plant-related terminology

Margaret A. Kuchenreuther kuchenma at CAA.MRS.UMN.EDU
Thu Apr 24 12:05:27 EST 1997


Though I may be in the minority, I'm going to chime in here with a dissenting 
opinion on the usefulness of plant terminology.  While I agree that we should 
avoid excessive terminology, especially for non-majors and introductory 
students, because it can turn them off, I also have to agree with Kathleen 
Archer that at least our upper division students should develop a reasonable 
vocabulary of botanical terminology.  Rather than "unnecessary classicism" I 
think of it as economy of language.  Like it or not, when students read the 
primary literature they will encounter these terms and, therefore, should have a
good working vocabulary.  So I have students learn commonly used botanical 
terms, just as I require them to learn the scientific names of the families and 
genera they encounter in Plant Systematics.  I think it helps them comunicate 
with clarity. 

I try to help ease the pain of learning lots of new terms (and scientific names)
by accompanying them with their etymology the first time I use them.  By doing 
this, students learn many root words, and subsequently can often figure out what
new words mean.

For example:  monoecious and dioecious can be broken down into mono = one, 
di = two, and oecious (from "oikos") = house or home, and Lithospermum means 
(roughly) rock seed.

I tell students that a bonus payoff for learning all these Greek and Latin roots
is that it can help them get a good score on the vocabulary portion of their GRE
test! (something I observed myself -  knowing a bunch of scientific plant names 
helped me figure out the meanings of some words I hadn't encountered before)

And besides, some weird botanical terms, like circinate vernation, are just 
plain fun to say! 

Maybe I'm an oddball who likes language more than most, but I think we should 
nurture our students in expanding their technical vocabularies.

With respect to those with whom I disagree, 


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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