Botany: Plants and People

Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 quarters

Taught by

botany, ecology, environmental history

This program focuses on people's relationships with plants for food, fiber, medicine and aesthetics. Students will study economic botany through seminar texts, films and lectures that examine agriculture, forestry, herbology and horticulture. They will examine political economic factors that shape our relations with plants. Through economic and historical lenses, the learning community will inquire about why people have favored some plants and not others or radically changed their preferences, such as considering a former cash crop to be a weed.  In our readings, we will examine the significant roles botany has played in colonialism, imperialism and globalization. Students will also investigate the gender politics of botany. For example, botany was used to inculcate "appropriate" middle- and upper-class values among American women in the 19th century. Initiatives to foster more socially just and environmentally sustainable relations with plants will be investigated. 

In fall, weekly workshops will help students improve their ability to write thesis-driven essays defended with evidence from the assigned texts in economic botany. In winter, students will write a major research paper on a plant of their choosing applying what they've learned about plant biology and economic botany to their own case study. Through a series of workshops, they will learn to search the scientific literature, manage bibliographic data and interpret and synthesize information, including primary sources. Through their research paper, students will synthesize scientific and cultural information about their plant. 

This program serves both advanced and less experienced students who are looking for an opportunity to expand their understanding of plants and challenge themselves. This two-quarter program allows students to learn introductory and advanced plant science material in an interdisciplinary format. Students will learn about plant anatomy, morphology and systematics. Lectures based on textbook readings supplement the laboratory work. The learning community will explore how present form and function informs us about the evolution of major groups of plants such as mosses, ferns, conifers and flowering plants. Students will get hands-on experience studying plants under microscopes and in the field. Students will also learn how to maintain a detailed and illustrated nature journal to develop basic plant identification skills of common species.  

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

field plant taxonomy, field ecology, plant science, plant ecology, economic botany, agriculture, forestry and environmental education.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day

Final Schedule and Room Assignment


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Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

More information about online learning.

Upper Division Science Credit

A maximum of 16 upper division science credits in economic botany, plant anatomy and morphology, and independent research in botany may be awarded in winter based upon writing and seminar participation.

May be offered again in


Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 25


Course Reference Number

So - Sr (16 credits): 10039

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Accepting New Students

Course Reference Number

So - Sr (16 credits): 20026

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