History of Plant Sciences


The study of plants has played a significant, if sometimes undervalued, role in history. Plants have been important in Western science, medicine and economic affairs since Antiquity and have always had a large role to play in non‐Western medicine, agriculture and cultural affairs. The herbal tradition dominated medical treatments until the Renaissance after which it ran alongside developing areas of expertise in classification and physiology. In the eighteenth century, plant sciences became significant in the expansion of empire into cash crop commodities, coal‐fuelled industries and plantation economies. Nineteenth‐century botanists used plants for investigating cell theory and early genetics, palaeontology and evolutionary biology. In the twentieth century, plant sciences were significant in the new topics of ecology and conservation. Some plants are now indispensible model organisms for laboratory research.

Keywords: herbal medicine; anatomy; microscope; physiology; biogeography; classification; genetics; cell theory

Further Reading

Allan MA (1977) Darwin and his Flowers. The Key to Natural Selection. London, UK: Faber and Faber.

Andrews HN (1980) The Fossil Hunters: In Search of Ancient Plants. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Delaporte F (1982) In: Goldhammer A, (ed.) transl. Nature's Second Kingdom. Explorations of Vegetality in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Frey KJ (ed.) (1994) Historical Perspectives in Plant Science. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press.

Green JR (1909) A History of Botany, 1860–1900. Being a Continuation of Sachs' History of Botany 1530–1860. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Morton AG (1981) History of Botanical Science. An Account of the Development of Botany from Ancient Times to the Present Day. London, UK: Academic Press.

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Browne, Janet(Mar 2015) History of Plant Sciences. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003081.pub2]