Removing Botany from Core Curriculum

Janice M. Glime jmglime at
Mon May 14 11:22:35 EST 2001

Botany and botany-hating students:

  I think we get too tied to the traditional approach to botany when we
are teaching people who initially hate botany.  Teaching what people don't
want to know is a waste of everyone's time until we find that magic that
motivates them to want to know.  I have found that starting with problems
that are familiar to all of us kindles that interest.  For example,
introduce ozone pollution, then use it to talk about how cells develop
(primary walls, then elongate, then secondary walls), thus making the
cells most susceptible to ozone damage when they are young, fully
expanded, but lacking lignified secondary walls.  Talk about red tides and
the horrible symptoms some of them cause, then how we went about
identifying the killer dinoflagellates, understanding their life cycle,
and finding "safe" ways of eliminating them.  Present our common foods,
then look at what plant parts they are - that we really eat the stem of a
strawberry and apple or the rhizome of ginger or bark of cinnamon.  Look
at foods as spices, but in larger quantities as deadly poisons and as
antiherbivore compounds for the plants.  Talk about photosynthesis in view
of increased CO2 and global warming and how these two environmental
changes may affect C3, C4, and CAM plants differently.  Talk about why
some plants taste sour at night and early morning, but get sweeter as the
day progresses.  Relate our understanding of photosynthesis to the early
use of plants to purify the air.  Talk about Cyanobacteria from the
perspective of their odors, toxins, human responses, and response to
phosphorus pollution, then discuss their use in prairie lands to bind soil
and improve agriculture.  Talk about water movement in trees as a natural
air conditioner and the relevance of deforestation to the warming of our
  Using this approach, with the application FIRST, then the botanical
explanations later, I have many students who started out hating plants
change during the course.  One of my former pre-med students has just
finished her M.S. degree in botany, and it was not because she
didn't have the grades!  One reason students hate plants is
that they have almost no background in them when they come to college and
so plants are harder.  They also cannot relate them to themselves as they
can with much of animal physiology.

  I have found that I can teach all the topics of traditional botany using
this approach.  I should caution you, however, that after my first year of
teaching the course I put an introductory section on basic plant anatomy
and classification up front for the first two weeks, at the suggestion of
the students.  This gave them a framework in which the rest of the course

 Janice M. Glime, Professor  
 Department of Biological Sciences
 Michigan Technological University
 Houghton, MI 49931-1295
 jmglime at
 FAX 906-487-3167 


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