botany terms

Char A Bezanson bezanson at STOLAF.EDU
Thu Apr 24 11:31:55 EST 1997

I agree that terminology and jargon should be minimized when possible. 
When a term is shorter, and is going to be used multiple times, jargon
does make sense.  Most of the time, students really are pretty familiar
with the latin prefixes and roots, if you just take the time to help them
dissect the words a bit:  they're certainly familiar with endo, meso and
exo, if only from their human anat and phys courses. The advantage to
thinking about terms this way is that you can understand many new terms
immediately, since they are really descriptive, especially in contrast to
terms like "the Calvin cycle"! The idea is to help them make these
connections!  When a term is so obscure that it doesn't make things
easier, though, I think you always have the option of not using it! 

A while ago (maybe a few years, and I can't find it in my "archives") a 
Plant-Edder described an exercise she used with students where she had 
them describe a plant using absolutely no specialized terminology.  Then, 
after introducing some (anatomical?) terms, they described them again.  
The second descriptions are invariably shorter and more precise.  
However, if you are never in a position to describe a plant, knowing the 
terms is probably a waste of time.  So I guess I vote with Asa Gray, and 
go for the glossary!

Char A. Bezanson (bezanson at
School Nature Area Project
St. Olaf College
Northfield,  MN  55057

On 24 Apr 1997, Elizabeth Frieders wrote:

> I am so glad the subject of terminology has been bantered around. It seems that 
> most plant courses introduce students to an overwhelming number of terms - most 
> of them are new terms/rarely used in everyday life ("My your monocots look 
> lovely" - that's great!!). Zoology courses also have an overwhelming number of 
> (long/complex) terms, but because of the human connection, many are not new or 
> don't seem overwhelming - cerebrum, gastrointestinal, hepatic. We hear/see these
> on the news, etc., daily. Students rapidly loose interest in botany because of 
> the terminology, whereas zoology terms are more familiar and thus the subject 
> does not seem like a scientific language course.
> I want to take the liberty of quoting Asa Gray, 1887, Gray's Lessons in Botany: 
> The elements of botany for beginners and for schools, Preface:
> "Such a book, like a grammar, must needs abound in technical words, which thus 
> arrayed may seem formidable; nevertheless, if rightly apprehended, this treatise
> should teach that the study of botany is not the learning of names and terms, 
> but the acquisition of knowledge and ideas. No effort should be made to commit 
> technical terms to memory. Any term used in describing a plant or explaining its
> structure can be looked up when it is wanted, and that should suffice. On the 
> other hand, plans of structure, types, adaptations, and modifications, once 
> understood, are not readily forgotten; and they give meaning and interest to the
> technical terms used in explaining them."
> Asa himself realized that there are a heck of a lot of terms out there, and most
> students don't need/want to learn them. Having an appreciation for and 
> understanding of plants is more important than memorizing terms. I ofetn read 
> this passage to students on the first day of class and tell them that they are 
> going to hear a lot of terms, just like a language course, but that I will try 
> to keep it to a minimum. They appreciate this. I feel it is more important for 
> nonmajors to come out of my classroom enjoying and understanding plants, and I 
> rarely use much terminology (yes, I would say the outer fruit wall layer rather 
> than use exocarp - it's longer, but you don't need to define "outer wall layer" 
> and the students can remember it). In majors classes it is different. I still 
> deemphasize terminology, but I realize that some will go on to graduate school 
> (although very few here go on in plant fields) and may need to understand the 
> terms. So I use both the layterm and the age-old terms. Because let's face it, 
> most biology majors (at least at UnivMinn) hate plants. By eliminating some 
> vocabulary and emphasizing the interesting points of botany, I just hope to turn
> the plant-haters around a little, so that when someone says "botany" they don't 
> automatically shut off their minds, but perhaps are a little more tolerant or 
> even interested. If it is good enough for Asa, it's good enough for me!
> Beth 
> #######################################   
> Elizabeth M. Frieders                                  
> Department of Plant Biology                      Training is everything.   
> University of Minnesota                     The peach was once a bitter almond; 
> 220 BioSciCenter, 1445 Gortner Avenue       cauliflower is nothing but cabbage
> St.Paul, MN 55108-1095                         with a college education.  
> Phone: 612-625-7740                              
> Fax: 612-625-1738                                  -- Mark Twain
> email: fried009 at                   
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