Christianity and the ‘‘New’’ Japanese Religions

Christianity, which was present in Japan long before the end of World War II, occupies an unusual position in Japan. Only approximately one percent of Japanese are professed Christian. Yet at specific points in Japanese history, Christian institutions and individuals have exercised considerably more intellectual, social, and cultural influence than might be supposed given today's […]

Confucianism: The Branches and Leaves of Japanese Civilization?

Prince Shotoku, who as Yamato regent in 604 wrote the first guidelines for Japanese government in his ''constitution,'' was also alleged to have written in another document that Shinto was the root, Confucianism the branches and leaves, and Buddhism the flowers and fruit of the tree of Japanese civilization. Although the prince didn't put this assertion […]


Buddhism was a world religion that had existed for 1,000 years when emissaries from the king of the more advanced Korean state of Paekche introduced this complex array of beliefs to the Japanese in 552 CE. Buddha, meaning ''enlightened one,'' was born Prince Gautama Siddhartha in the Indian Shakya nation around 563 BCE and died […]

Shinto: ‘‘The Way of the Kami’’

The bundle of spiritual rites and practices that we know today as Shinto began in Japanese antiquity and shares many characteristics of ancient early preliterate forms of Western and non-Western religions that were rooted in the earth, nature, and fertility. Like many other earth religions, Shinto has no historical founders such as Jesus, Buddha, or […]

Religion and Thought

Japanese spiritual traditions are a rich blend of ancient beliefs and rites intermingled with regional and even world influences. However, culture shapes religion as much as religion shapes culture, and contemporary Japanese religious and philosophical perspectives constitute a unique melange. Aspects of Japan's spiritual traditions have even been exported to the West. The indigenous spiritual […]

Conclusion: Japan’s Economic Future

For almost 400 years, Japan has enjoyed a national economy that compared favorably with most of the world's nations. However, the post–World War II years were unprecedented as the archipelago nation became the world's second-strongest economic power. Readers of this chapter now understand that despite Japan's continuing high level of affluence, the nation faces a […]


Economists concur that voluntary trade, whether domestic or international, promotes economic progress. The richest nations throughout history have consistently been those whose governments created legal and political environments that facilitated trade. The Japanese have engaged in domestic and foreign trade throughout their history, although there were long periods of time when past authoritarian governments severely limited […]

The Two-Tiered Economy

One of the most distinct characteristics of the Japanese economy when it is compared to the economies of most developed nations is the high productivity of large multinational corporations and a few internationally competitive retail and wholesale distributors and the relatively mediocre to poor productivity of those manufacturers that serve primarily the domestic market as […]

Business and Industry: Manufacturing

Western industrialization began with the development of capitalist institutions in Europe in the 1500s, then evolved to more complex levels with the British industrial revolution beginning in the late 18th century, and culminated a century later in the industrial capitalist system of Europe and the United States. The Japanese had a much different experience in […]

Natural Resources Overview

Although readers of the earlier section of this chapter as well as chapter 2 are familiar with the term ''economic miracle,'' which describes Japan's high-growth years (mid-1950s–early 1970s), in some ways the real miracle is that the Japanese were able to become the second-richest major nation on earth despite the fact that they have almost […]

Response to Globalization: 1973 to the Present

The Japanese economic miracle ended in 1973 when some Arab nations embargoed oil due to their opposition to American and allied Middle Eastern policies and energy prices subsequently rose throughout the developed world. Still, Japan enjoyed the highest average annual growth rates for a developed country all through the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1980s, Japan […]

Japan Becomes a World Economic Power: 1945–1973

Despite the experience and knowledge of its people, Japan was a devastated nation at the end of World War II. Millions of Japanese were without the basic necessities of life. Approximately one-fourth of all Japanese homes, as well as a high proportion of factories and shops, had been destroyed by the war. Japan was also […]

Industrialization and State-Guided Capitalism: 1868–1945

In the early 1870s, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, Japan's new political leadership faced the problem of Western imperialism. Japan's oligarchs quickly decided to build both a strong economy and a strong military in order to negotiate with Western Europe and the United States on an equal footing. Meiji leaders systematically studied various economic models and […]

Economic Systems: The Roots of Success (1600–1868)

Even though Japan's spectacular economic rise did not occur until the three decades after World War II, the foundations for the so-called economic miracle were laid during the Tokugawa era (1600–1868). Although technologically behind parts of Western Europe and the United States that were industrializing and had more advanced technology, the Tokugawa economy was certainly not […]

Conclusion: Political Challenges and Evolving Government Structures

Much change has occurred in Japan's political system since roughly the mid-1980s. However, further progress needs to be made. Like any large nation in an increasingly interconnected and fast-changing world, Japan's problems are complex. The economy is always a paramount issue, and Japan has made substantial progress in rebounding from the serious malaise that lasted […]

The Real World of Japanese Politics: 1985 to the Present

The 1985 Plaza Accords, discussed extensively in the following chapter of this book, where Japan signed an agreement with other major developed nations to raise the value of its artificially undervalued yen, is now looked on as having subsequent major political as well as economic ramifications for Japan. After that agreement, Japan was forced to […]

The Real World of Japanese Politics: 1945–1985

As discussed both here and in the history chapter, democracy grew relatively rapidly in Japan, and the Japanese now have a more than 60-year democratic history. However, Japan's political history, culture, geography, economy, and changing position in the world, just as is the case with any nation, makes the nature of Japanese democracy unique in […]

Postwar Government and Politics: The Creation of Japanese Democracy and Its Structure

Japan became a democratic country with the adoption of the 1947 Constitution, which has never been amended and remains in effect today. However, since roughly 1985, domestic and international factors have resulted in new challenges and changes for Japan's political leadership. Before contemporary government and politics can be understood, a discussion of the creation of […]

Japan’s Imperial Period: 1868–1945

Although parts of the domestic political system such as the class structure and tax collection had also become dysfunctional, the crisis caused by the unwanted incursion of American and European powers eventually was the primary reason the Tokugawa government fell. In 1868 a group of young samurai from two domains that had always grudgingly accepted […]

Government and Politics in the Tokugawa Period: 1600–1868

As depicted in the prior chapter, in 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu, through force of arms and diplomacy, managed to unify a Japan that had been torn by civil war for most of the previous century and intermittent internal strife for much of the 14th century as well. Tokugawa and his descendents who ruled Japan as shoguns […]

Introduction: The Roots of Japan’s Contemporary Government and Politics

Most readers of this book are Americans, and they have studied U.S. government. Imagine attempting to learn about how the American government works without some knowledge of the influence of Great Britain, the motives of the founders of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the formulation of the present […]

Japan’s Path to Prosperity: 1945 to the Present

The years following World War II resulted in more change in Japan than any time since the beginning of the Meiji period. The U.S. occupation under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur initiated this peaceful reconstitution of much of Japanese society. The general almost immediately won the respect and admiration of the Japanese people through […]

Japan and the World: 1853–1945

Few events in Japan's history have proven as significant as Commodore Perry and his ''black ships,'' as the Japanese called them. In the years since Perry first arrived, Japan would become the first Asian nation to modernize, attain world power status, lose a disastrous war, and recover to develop a democratic government and the second-largest […]

Tokugawa Japan: An Era of Peace

European influence, particularly new technology, served as a partial catalyst for political change in Japan. Only a few years after Europeans introduced guns to Japan, three powerful leaders—Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu—used advanced firepower to achieve brilliant military successes that resulted in the political unification of Japan. In 1568, at the invitation of […]

Medieval Japan

As the influence of the Fujiwara clan and the central government declined, two powerful provincial families, the Taira and Minamoto, warred against each other in what historians refer to as the Gempei War. In 1185, Yoritomo, the leader of the Minamoto family, defeated the Taira and Fujiwara clans and obtained military control of Japan. In […]

Classical Japan

The Heian period (794–1185) is a critical period of Japanese history. Although the cultural heritage imparted by China and the early Korean states remains a part of Japan, distinct and sophisticated Japanese cultural forms emerged during this period. The new capital city was situated in a nation with an estimated population of 5 million people. Heian, […]

Japan’s Prehistory and Early Mainland Asia Influences

The first people in the archipelago probably walked there via temporary land bridges from the Asian mainland more than 30,000 years ago. There is some archeological evidence that people from Southeast Asia also reached Japan by water in prehistoric times. Archaeologists have used the art of Japan's earliest known culture to name the first period […]

Introduction: Japan, East Asia, and the World

Many have the stereotype that until relatively recently, the archipelago's culture developed largely in isolation from the rest of the world. Although there are critical elements of truth in this assumption, it is incorrect in many respects. Throughout history, some Japanese have interacted in a variety of ways with other East Asians and, at times, […]

Japan: History

KEY EVENTS IN JAPANESE HISTORY 11,000–300 BCE Jomon culture 300 BCE–250 CE Yayoi culture 250–552 CE Tomb period (Kofun) 552–710 Late Yamato period 552 Buddhism is transported from Korea to Japan 604 Japan's 17-point ''constitution'' is ascribed to Prince Shotoku 645 So-called Taika Reforms are enacted 710 Japan's first permanent capital is established at Nara […]

The Hazards of Being Japanese

Although virtually all cultures have some level of appreciation for nature, it is particularly pronounced in Japanese culture. The constant attention to the changing seasons in Japanese literature and culture, the classical Japanese garden that is deliberately constructed to celebrate nature, the mass cherry blossom viewing parties of Tokyo office workers, and the deep appreciation of […]

Japan: The Space Problem

Because much of Japan's land does not lend itself to development, with the exception of Hokkaido, lack of space is a permanent problem. The space squeeze is most serious in cities and particularly acute in such huge metropolitan centers as Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo and numerous other urban areas. When one negotiates Japanese cities, example […]

The Physical and Human Geographies of Japan

With its four major islands—Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku—as well as thousands of smaller ones, Japan has a total land area of approximately 145,825 square miles. The distance from the northernmost tip of Hokkaido to extreme southern Kyushu is approximately the same as the distance from Bangor, Maine, to Mobile, Alabama, in the United States […]

Japan: Geography

As is the case with any people, geography influences contemporary Japanese, and Japan's physical geography has helped shape culture, the economy, politics, and religions. Geography, while offering some impressive advantages for Japan's inhabitants, has also often been an obstacle rather than an asset in the Japanese quest for economic development, safety, and security. Beginning with […]

Japan: Preface

It is my hope that Asia in Focus: Japan will be an informative and useful introduction for American readers to one of the world's most important countries. Currently, the rise of two other important Asian countries, the People's Republic of China and India, seem to have diverted many Americans' attentions from Japan. Although I would […]

Jamaica Looks to the Future

As a young nation, Jamaica has experienced a fair measure of inconsistency in its economic and political management. The country faces several major challenges to further development. A stagnating economy, currently beset by a variety of financial crises, must be jump-started. The island's fragile, but economically critical natural resource base must be protected. Prospects for […]

Living in Jamaica Today

Jamaicans are modern people, and their life is not that different from that in the United States. They dress much like Americans, wearing Nikes, T-shirts, and jeans; watch television; listen to music; and go to movies. British influence is evident in sports and education. Today, popular culture, although uniquely Jamaican, is more often developed on […]


Jamaica is classified as a less developed country (LDC), as is true of countries throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere in Latin America. The nation faces many problems that hinder economic growth. It also has many advantages that, if properly developed, can boost development. IS JAMAICA A WEALTHY COUNTRY? Gross domestic product (GDP) is one of […]

Jamaica is divided into three counties, which in turn are divided into parishes. In the mid-nineteenth century Jamaica had 22 parishes, but today it has only 14. Each parish has a capital, which is the site of its local government.

Administration and Government

Jamaica is a democratic country but one beset with many problems. This chapter describes and explains the country's governance, its divisions, and the problems it faces in serving its people. COUNTIES AND PARISHES Jamaica is divided into three counties, each of which is further divided into parishes. In the mid-nineteenth century, Jamaica had a total […]

People and Culture

POPULATION TRENDS Size of population is an important characteristic of any country. It determines the number of houses, schools, and hospitals; the size of the labor force; and the amount of food and water it is likely to need. The total population of Jamaica in July 2003 was an estimated 2.7 million, with an annual […]


Jamaica has a remarkable and dramatic history, one of merging peoples and cultures. The island's inhabitants enjoy a culture that is a blend of traditions from various groups that have come to the island over time. They include the native Taino Indians, the English colonizers, and Africans who were introduced to the Caribbean to perform […]

Jamaica’s land features range from low-lying coastal plains to the Blue Mountain crests that reach nearly 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) in elevation.

Natural Environment

Jamaica has a rich and varied natural environment. The island's land features range from low-lying coastal plains to the Blue Mountain crests reaching nearly 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) in elevation. Part of the island is a lush tropical paradise, and some areas are dry much of the year making them almost desertlike in appearance and […]

Jamaica is located in the Caribbean Sea about 550 miles (885 kilometers) south of Miami, Florida. It is the third-largest island in the island chain that includes Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico.

Introducing Jamaica

On a blustery January day, would you like to be on a tropical island? Come to Jamaica, a country of sun-drenched beaches, warm tropical breezes, and a rich cultural heritage. Jamaica is an island nation and a close neighbor of the United States. It is a masterpiece of tropical splendor and extraordinary vistas. The natural […]

Chile Looks Ahead

Pablo Neruda, Chile's national poet, wrote this poem to express his belief in the spiritual strength of the Chilean people. The nighttime is the darkness of Chile's uncertain future. The guitar is the land. The Chilean people are the dawn; they have the power and energy to strum the guitar, awaken the darkness, and reveal […]

Living in Chile Today

URBAN LIVING Nearly all Chileans live in cities. The typical Chilean city has traditional-style, adobe buildings and quaint plazas in the older sections. Modern-style offices and other buildings are scattered along major streets. The tallest buildings hardly reach four or five stories in most cities. The suburbs range from hastily built callampa (mushroom in Chilean speech) […]


Chile has one the world's best performing economies. A measure of a country's economic performance is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP is the value of all goods and services produced by a country. From 1990 to 2000, Chile's GDP grew 5.2 percent annually. This was the highest rate of GDP growth among all […]

Government and Politics

hile has a democratic government that allows every adult the right to vote. Its laws apply to everyone. Its citizens have the right to receive fair trials, and they can meet and discuss freely their political and religious beliefs. As a democratic government, the nation educates its citizens, which enables them to make informed decisions […]

People and Culture

Geography and history formed the crucible from which Chile was born. In the twentieth century, the country survived dictatorships and social upheavals to become a model of democracy in Latin America. Today, the vitality of its people and culture heighten the world's respect for this small nation even more. POPULATION Chile's 15.7 million people are […]

Chile Through Time

Chile's remote location has influenced much of its history. Indigenous peoples of the area lived on the distant fringe of the Inca civilization. Stretching from what is now Ecuador to middle Chile, the Inca Empire preceded the Spanish Empire in the Andes region. The Incas conquered Chile's northern natives and most of the natives occupying […]

Average Annual Temperatures of Coastal Locations

Physical Landscapes

Three major landform regions divide Chile: the Andes Mountains, the coast and islands, and the Central Valley. The regions run north to south and parallel to each other. The Andes region is an awesome mountain barrier. Its majestic peaks of spectacular height and bone-chilling temperatures define the country's eastern border. The nation's coast includes imposing […]

Chile Is located on the southwestern coast of South America, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and Argentina and Bolivia to the east The country has a very unusual shape, consisting of a narrow strip of land running approximately 2,700 miles (4,545 km) along the South American coast However, its maximum width is less than 100 miles (161 km) and its total area of 292,260 square miles (756,950 square kilometers) makes it slightly smaller than Texas.

Chile: Introduction

Chile has a little of everything. It is rich in copper, fruits, forests, and fish. It is a country of dramatic scenery and many climates. Cool waters stroke its shore and icy glaciers crown its peaks. Sighs of volcanoes and jolts of earthquakes shake its ribs. Squeezed between the heights of the mountains and the […]

Cuba Looks Ahead

Admirers of Cuba often call this island nation the “Pearl of the Antilles” because of its beautiful natural and cultural landscapes and its potential riches. In the modern world, Cuba should be a center of trade and wealth. The sad reality is that Cuba has never enjoyed true political independence, and it has degenerated into […]

Living in Cuba Today

Havana is Cuba's dominant urban center, with one in four city dwellers living there. This Caribbean metropolis is a primate city, which means that Havana is huge in comparison to the size of the next largest city. Indeed, its metropolitan population of about 3.7 million is several times larger than Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second […]

Cuba’s Economy

The Castro government transformed the Cuban economy from capitalism to Marxist-Leninist Socialism. The main element of Marxist-Leninist Socialism is the governments “nationalization of all means of production.” This phrase means that the government takes over ownership of all farms, factories, warehouses, railroads, banks, and so on. The government also sets all prices, wages, and salaries […]

Government and Politics

Spain did not create political units on Cuba until 1827. In that year, the Spanish began to govern the island through three loosely defined departments: Occidental (Western), Central (Central), and Oriente (Eastern). The departments were under the command of a captain general who lived in Havana. Each department had several towns. The towns had broad […]

People and Culture

Cuba has the largest population among Caribbean countries, nearly 11.5 million inhabitants. The island's population is highly urbanized, with 76 percent of the people living in cities. With so many people in cities, rural areas are sparsely settled. Like two poles of a magnet, Cuba's population is concentrated on opposite ends of the island. Thirty-eight […]

Cuba Through Time

The Siboney and Guanahatabey Indians are the earliest known inhabitants of Cuba. They arrived there sometime after 3500 b.c. Both groups lived in small temporary settlements. Their dwellings were concentrated near the ocean, because sea life was their main source of food. They gathered clams, mussels, crabs, and lobsters; hunted manatees and sea turtles; and […]

Huge mountains cover more than one-third of the total land area of this island nation. The remaining parts of the island are flat plains and rolling hills. Cuba is the principal island and is surrounded by four main groups of islands: the Colorados, the Sabana-Camagüey, the Jardines de la Reina, and the Canarreos. The nation’s highest point is the Pico Real del Turquino (6,578 feet or 2,005 meters), located in the Sierra Maestra mountains.

Physical Landscapes

Although we often speak of Cuba as one island, Cuba is actually an archipelago, or group of islands, whose total combined area is 42,803 square miles (110,860 square kilometers). Cuba is the largest island in this archipelago, making up 95 percent of the total land area of the island group. The second largest island, Isla […]

Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands and is the sixteenth largest island in the world. It is located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean and is approximately 42,803 square miles (110,860 square kilometers), or slightly smaller than Pennsylvania.

Introducing Cuba

Cuba is an alligator-shaped island and the largest country in the Caribbean Sea. It is located just south of the Tropic of Cancer (23 1/2° north latitude). Florida lies just 90 miles (145 kilometers) to the north and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is to the west. Cuba is one of the Caribbean region's Greater […]

The Dominican Republic Looks Ahead

Many countries, especially those that have what they believe is a glorious history, tend to look to the past more than to the future. Certainly, the Dominican Republic has a long and honored history, but it also has experienced almost-constant social, political, and economic turbulence. During recent years, however, things have begun to change. Democracy […]

Living in the Dominican Republic Today

What is it like to live in the Dominican Republic today? What are the benefits and burdens of being a Dominican resident? In this chapter, we take a look at the Dominicans today in order to better understand the people and their way of life. A CULTURE IN TRANSITION The Dominican culture has been flexible, […]

The Dominican Republic’s Economy

country's economy is the engine that fuels its daily life and determines the well-being of its citizens. Whether it's providing transportation systems or jobs and consumer products or public services, a country's economy has a significant influence on the daily activities of citizens and is the lifeblood of a country. Thus, the health of the […]

Government and Politics

Santo Domingo is the capital and largest city of the Dominican Republic. It has a history that stretches back more than 500 years to the time of brothers Christopher and Bartholomew Columbus. Bartholomew founded the settlement of Nueva Isabella (New Isabella) in 1496, which officially became Santo Domingo in 1498. Santo Domingo is the first […]

People and Culture

Nearly 10 million people call the Dominican Republic home. Most of them are of mixed European and African ancestry. Most Dominicans live in cities, although much of the country's rural landscape is densely packed. In this chapter you will learn about the Dominican people. You will get a glimpse of their demographics (demography is the […]

The Dominican Republic Through Time

Studying the history of a place is an important process. It helps to examine the various pieces and elements that have come together to form the country and culture being examined—in this case the Dominican Republic. What are these pieces? They range from the first peoples who inhabited the island to the outside influences that […]

The Dominican Republic is home to sugar plantations, four major rivers, many lakes and lagoons, and five important mountain ranges. Although the climate year-round is tropical—earning it the nickname “the endless summer”—temperatures as low as 32ºF (0ºC) are possible in the mountains.

Physical Landscapes

The natural environment forms the foundation upon which all human societies depend for their survival. This is not to say that nature determines the way people live within a particular natural setting. To the contrary, a people's culture, or their way of life, is determined by human ingenuity—what they have learned and are able to […]

Introduction to the Dominican Republic

For many readers, the Dominican Republic means but one thing—baseball players! It is true that on a per capita basis, no place in the world produces more highly skilled professional baseball players than does this small Caribbean country. But the Dominican Republic offers so much more. In this book, you will learn why the “D.R.” […]


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: Grundtraek af den okologiske 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 […]

Josias Braun-Blanquet and the Sociology of Plants

Raunkiaer based his system on the way plants have adapted to climate. Other botanists were using a similar approach to classify large units of vegetation, and one of the most influential was the German botanist and plant geographer August Grisebach. Other European plant ecologists developed Grisebach's ideas. This led to the emergence of phytosociology as […]

Christen Raunkiaer and the Way Plants Grow

In 1903 the Danish botanist Christen Raunkiaer proposed a solution to the difficult botanical problem of comparing plant communities with entirely different compositions. Raunkiaer's idea was to categorize plants by the position of their perennating buds—the plant structure with which a plant survives periods of adverse conditions. Raunkiaer believed that flowering plants first appeared in […]

Robert Brown, the Cell Nucleus, and the Study of Pollen

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was first presented in the form of a paper read at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858. The meeting had been arranged hastily, following Darwin's receipt on June 18 of a paper by Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) setting out an almost identical […]

Matthias Schleiden, Theodor Schwann, and Cell Theory

It was Robert Hooke in the 17th century who first observed cells and gave them that name, but the German botanist Matthias Schleiden (1804–81) was the first scientist to appreciate their importance. All living organisms either consist of a single cell or are made up of cells, and organisms grow and reproduce by the division […]

Erasmus Darwin and The Botanic Garden

The Lunar Society boasted several members of outstanding intellect, who quite cheerfully referred to themselves as lunaticks. Joseph Priestley was one, and another was Erasmus, the grandfather of Charles Darwin. Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) believed that in the natural world species were constantly developing as they struggled to overcome the constraints imposed by their environment. He […]


In 1667 the German chemist Johann Joachim Becher (1635–1682) published a book called Physica Subterranea (Physics below ground), in which he revised the traditional view of the classical elements. Becher replaced the elements fire and earth with three alternative forms of earth to which he gave Latin names: terra lapidea, or “stony earth,” which was […]

Joseph Priestley and “Dephlogisticated Air”

In 1772 William Petty, the second earl of Shelburne (1737–1805), invited Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), with his wife Mary and their three children, to live on his estate near Calne, Wiltshire, where Priestley would work as Petty's librarian and tutor to his children. The Priestleys moved to the Shelburne estate the following year. That is where […]

Transpiration is the process by which the evaporation of moisture through leaf stomata generates a pressure that draws up moisture from the soil, through the roots and the plant’s xylem vessels.

Stephen Hales, the Movement of Sap, and Transpiration

On the surfaces of leaves there are small pores that open and close in response to the movements of two guard cells, one on either side of each pore. The pores are called stomata (singular stoma), and they are the openings through which the plant exchanges gases. Carbon dioxide enters the plant and is used […]

Robert Hooke and the Cell

In 1665 the English physicist, instrument maker, and inventor Robert Hooke (1635–1703) published a book called Micrographia describing his researches using a microscope and illustrated by his own excellent and detailed drawings. Hooke's microscope has survived and is shown in the following illustration. It is now housed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine […]

Marcello Malpighi and the Microscopic Study of Plants

Nehemiah Grew moved from Coventry to London partly to gain access to the microscopes owned by the Royal Society. Scientists recognized the value of these instruments, and Grew made extensive use of them. It was the Italian physician Marcello Malpighi (1628–94), however, who really pioneered the use of the microscope in the study of anatomy. […]

Nehemiah Grew, Plant Reproduction, and Comparative Anatomy

Scientists who aim to reconstruct past climates and environments make use of pollen—the mass of grains produced within the anther of a flower that carry the sperm. Every pollen grain has a tough protective coat that can survive in the soil for many years, and scientists are able to retrieve stored pollen grains from the soil […]

Nikolai Vavilov proposed these regions as centers where domesticated crop plants originated and from where they had spread. The regions are as follows: 1. Mexico and Guatemala; 2. Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia; 3. southern Chile; 4. southern Brazil; 5. Mediterranean; 6. Middle East; 7. Ethiopia; 8. central Asia; 9. India and Myanmar (Burma); 10. Thailand, Malaysia, Java (Indonesia); 11. China

Nikolai Vavilov and the Origin of Cultivated Plants

When early farmers first began to select the plants that they wished to grow, they chose individuals with certain characteristics. In the case of cereals, for example, they selected plants with a tough rachis and a large store of endosperm. In selecting for certain traits, farmers gradually altered the genetic constitution of their crop plants, and […]

Gote Turesson and Plant Ecotypes

Natural selection acts on differences that exist among the members of a species, and the concept of such variation is central to Darwin's evolutionary theory. The fact of variation among individuals creates classification problems, however, as taxonomists must decide whether the visible differences between two plants or animals are sufficient to justify classifying them as […]

Asa Gray (1810–88), professor of natural history at Harvard University, was Charles Darwin’s most influential American supporter. Gray was also the leading U.S. authority on plant classification and plant distribution. (Science, Industry & Business Library/New York Public Library/Science Photo Library)

Asa Gray and the Discontinuous Distribution of Plants

In 1851 during one of his trips to Europe, Asa Gray (1810–88) visited Kew Gardens, where Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911) introduced him to Charles Darwin. Hooker was director at Kew, and since 1842 Gray had been professor of natural history at Harvard University, where he devoted himself wholly to botany. He was the leading American […]

A photograph of Charles Darwin (1809–82) toward the end of his life (New York Public Library/Art Resource)

Charles Darwin and Evolution by Means of Natural Selection

At his home, Down House, in Kent, Charles Darwin (1809–82) had a large garden that he loved and greenhouses in which he performed experiments. Although his evolutionary theory is most often discussed in its relation to animals, Darwin was every bit as interested in the evolution of plants. He used the way breeders modify animals […]

Adolphe-Theodore Brongniart, Father of Paleobotany

In 1822 a 21-year-old French botanist published a paper on the distribution and classification of fossil plants. This established the career path the young man would follow and that culminated with his most important work. This began with Prodrome d'une Histoire des Vegetaux Fossiles (Introduction to a history of fossil plants), published in 1828, followed by […]

How Rubber Moved to Asia

Natural rubber is made from the latex exuded by a tree, Hevea brasiliensis. Latex is a milky fluid produced by some herbs and trees that may carry nutrients and may also help the plant to heal wounds. The rubber tree grows naturally in tropical South America, where people were using rubber long before the arrival […]

Cocoa pods (Theobroma cacao) contain the beans that, after processing, yield cocoa butter and, after most of this has been removed, cocoa powder. This drawing of the pods is from A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica, with the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c. Of the last of those ISLANDS by Hans Sloane (1660–1753), in two volumes published in 1707 and 1725. (The British Museum)

Sir Hans Sloane, Milk Chocolate, and the British Museum

Cocoa is the most popular alternative drink to coffee and tea. It is made from the berries of a small tree (Theobroma cacao) that is native to tropical America and the islands of the Caribbean including Jamaica, which is the source of the first cocoa to reach Europe in 1698. The berries develop inside pods, […]

How Brazil Acquired Its Name

In the 15th and 16th centuries, wealthy Europeans dressed in rich fabrics dyed with bright colors, while ordinary folk were clad in dull grays and browns. Red was especially popular, not least because the dye, derived from the wood of the sappanwood tree (Caesalpinia sappan), was so expensive that sporting a red coat or gown […]

Coffee, and Kaldi’s Goats

Coffee originated in Ethiopia. That is where the plants (Coffea arabica and other species) grow naturally, and it is where they were first cultivated. Ethiopians were the first people to drink coffee. According to legend, it all began with a goatherd called Kaldi who lived in the ninth century c.e., although it was not Kaldi […]

Tea, and How Bodhidharma Stayed Awake

The founder of Zen Buddhism was a sage from southern India whose Sanskrit name was Bodhidharma, which means “teachings of the Buddha.” In China he is called Damo, and in Japan he is Daruma. The son of a Tamil king, Bodhidharma lived in the fifth or sixth century c.e. and became a Buddhist monk. He […]

Captain Bligh, HMS Bounty, and the Breadfruit Trees

In the late 18th century Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820) was president of the Royal Society. For a time Banks had been the unofficial director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. He wielded considerable influence in political and scientific circles. Britain was establishing colonies in many parts of the Tropics, and there was much interest […]

The Story of Cotton

No one knows who were the first people to wear clothes made from cotton or where they lived. Archaeologists have found traces of cotton fabrics dated at about 2300 b.c.e. in the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro. At that time the two cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, in the Indus Valley along what is now the border […]

The Story of Corn

Corn, also called maize (Zea mays mays), is a crop plant that originated in America. It is one of the approximately 10,000 members of the grass family (Poaceae), but it differs from the other cereal grasses in the extent to which the process of domestication altered it. These differences are so great that at one […]