botany terms

Elizabeth Frieders fried009 at MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU
Thu Apr 24 10:03:38 EST 1997


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 

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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 maroon.tc.umn.edu                   
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