some current literature each week.

I feel A WHOLE LOT more comfortable teaching this course than I would have Plant
Morph!  Pedagogically, I'm more comfortable with my approach, too.  I teach at 
an undergraduate liberal arts institution where few of the students in my course
will go on to do anything with plants (and if they do, I figure they can take 
Plant Morph and Plant Anatomy from somebody who specializes in those fields).  
Therefore, I want my course to stay away from tremendous amounts of detail and 
focus instead on the fundamental concepts of these fields, using them to explore
some current (and really quite exciting) questions in botany.  My students have 
been pleased with my approach and I plan to continue with it (especially after 
hearing some stimulating talks on the subject at the AIBS meetings this summer.)

My only frustration is finding the perfect textbook and lab manual that together
can supply the appropriate degree of detail for students who are not familiar 
with plant structure, yet do it in a way that emphasizes comparative morphology,
as well as bringing in useful information from the molecular and paleobotanical 
fields.  I'm not sure they exist, and I'd love to see someone write materials 
that use this approach!


Margaret A. Kuchenreuther
Assistant Professor of Biology
Division of Science and Mathematics
University of Minnesota - Morris
Morris, MN  56267

Phone: (320) 589-6335 or -6300 (message)
FAX:  (320) 589-6371
email:  kuchenma at 

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