Definition of Plant

Barry Meatyard B.T.Meatyard at WARWICK.AC.UK
Fri Oct 8 03:01:20 EST 1999

On Thu, 07 Oct 1999 21:47:21 David Hershey wrote:
>The half dozen current botany texts I have agree that the Plant Kingdom
>consists of just bryophytes and vascular plants, so I was surprised that
>the American Society of Plant Physiologists' Education Foundation's
>'Principles of Plant Biology - Concepts For Science Education' states
>that "Plants exhibit diversity in size and shape ranging from single
>cells to gigantic trees."
>Is there still disagreement over what organisms are included in the
>Plant Kingdom?

This is an interesting question and one to which there isn't a
straightforward answer. Common to all human activities is a desire and need
to classify - we are just one species trying to establish order in other
species (and there's a lot of debate about that term as well!!). Above all
a classification system needs to be appropriate for its ends - therefore
there will always be grey areas where terminology for one set of users
doesn't suit another. Consider fruit and vegetables in a supermarket.
As far as the term 'plant' is concerned it depends on the level at which
one is working. It would be daft to use the term Protoctist for
Phaeophycean brown seaweeds if I was at the coast with my 10 and 12 year
old daughters - I'm happy to use the term plant at this level. However even
Macrocystis seems to have crept into the Protoctist world in recent years
on the basis of the structure of the cells in the unicell stage and I would
expect undergrads to have an appreciation of this. Maybe at this level we
shouldn't be using the term plant at all - unless it is as an umbrella term
to distinguish what we are talking about from other umbrella-d groups (e.g.
Please don't let us get bogged down in the group in a pedantic debate about
a term of convenience. Part of my job is to turn students and their
teachers on to the fact that plants (and I'm comfortable in using that term
to include for this purpose anything that photosynthesises) are exciting
and interesting, as well as being indispensable resources for us as humans.
I'm sure that issues such as the sterile debates over the nomenclature of
the flowering plants that I encountered as an author of a new science
dictionary in the UK confuses would be botanists and turns them off 'plant'

That's not to say I would be interested to hear the views of others -
David's question is a good one. I'm just mulling over a few ideas over a
cup of coffee before I hit the paperwork on my desk!


Dr.Barry Meatyard
Science and Plants for Schools
Environmental Sciences Research and Education Unit
Warwick Institute of Education
University of Warwick

Email: barry.meatyard at
Tel: 44 (0) 2476 524228
Fax: 44 (0) 2476 523237

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