Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany

Course No. 9010
Professor Catherine Kleier, Ph.D.
Regis University
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Course No. 9010
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What Will You Learn?

  • Discover how plants produce their own food.
  • Learn about fascinating plant adaptations.
  • Find out how DNA fingerprinting has changed plant taxonomy.
  • See how plants trick animals into helping them reproduce.

Course Overview

If you look around right now, chances are you’ll see a plant. It could be a succulent in a pot on your desk, grasses or shrubs just outside your door, or trees in a park across the way. Proximity to plants tends to make us happy, even if we don’t notice, offering unique pleasures and satisfactions. And of course without plants, we wouldn’t even be here: Not only do plants produce oxygen, they also produce their own food—the food that directly or indirectly supports us and all animal life on the planet.

In the 24 lectures of Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany, Dr. Catherine Kleier invites us into the uniquely satisfying world of plants, and the joy of celebrating and learning from the secrets of living nature. As Dr. Kleier shares her tremendous depth of knowledge with contagious excitement for her subject—supported by fascinating graphics and in-studio demonstrations—she emphasizes the “stories” of plants themselves: Without neglecting genetics or cell microbiology, or larger ecosystems and habitats, her primary emphasis is always on how plants we see all around us live and adapt. Dr. Kleier shares with you the pleasures of being able to identify and understand the workings of that tree just outside your window – and of any other plant you may encounter.

With almost 400,000 known species and thousands more identified every year, the variety of plant life is almost overwhelming—from the microscopic to the largest organism on Earth. In Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany, you will explore the astonishing adaptations that allow plants to live in an enormous variety of ecosystems, from deserts and the ocean floor to thousands of feet above sea level and on every continent. You will understand why there are no fewer than three kinds of photosynthesis, how the process separates plants from animals, and why many plants rely on symbiosis with bacteria and fungi in conjunction with photosynthetic processes.

See Plants in a New Way. And Another New Way.

Recent scientific research from botany has offered astonishing revelations about the diurnal sleeping and waking cycles of trees. And DNA analysis proves fungi are actually more closely related to humans than to plants. These and many other discoveries illuminate the ways taxonomic identification of plants has changed with the advent of DNA sequencing and other cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, allowing for a greater understanding of the world around us, such as:

  • How scientists, never able to grow lichen in the lab, finally determined that lichen is neither plant nor animal, but a “sandwich” of three distinct organisms
  • How plants, no less than beavers building a dam, are “ecosystem engineers” and capable of protecting their territories
  • Why you rarely see blue plants
  • Why 600 species of plants eat animals for nutrients, while others are outfitted with poison-injecting hairs
  • How some plants can grow to enormous size, like grass that can reach to 130 feet tall and leaves measuring more than 80 feet long, or trees that bear 92-pound fruit
  • The science behind genetically modified organisms and the real issues presented by GMO technology

Botany: Stranger than Fiction

Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany begins with lectures that address shared features of plants, how they resemble and yet differ from humans, and why there are few truly universal rules that govern all plants in exactly the same way. Instead, later lectures reveal how natural selection has allowed plants to adapt to the widest possible range of environments all around the globe. These adaptations have led to plant adaptations so surprising that they almost seem to have sprung directly from science fiction, such as:

  • stone plants with transparent “windows” to let in just the right amount of sunlight
  • leaves that can photosynthesize underground and others that produce antifreeze
  • trees that produce a sought-after waterproofing substance (suberin) that chemists have never been able to duplicate in a lab or even fully describe
  • a plant in which only 5 percent of cells are alive at any given time, which nevertheless creates its own ecosystem and continually modifies its habitat
  • the oldest living individual tree, which began its life near the end of the Neolithic period, more than 5,000 years ago
  • a seed in Siberia that remained viable for 31,800 years before germination
  • a tropical tree (Hura crepitans) that shoots its seeds at speeds up to 150 miles per hour, which also happens to be the maximum speed ever measured in the animal kingdom
  • mushroom fairy rings and how the associated hyphae work to enrich the soil for further fungal growth
  • an 11,000-year-old creosote clone in the Mohave Desert
  • the heaviest, oldest, and largest organism on planet Earth—a 107-acre, 80,000-year-old, 6,600-ton aspen (Populus tremuloides) genet—36 times heavier than the blue whale, the largest modern animal.

While relatively few reproductive methods exist in the animal kingdom, plants have evolved a startling variety of methods for both asexual and sexual reproduction. Many of the most ancient reproductive methods, such as spores, are still successful today and support tens of thousands of species. While other reproductive mechanisms evolved in later periods, each provides unique benefits and challenges. For example, a flowering plant must “figure out” how to move male gametes to the female ovules, so the fertilized ovules can grow into seeds inside the fruit. Given that individual plants are not mobile, how do they accomplish this feat? Explore different aspects of plant reproduction, including:

  • the benefits of sexual vs. asexual reproduction
  • the roles of wind and water in plant reproduction
  • plants that are completely dependent on animals for their reproduction—in some cases only one species of animal
  • the many “tricks” plants use to entice animals into their reproductive process, including those whose flowers look and smell like female insects to lure in males for “mating”
  • “deceit pollination” and why it works
  • how plants recognize and address self-pollination
  • the role hormones play in the reproduction of the squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium)

A Passionate Adventure with Plants

Dr. Kleier also introduces fascinating questions botanists are still working to answer. We know plants can sense and respond to their environments, but can they remember their experiences? We know plants communicate to others in their vicinity via chemical signals, but is it also possible some plants have evolved an ability to detect sound waves? We know certain plants respond to touch, but can they be conditioned to “learn” when it is unnecessary to respond? And perhaps the most basic of questions: what exactly is a species? Now that scientists have access to genetic techniques such as DNA fingerprinting, it is relatively easy to find different alleles for different genes. But how many different alleles does it take to identify a new species? It’s an ongoing and exciting debate in the ever-changing world of botany.

Botanists are constantly examining and evaluating the natural world, and Dr. Kleier is passionate about working in the field and observing plants as they exist in their many habitats and varieties, a passion that comes through in every lecture as she teaches you how to do the same. As presented in this course, botany is a science rooted in experience with plants, a vibrant set of encounters that breathe life even into the plant diagrams and long scientific names of traditional biology.

Learn to see the world around you afresh as you read the stories of plant life for yourself with a professor who transforms science into an adventure.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Joy of Botany
    Although almost every child knows the difference between an elephant and a giraffe, few people of any age can name the plants they see out their window every single day. Solve this plant blindness" by learning about the fascinating lifeforms to whom we owe so much: oxygen, food, medicine, materials-but also fascination and joy." x
  • 2
    Plants Are like People
    Although our biology is significantly different than that of plants, scientists are discovering more and more similarities. We share quite a bit of DNA, thrive in moderate temperatures, have a circadian rhythm of rest and activity, require water for life, and can sense our environment and respond. Some scientists suggest that plants might even have developed a type of hearing."" x
  • 3
    Moss Sex and Peat's Engineered Habitat
    More than 425 million years ago, a group of plants called bryophytes developed two special adaptations that allowed them to inhabit dry land. Why are these early plants still so important today, both environmentally and commercially? And how does one of these most ancient species engineer its own habitat to the exclusion of more modern competitors? x
  • 4
    Fern Spores and the Vascular Conquest of Land
    Botanists still struggle to unravel the full evolutionary history of ferns, hardy plants of staggering reproductive and colonization power. With billions of lightweight spores produced by each individual and the vasculature to transport nutrients throughout the plant, ferns are found in low-light and bright-light environments from the arctic regions to the tropics. x
  • 5
    Roots and Symbiosis with Non-Plants
    Photosynthesis might be the star," but what takes place under the soil is just as imperative for plant survival. In fact, the root is so important that it's the first evidence of germination in the seed. Learn how roots physically support the plant, absorb water and minerals, and store carbohydrates, almost always relying on symbiosis with bacteria and fungi." x
  • 6
    Stems Are More Than Just the In-Between
    Learn how the pressure flow hypothesis models the movement of sugars through the plant's phloem and xylem, and what plant structures determine whether the organism will grow in height, girth, or both. And while the stem functions to support the plant's branches and leaves, in some plants the stem is also the site of photosynthesis. x
  • 7
    The Leaf as a Biochemical Factory
    Plants "know" when to shed their leaves or grow new ones via the same mechanism that causes the many developmental changes in our own bodies: hormones. Learn about the hormones that affect leaf growth and abscission -- and the role played by Charles Darwin in their discovery. x
  • 8
    Photosynthesis Everyone Should Understand
    Green plants generate their mass-whether the mass of the smallest blade of grass or the tallest tree on Earth-by synthesizing food from carbon dioxide and water via the energy from sunlight with the help of appropriate enzymes. See how the fascinating details of photosynthesis separate the plants from the animals. x
  • 9
    Days and Years in the Lives of Plants
    How do plants "choose" the best time to flower? Do they sense the daylight hours becoming longer in the springtime? Or do they sense the nights becoming shorter? Learn which pigments interact with sunlight to serve as chemical clocks for flowering plants and what roles are played by messenger RNA and temperature-including their part in climate change. x
  • 10
    Advent of Seeds: Cycads and Ginkgoes
    While spores have continued to provide effective reproduction through the millennia, evolution has led to several successful alternatives. In a little package of embryonic roots, stems, leaves, and nourishment, a seed offers the ability to lie dormant until conditions are right for the highest chance of survival. Learn about the unique properties of the cycads, gingkos, and gnetophytes. x
  • 11
    Why Conifers Are Holiday Plants
    Meet the conifers, well-adapted to snow, wind, fire, and low-nutrient soils. Learn how the unique properties of conifers allow them to claim the largest forest on Earth, the oldest living tree, and the tallest plant-with a growth rate of up to six feet per year. Conifers are also the source of one of the most prescribed cancer drugs on the market. x
  • 12
    Secrets of Flower Power
    Flowering plants arrived relatively late in geological time, between 290 to 145 million years ago. But once here, they evolved quickly and often displaced many other types of plants. In fact, in terms of species, flowering plants are the dominant plant form on Earth today with more than 300,000 types. Learn how their unique reproductive mechanisms led to this explosion of speciation in such a relatively short time. x
  • 13
    The Coevolution of Who Pollinates Whom
    Which came first-the pollen or the pollinator? Learn about the special evolutionary relationship between specific flowers and the insects, birds, and mammals that play a necessary role in plant reproduction. The flowers' morphology, color, and quality and quantity of scent are all related to their" animals' body shape, sense organs, method of movement, and more in this never-ending co-evolutionary tango." x
  • 14
    The Many Forms of Fruit: Tomatoes to Peanuts
    If you think you know the difference between a fruit, a nut, and a fungus-think again. Learn the real difference between nuts, fruits, and seeds, and why so many foods we eat carry misleading common names. As for those beautiful and tasty fungi, you might be surprised to find out they have more in common with you than with plants! x
  • 15
    Plant Seeds Get Around
    The evolution of the seed was a major advantage for land plants. But unlike gymnosperms, the flowering plants produce a fruit around that seed, aiding in germination, dispersal, or both. Learn about the many fascinating ways seeds are dispersed-from animal deposition, to wind and water dispersal, to seed explosion. x
  • 16
    Water Plants Came from Land
    Learn how seagrasses, mangroves, and other aquatic plants evolved to tolerate low light levels, anaerobic and nutrient-poor sediments, and the difficulty of getting CO2 into submerged leaves and stems. They also benefit surrounding ecosystems by keeping excess nutrients from the ocean, trapping river and ocean-floor sediments, and providing habitat and protection for animals. x
  • 17
    Why the Tropics Have So Many Plant Species
    From the shade-adapted plants living on the rainforest floor to the epiphytes in the top of the canopy-and the myriad plants and animals in between-tropical regions are the most diverse ecosystems on land. In fact, by some estimates, about 40 percent of all plants live in just the canopy of the tropical rainforest. Learn about the unique ways in which bromeliads, orchids, and lianas, among others, make their living" near the top of this diverse ecosystem." x
  • 18
    The Complexity of Grasses and Grasslands
    The grassland ecosystem-steppe, prairie, savanna, and rangeland-is found on every continent except Antarctica. Estimated to cover almost one-third of the land area of the planet, grasses developed unusual adaptations related to the location of their growth tissue and their specific mechanism of photosynthesis. Learn how these adaptations have allowed grasses to flourish and play a major role in the development of human society. x
  • 19
    Shrublands of Roses and Wine
    Not an herb and not a tree, shrubs' in-between status carries ecological advantages allowing them to grow almost everywhere-in the under-story of forests, above the tree line in alpine regions, and in the desert. Many are fire-adapted, some communicate through volatile organic compounds released by the leaves, and others exude chemicals from their roots that prevent other plants from growing nearby. x
  • 20
    The Desert Bonanza of Plant Shapes
    From tiny desert annuals, to 200-year-old 50-foot Saguaros, Joshua trees, and the baobab, deserts contain the largest variety of plant shapes on earth. Along with these multiple morphological adaptations to a lack of water, desert plants have also developed an alternative pathway to photosynthesis, opening their stomata at night, storing the CO2, and using it during the day with closed stomata, thereby avoiding daytime water loss. x
  • 21
    How Temperate Trees Change Color and Grow
    Trees-the largest, oldest, and tallest organisms on planet Earth-are a wonderful example of convergent evolution, with the form showing up in hundreds of unrelated plant families. While many trees are evergreen and others are drought deciduous, temperate trees lose their leaves in the winter because the trade-off of keeping a leaf from freezing doesn't offset the photosynthetic gain. But even after the leaves turn color and drop, the tree roots of some trees can still forage through the soil for nutrients. x
  • 22
    Alpine Cold Makes Plants Do Funny Things
    Alpine plants face a short growing season, freezing nights almost year-round, extraordinarily high light levels on cloudless days, fierce wind, and severe lack of moisture in some locations. Learn how the unique rosette and cushion morphologies allow alpine plants to thrive in this environment-as well as provide a sheltered place for other plants to germinate-and how heliotropism aids in pollination. x
  • 23
    Bad Plants Aren't So Bad
    About 600 species of plants eat animals. Others are outfitted with poison-injecting hairs you do not want to trigger. One plant provides a home for ants-a wonderful symbiosis, but not great for the animals who stroll by and take a bite. And then there are the everyday" poison oak, ivy, and sumac. But the real plants to fear? The invasive species that have taken over millions of acres, to the detriment of species diversity, animal habitat, and entire economic systems." x
  • 24
    Modifying the Genes of Plants
    Genetically modified organisms are in the news almost every day. They are lauded for solving numerous agricultural problems and reviled for their perceived Frankenstein" nature. But what is the truth about GMOs? Learn what scientists have accomplished, what might be possible in the future, and the very real dilemmas we face in this brave new world of plant science." x

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  • 214-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Catherine Kleier

About Your Professor

Catherine Kleier, Ph.D.
Regis University
Dr. Catherine Kleier is a Professor of Biology and former chair of the Department of Biology at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. Professor Kleier holds a Ph.D. in Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution from the University of California, Los Angeles. She also holds an M.S. in General Science with an emphasis in botany and plant pathology from Oregon State University and a B.A. in Ecology, Population, and Organismic...
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Reviews

Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 101.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning to See the World of Plants As Kermit the frog sang, “It’s not easy being green,” but plants do it every day. They are one of the kingdoms of living things, along with animals, fungi, and bacteria. Since they serve us as sources of food (indirectly in the case of carnivores) and oxygen, we animals depend completely on plants for our survival. It’s strange, then, that most people overlook them in daily life, a tendency that Professor Kleier calls “plant blindness.” Her course is an excellent antidote, giving us the information to better appreciate our green cousins. There are two major parts to this course. Lectures 2 through 15 describe how plants differ from each other according to type—mosses, ferns, and conifers, for example—how they breathe and eat, and how they reproduce. Lectures 16 through 22 show how plants cope with various environments, such as grasslands, deserts, and mountains. Lecture 23 describes “bad” plants, namely poisonous ones, invaders (“weeds”) and carnivores. In the last lecture Kleier points out the advantages and problems of genetically modified organisms, including plants. Throughout the course Kleier includes short “lab” videos, such as how to press plants, how to graft them, or how to measure photosynthesis. Because I began this course utterly ignorant of botany, I learned quite a few surprising things. Roots, for example, need oxygen rather than carbon dioxide. Lichens are not plants, as I thought, but composites of fungi and algae. Venus flytraps take a long time to rearm themselves, so they can snap shut only seven times, at most, during their lifetimes. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries aren’t really “berries” as botanists define them, but tomatoes are. Speaking of strawberries, the little yellow bits embedded in them aren’t the seeds we think they are; they are each the actual fruits. The red flesh that we enjoy is only a receptacle. In the same way, walnuts and peanuts are not nuts. Finally, some trees produce volatile organic carbons that combine with other substances in the air to produce ozone near the ground, also known as smog. So Ronald Reagan was partly right when he claimed trees produced more pollution than automobiles…amazing! I don’t normally comment on professors’ clothes, but Kleier’s present an interesting contrast. During lectures she often wears short dresses with long boots and her hair loose while in labs sequences she consistently wears a turquoise blue top and puts her hair in a pony-tail; perhaps she shot the latter videos all on the same day. Her sense of humor is a little dorky for my taste, but her enthusiasm and knowledge are impressive. I have a few small gripes, as always. Kleier lost me sometimes when using specialized vocabulary and explaining genetics or the complexities of plant physiology, though my ignorance is also to blame. On video she gave helpful explanations of the taxonomic hierarchy and naming conventions, but these are missing from the guidebook. In Lecture 11, at least in the guidebook, she contradicts herself over whether spruces, firs and hemlocks are part of the pine family or independent families. Lecture 9, the grafting video had me wincing repeatedly, afraid she would slice open her fingers with a box cutter; I assume the Teaching Company wouldn’t actually show that part if she had, but you never know. Anyways, this course is excellent and I recommend it to all as an aid in getting rid of plant blindness.
Date published: 2019-06-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from good content Professor supplies excellent content and great enthusiasm but should be willing to let a different professional do the actual lecturing. The darting around and gesturing interferes with what is being said....we need an enthusiastic lecturer who is quieter and more restrained.
Date published: 2019-05-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Educational and Fun This course included a wide array of topics such as mosses, algae, ferns, and much more. Although the lecturer covered many subjects at a rapid pace, I was able to stay with her by referring to the guidebook. All in all, the course was very educational and enjoyable. While some of the other reviews thought that Dr. Kleier made too many jokes, I felt the exact opposite. She is one of those rare teachers who can take a dry subject and make it fun. Her knowledge of botany and her excellent organization led to a very interesting and entertaining course. I rated the course at 4 stars because I found the subject somewhat bland. This is my fault, not the lecturer's. I do recommend this course.
Date published: 2019-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unconventional but authoritative, relevant and fun For the first couple of lectures, I sort of wondered if I had stumbled into a course aimed at bored high school students, with a bubbly, animated instructor bordering on gung ho. Unlike some reviewers who seem to have given up at this point, however, I continued, and it didn’t take long to realize that Dr Kleier is a true authority in her field whose apparently scattershot approach to the subject at hand belies the completeness, comprehensiveness, and relevance of her course. True, its contents are not laid out in an obvious, logical progression, and its lectures are not presented with the more formal, traditional structure of many Great Courses. However, by the end the viewer (who I assume is intended to be more novice than expert botanist) has been exposed to an impressive breadth of material—taxonomic, structural, genetic, biochemical, ecological, and also practical. Among the more than 100 Teaching Company courses I have taken, those I consider the very best have been presented by recognized experts in their fields, who have spent years teaching the specific material presented in the course, and have been acknowledged for their teaching excellence by their students and peers. Professor Kleier meets these criteria, and I thought her course was terrific, despite its unconventional features in comparison with others in the collection.
Date published: 2019-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Splendid Experience! I have watched this entire course and then gone back for second and third views several selected episodes. This is a GREAT course. The fine professor has a superb command of the subject matter, a highly engaging personality and remarkably effective teaching skills. She reveals the astonishing breadth and depth of the worldwide variety in plant life with consummate capability. Also, when it is wise to address basic science (e.g., genetics and DNA) she clued me in effectively with her excellent communications skills.
Date published: 2019-03-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A non traditional introduction to botany After watching several lectures, I lost interest. I have an undergraduate background in biology, but couldn’t discern what the course objectives were. The professor is enthusiastic and knowledgeable but the course material seemed to wander all over.
Date published: 2019-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tons of useful info - funny lady Great course. Tons of useful information. Great sense of humor to make the presentation fun
Date published: 2019-01-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very disappointing. I've tried to start this course twice, hoping to develop my understanding of plants and how they grow. As a Master Gardener, and interested in plant propagation, I was hoping this course would give background information that I could use. Instead, the level of scientici jargon and discussion was hard to follow and translate into knowledge I could use. I must say, though, that I did not object to the perkiness that others found offensive. I thought she was a decent presenter, but the information she presented was hard to follow and not what I needed.
Date published: 2019-01-02
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