Are plant diversity courses still needed for undergrads?

David W. Kramer kramer.8 at OSU.EDU
Wed Nov 27 13:50:05 EST 1996

P Adams wrote:
>  We hear a lot these days about the great importance of interactive
>learning and about "teaching students to think like scientists" and
>about teaching students to design experiments and test hypotheses.
>This is all well and good, but what about teaching students about the
>great diversity of "plant" (prokaryote, protistan, plant, and fungal)
>organisms, with all those complex life cycles and interesting adaptations
>to myriad environments? Should undergrad bio majors continue to be taught
>"plant kingdom type" courses? If so, at what level in the undergrad
>experience should such courses be taught?  Preston Adams, Dept of
>Biological Science, DePauw University, Greencastle, IN 46135
>    padams at

My answer is a firm "Yes!"  However, it is important that this material be
taught in the context of evolution, not merely as an encyclopedia of
morphology of every interesting plant (sensu lato) on the globe.  If you
approach it in terms of the evolution of body form, nutrition, water
relations, sexual reproduction, etc., it will be much more dynamic for the

At what level should it be taught?  This is the age-old inductive/deductive
dilemma.  Traditionally, as you know, this was the second semester of
freshman-level Introduction to Plant Biology or at least a sophomore-level
"survey course."  The thinking was that it would provide an overview of
plant groups and help the student select courses which, at that time, were
mostly organized around plant groups.  It also supposedly helped the
instructors of the upper level undergrad courses because they didn't have
to take time to put "their" organism in context with other organisms.  Now
that the emphasis has shifted away from organismal courses, I would
recommend that the "Plant Kingdom Course" could be taught very effectively
in the senior year as a sort of "culminating experience" which would be
drawing on evidence from cell biology, plant anatomy, genetics, molecular
genetics, evolution, etc. to discuss the diversity of plant life and how it
got that way.

Here it is included in the second quarter of our two-quarter non-majors
course.  The sequence of units is genetics, evolution, diversity, ecology,
and economic botany.  It seems to work just fine.

Dr. David W. Kramer
Department of Plant Biology
Ohio State University at Mansfield
1680 University Drive
Mansfield, OH  44906
(419) 755-4344  FAX:  (419) 755-4367
e-mail:  kramer.8 at

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