As biologists have learned more about the physiology of plants, the biochemical reactions involved in their growth, maintenance, and reproduction, and in their genetic composition, it has proved necessary to rename the science of botany. The study of plants is no longer a single discipline, but a group of related disciplines that are known collectively […]

Saving the Tropical Forests

Tropical forests cover about 6 percent of the Earth’s land area. It is difficult to be precise about the area, but in 2009 tropical forests of all types probably occupied approximately 7 million square miles (18 million km2). As well as rain forests, the Tropics support seasonal forest, dry forest, and mangrove forest, and all […]

National Parks and Nature Reserves

In 1830 the American painter and author George Catlin (1796–1872) set off on a journey up the Mississippi River into Native American lands at the start of a diplomatic mission led by General William Clark (1770–1838). By 1836 Catlin had visited 50 tribes, and in the following two years he visited 18 more on a journey […]

The Advance of Agriculture and the Retreat of Wilderness

People began to cultivate crop plants about 11,500 years ago in Southwest Asia and more recently in every other part of the populated world. At first, the early crops faced severe competition from wild plants, but in time the farmers overcame them, at least partially. It was not only their chosen plant species that the […]

What Is Biodiversity?

There are certain words that everyone uses but that are exceedingly difficult to define precisely. Biodiversity is one such word: The term is a contraction of biological diversity, which seems simple enough. Obviously, it means the variety of living organisms that inhabit our planet. Unfortunately, the apparently simple definition leads to difficulties. If it refers […]

Arthur Tansley and the Plants of Britain

Ecology is now accepted as a scientific discipline in its own right, and there are professional ecologists. This is due in no small measure to the influence of another gifted teacher and writer, the English ecologist Arthur G. Tansley (1871–1955). Tansley always insisted on strict definitions, rigorous use of language, and learning about natural communities […]

Eugen Warming and the Principles of Plant Ecology

The first textbook on plant ecology was published in 1895 in Copenhagen, Denmark, entitled Plantesamfund: Grundtræk af den økologiske Plantegeografi. It was translated into German in 1896 and again in 1902, into Polish in 1900, and into Russian in 1901 and again in 1903. It first appeared in English in 1909, published by the Clarendon […]

Carl Georg Oscar Drude and Plant Formations

Tropical forests extend across a vast area of Central and South America, West and Central Africa, South Asia, and northern Australia. A belt of coniferous forest stretches across northern Canada and Eurasia. The North American prairies, South American pampas, and Eurasian steppe are temperate grasslands. It would be easy to suppose that a visitor might […]

Andreas Schimper and Plant Adaptation to the Environment

Agriculture and commercial forestry have transformed the landscape over almost the whole of Europe. There are few areas of true wilderness remaining, and in an ecological sense the plant communities are not those that would have developed without human interference. Consequently, it is not easy to observe the way plants have adapted naturally to the […]

Gustaf Du Rietz and Communities of Plants

Braun-Blanquet and his colleagues founded one school of phytosociology, but there were others. Professor Teodor Lippmaa (1892–1943) established an Estonian school in 1934 at the University of Tartu, and its first task was to map the plant distribution throughout the country. This was completed in 1955. The plant communities were then grouped into associations on […]