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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Science
December 11, 2016
Canadian Excellence

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BI 266 Life on Earth: Plants

Important note: the content of this course has moved to MyLS

BI 266; Life on Earth: Plants

Lectures: Tue and Thu 11:30–12.50 (P1025)

Instructor: Mihai Costea; Office hours: Thu 2:30-5 pm

For the Lab Outline go here

Lab Coordinator: Fengshan Ma (


Why study plants? It is fashionable to be “green” these days, from the food on the dinner table to politics, but it is often forgotten that this metaphor comes from the chlorophyll produced by plants. More than 550 million years ago, these plants cooled down Earth's climate and boosted the level of oxygen in the atmosphere which allowed the first land animals to evolve. Subsequently, all the biotic and abiotic interactions within and among the Earth’s ecosystems and its myriad of organisms have evolved and revolved around the plants, as the foundation of life on this planet. Whether we think about them or not, plants are fundamental to our existence. They have provided us food, medicines, fuel, weapons, clothing, and construction materials. Plants are intertwined with religions and spirituality. There would be no poetry without flowers, and our languages and collective unconscious mind would be considerably poorer without the symbols and myths of the plants. This is why a basic knowledge of plants is not only central to understanding life on Earth, but also an integral part of our future personal choices as members of the society: political, environmental, educational, life-style, and recreational. The main goal of this course is to provide an introduction to the incredibly diverse and dynamic science called botany (from the Greek botanikos, 'of plants').

The course is structured into three parts (modules):

Part 1

Form, Structure and Function: ca. 6 weeks

Relying on the functions of organs, we will discover the diversity of their forms and structures and understand why plants have acquired them to adapt to their environment.

General topics to be covered:

1). Roots

2). Stems

3). Leaves

4). Reproductive structures

5). Seeds and fruits

Required course package: Plants: Form, Structure and Function [See Bookstore]

(Chapters 4-8 from Introductory Plant Biology, 11th edition by K.R. Stern, J. Bidlack, and S. Jansky.

Part 2

Biodiversity and evolution: 1-2 week

This part focuses on the diversity of vascular plants and provides an introduction to the principles and practice of plant systematics (taxonomy), as a tool to the study biodiversity. The theoretical and practical information necessary to recognize the major groups (families) of flowering plants will be provided along with information about their evolutionary relationships. General topics to be covered:

1). Fundamentals of systematics, biodiversity and conservation.

2). Evolution and diversity of major groups of plants on Earth: ferns, gymnosperms and angiosperms.

Recommended texts:

Dickinson, T., Metsger, D., Bull, J. and Dickinson, R. 2004. The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario. Toronto ON, Royal Ontario Museum and McClelland and Stewart Ltd.

Judd, W. S., Campbell, C. S., Kellogg, E. A., Stevens, P. F. and Donoghue, M. J. 2007. Plant Systematics - A Phylogenetic Approach, 3nd ed. Sunderland MA, Sinauer Associates, Inc. 

Part 3

Plants and Civilization (Ethnobotany): 4-5 weeks

Plants have largely influenced tremendously human civilization. This module explores the worldwide cross-cultural relationships between plants and people, both past and present. We will see how various plants (e.g. food plants, medicinal plants, psychoactive plants, etc.) have shaped the evolution of the humans both from a material and a spiritual point of view. General topics may include:

1). Feeding a hungry world: plants as food.

2). Plants that heal: certitude and incertitude.

3). Plants that kill: poisonous and allergenic plants.

4). Psychoactive plants: magical, sacramental and religious significance.

5). Plants as an impetus for early geographical exploration of Earth.

6). Plant symbols and archetypes; plants and language; plants in art.

Recommended texts:

Balik, M.J. and Cox, P.A.1996. Plants, people and culture. Scientific American  Library.

Cotton, C.M. 1996. Ethnobotany. Principles and applications. John Wiley & Sons, Toronto.

Levetin, E. and McMahon, K. 2006. Plants and Society, 4th edition. McGraw-Hill Publishers, Boston.

Martin, G.J. 2004. Ethnobotany. A methods manual. EarthScan.

Minnis, O.E. (Ed.) 2000. Ethnobotany: A reader. University of Oklahoma Press.

Moerman, D.E. 1998. Native American ethnobotany. Timber Press, Cambridge, Portland.

Rätsch, C. 2005. The encyclopedia of psychoactive plants. Ethnopharmacology  and its applications. Park Stree Press.

Schultes, R.E. and Siri von Reis (Ed.) 1995. Ethnobotany: evolution of a discipline. Dioscorides Press/Timber Press.

Schultes, R.E., Hofmann, A. and Rätsch, C. 1998. Plants of the Gods: Their sacred, healing and hallucinogenic powers. Healing Art Press, Rochester, Vermont

Marking scheme

Lecture component: 55%

Midterm (Feb 14, 2012) 20%

Cumulative Final Exam        35%

Lab component:             45%

TOTAL = 100

Bonus: 5 marks if you read one book. See more details in MyLS.