What is botany, and what does a botanist study? A broad topic with many subfields, botany is the scientific study of plants. Because botany is such a diverse field of study, many botanists specialize in particular areas of the field. The study of plants includes diverse disciplines, including everything from phytogenesis – a specialty concerned with the evolution of plants – to astrobotany, which relates to the possibility of growing plants on other planets.
Botany Today has compiled a list of over 30 branches of botany, and Collins Dictionary lists over 15 fields under the heading of botany. Here's an overview of five different categories of botany – and many more than five different fields of botany – that will help you understand how botany is useful in your life today.
Plants and Humans
The first category of botany, dealing with the relationship between plants and humans, includes specialties like ethnobotany, which investigates the connections between plants and human cultures. Ethnobotanists have discovered many plants with medicinal purposes in regions like the tropical rainforests, and investigating the historical uses of plants has helped researchers identify plants with potential for fighting diseases.
A related field, scientists who study forensic botany investigate plant evidence to uncover clues about crime. Economic botany, which is concerned with plants that have commercial importance, also has to do with the relationships between plants and humans, including how humans use plants for food and medicine.
Applied Plant Science
A wide category that includes fields of botany like agronomy, biotechnology, forestry, natural resource management and plant pathology, applied plant science is related to practical uses of plants. While agronomists help increase the yields of crops like corn and wheat, botanists who specialize in biotechnology work with plant genes to improve plants.
Foresters are concerned with the management of woodlands to produce timber, and botanists who work in natural resource management are focused on the responsible management of the planet's natural plant-derived resources. Plant pathology is an important specialty related to the prevention and control of plant diseases.
Plants and the Environment
Botany, the study of plants, includes fields related to the environment as a whole. Plant ecologists investigate the relationships between plants and their environments, which is becoming increasingly important as our climate changes. This includes details like the soils plants live in, the climates they grow in and the animals they interact with. Understanding these connections is essential, notes Environmental Science, because this knowledge will help humans survive, adapt and continue to cultivate plants in shifting environments.
Evolution of Plants
Understanding the ways that plants have evolved and adapted over thousands of years is critical to knowledge of the plant kingdom. Plant taxonomy is the botanical field concerned with identifying, naming and classifying plants – which helps researchers to see how different species are related. Plant genetics is related to taxonomy as it helps scientists understand plant genes and how they are inherited.
Those who study paleobotany use fossils to learn about extinct plants, which helps them understand how the planet has changed as plants have evolved. By looking at fossilized plants, scientists find clues about the environments they grew in.
Other Specialties of Botany
There are botanists who devote their careers to studying algae, a field known as algology. If you are passionate about grasses, there's a botanical field just for you, called agrostology. And if orchids are your thing, you might consider specializing in orchidology.
There are botanists who focus on fruits and nuts, a field referred to as pomology. There is so much interest in roses that they get their own special field, called rhodology. Some plant scientists spend their time studying pollen grains and spores, a specialty known as palynology.
Botany is a vast topic of study with an incredible range of specialties. There's something for everyone who loves plants in the field of botany!
About the Author
Meg Schader is a freelance writer and copyeditor. She holds a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from Cornell University and a Master of Professional Studies in environmental studies from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Along with freelancing, she also runs a small farm with her family in Central New York.