The World of Plants

Consider for a minute just how different plants are. They have no mouths, no eyes or ears, no brain, no muscles. They stand still for their entire lives, planted in the soil like enormous drinking straws wicking gallon after gallon of water from the earth to the atmosphere. Plants live on little more than water, air, and sunshine and have mastered the trick of transmuting these simple things into almost everything they (and we) need. In this encyclopedia, readers will find out how plants accomplish this photo-synthetic alchemy and learn about the extraordinary variety of form and function within the plant kingdom. In addition, readers will be able to trace their 450-million-year history and diversification, from the very first primitive land plants to the more than 250,000 species living today.

All animals ultimately depend on photosynthesis for their food, and humans are no exception. Over the past ten thousand years, we have cultivated such an intimate relationship with a few species of grains that it is hardly an exaggeration to say, in the words of one scientist, that "humans domesticated wheat, and vice versa." With the help of agriculture, humans were transformed from a nomadic, hunting and gathering species numbering in the low millions, into the most dominant species on the planet, with a population that currently exceeds six billion. Agriculture has shaped human culture profoundly, and together the two have reshaped the planet. In this encyclopedia, readers can explore the history of agriculture, learn how it is practiced today, both conventionally and organically, and what the impact of it and other human activities has been on the land, the atmosphere, and the other creatures who share the planet with us.

Throughout history—even before the development of the modern scientific method—humans experimented with plants, finding the ones that provided the best meal, the strongest fiber, or the sweetest wine. Naming a thing is such a basic and powerful way of knowing it that all cultures have created some type of taxonomy for the plants they use. The scientific understanding of plants through experimentation, and the development of ra

^Explore further in Photosynthesis, Light Reactions and Evolution of Plants

^Explore further in Agriculture, Modern and Human Impacts

-Explore further in Ecology, History of; Biodiversity; and Phylogeny

-Explore further in Curator of a Botanical Garden and Landscape Architect

-Explore further in Ecology, History of; Biodiversity; and Phylogeny

-Explore further in Curator of a Botanical Garden and Landscape Architect tional classification schemes based on evolution, has a rich history that is explored in detail in this encyclopedia. There are biographies of more than two dozen botanists who shaped our modern understanding, and essays on the history of physiology, ecology, taxonomy, and evolution. Across the spectrum of the botanical sciences, progress has accelerated in the last two decades, and a range of entries describe the still-changing understanding of evolutionary relationships, genetic control, and biodiversity.

With the development of our modern scientific society, a wide range of new careers has opened up for people interested in plant sciences, many of which are described in this encyclopedia. Most of these jobs require a college degree, and the better-paying ones often require advanced training. While all are centered around plants, they draw on skills that range from envisioning a landscape in one's imagination (landscape architect) to solving differential equations (an ecological modeler) to budgeting and personnel management (curator of a botanical garden).

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