Biology 215

BIOL 215
Plants and Society

Catalog Entry

BIOL 215
Plants and Society
Three hours lecture, three hours laboratory.

Prerequisite: BIOL 131 or BIOL 232 or 4 hours of Biology or permission of instructor.  

An interdisciplinary exploration into the vital role plants and plant products play in human societies.  Throughout recorded history, humans have depended on plants as sources of foods, beverages, herbs and spices, medicinal and recreational drugs, wood and textiles, and other products. Topics may include plant structure, growth, and nutrition; the diversity and evolutionary relationships of organisms traditionally studied by botanists; techniques for growing and producing plant products; plant breeding and genetic modification; and conservation of plant-based resources. The origins, history, morphology and chemistry of plants of economic importance may be considered.

Detailed Description of Content of Course

Topics to be covered may include, but are not limited, to the following:
1) History of plants and human societies; origins of agriculture
2) Leaves, stems and roots
    a) Structure, function, and specializations
    b) Asexual reproduction and cloning
    c) Vegetables: foods from leaves, stems, and roots
    d) Starchy staples: storage stems and roots
    e) Sweets from stems and roots
3) Fruits and seeds
    a) Sexual reproduction of seed plants
    b) Fruit development, functions and types of fruit
    c) Temperate and tropical fruits and nuts
    d) Cereal grains (grasses)
    e) Legumes (beans)
4) Flavor and odor plants: Chemistry and ecology of aromatic compounds; Herbs, spices, and the Age of Exploration; Essential oils and perfumes
5) Vegetable oils and waxes: Composition and major types of seed oils; Nonfood uses of oils
6) Medicinal Plants: Chemistry of plant-derived medicines; History and modern use of plant-derived medicines
7) Poisonous and Psychoactive Plants: Chemistry of psychoactive drugs; Painkillers and hallucinogens-addiction and neural transmission; Identification of poisonous plants
8) Stimulating and alcoholic plant beverages: Coffee, cacao, chocolate, tea, cola; Fermentation, distillation, and production of alcohols
9) Woods, fibers, and dyes: Anatomy, ecology, and economics of softwoods and hardwoods
10) Horticulture and botanical gardens
11) Plant resources in the future/feeding a hungry world: genetic diversity, alternative crops, biotechnology and genetic engineering     

Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

This course will be taught in classroom and laboratory sessions, using a variety of teaching techniques and learning aids.  In addition to traditional lectures, students may be introduced to course content through small group activities and projects, readings, class and small-group discussions, laboratory activities and experiments, videos, and botanical field trips.  Teaching collections and experimental gardens in the Radford University Greenhouse may be used in this course to provide students with additional hands-on experience with plant structure and function, plant propagation techniques, temperate and tropical plant diversity, and economically important plant products.

Goals and Objectives of the Course

Students successfully completing this course will be able to describe the importance of plant resources to past, present, and future human societies. This may include, but not necessarily be limited to, being able to:

1) Describe the general characteristics, diversity, and evolutionary history of the major groups of plants and other organisms traditionally studied by botanists
2) Describe the structure and function of plant roots, stems and leaves, and economically important modifications of these structures in human societies
3) Explain sexual and asexual modes of flowering plant reproduction, including the structure and function of flowers, fruits, and seeds and modifications of these structures for pollination, seed dispersal, and human manipulation
4) Describe the diversity of plants and plant products commonly used in human societies
5) Describe the taxonomic diversity and important families of economically important and useful plants
6) Explain the biological importance of plant resources commonly used in human societies
7) Relate the origins, histories, and roles of important plants and plant products to the development of human culture

Assessment Measures

Assessment of student understanding and application of course material will may be carried out through written lecture exams, practical field and laboratory quizzes, oral presentations, group research projects, and discussions and written assignments.  Other assessment measures may be used to evaluate understanding of content and skills when appropriate.

Other Course Information


Review and Approval