Plant study today
If you are a student who is passionate about plants then you are entitled to ask ‘What would constitute a well-rounded study of plants in the 21st century?’
To answer such a question we need a conspectus of plant knowledge and an opinion about educational priorities for the classroom and lecture theatre . . . a brainstorming of plant knowledge.
A good starting point is with the history of plant study as it has been pursued in academia. How has plant study evolved through history?
The history of scientific plant study is discussed elsewhere on this web site but a brief summary here will provide an overview of the academic landscape.
So far as we can tell from the historical record, there was a spark of enlightened plant thinking generated in the university-like Lyceum of ancient Athens. However, this nascent scientific impulse detoured into religion for well over 1000 years. sup>
Modern plant study began with the appointment of plant professors who were appointed in the mid-16th century to the medical faculties of universities during the Italian Renaissance. This launched a phase of descriptive botany that immersed itself in plant kinds and structures (nomenclature, description, classification, and general inventory). This lasted for about 200 years before supplementing these studies with the experimental study of plant processes and functions better referred to as plant science. These were all studies of plants themselves. But plants do not exist in isolation.
It took until the 19th century before academic studies looked beyond plants themselves to their wider relationships, notably the relations between plants and people, and plants and the environment.
Some of the key factors in the history of plant ideas are:
Scale – The extension of human senses through the use of technology (microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, computers, gene sequencers etc.) – and its influence on our perception of both the natural world, ourselves, and the appropriate subjects for study and research
Structure and Function –The transition from description of structure (botany) to experimentation investigating function (plant science)
There is a dialectic of structure and function, description and experimentation, analysis and synthesis (categories and systems), and the micro- and macro- scales as influenced by the history of technology.
No study of plants could be complete without the knowledge we have gained from the descriptive and experimental analytic tradition that had, by the mid- 20th century, solved, in principle, the great mysteries of plant structure and function. By the 21st century investigation and explanation were moving away from analysis towards synthesis – to the role of plants within their planetary environment and as influenced by their greatest interactor, human beings. The study of plants began with plants themselves but in the 21st century we find plants themselves of no great concern – it is their role within their wider environment, the web of their connections and interactions, that we now need to understand and explain.
Knowledge organization and library science
Scale in all studies