BOTANY IS THE study of plants. Botanists study all aspects of plants, including their environment and how they grow. The discipline is one of the oldest sciences and has been closely associated with agriculture, horticulture, pharmacology, and other disciplines concerned with plants. Botany is related to many other sciences such as soil science, chemistry, geography, mathematics, and physics. All the sciences and businesses that use botanical knowledge benefit from pure botanical research.
Since prehistoric times, people have used plants for medicine, food, building materials, and making other items such as musical instruments. Plant knowledge was universal among cave dwellers or hunter-gatherers, whose folklore was passed on for generations. Medicine men or women practiced the development of remedies for diseases and injuries, as well as intoxicants. When settled farming communities arose about 12,000 years ago, horticultural plant knowledge also began to move toward a body of knowledge.
Ancient civilizations of the Egyptians, Indians, and Babylonians coined names for the plants they knew. The Greeks added to plant name descriptions. Aristotle, his student Theophrastus (An Inquiry into Plants), Galen the physician, and others gave descriptions to plant names. Aristotle sought the unique form or idea that is found in each plant. This basis would eventually aid the development of taxonomy of plants. He believed in the fixity of the species. This view was challenged by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution of the species, which was a naturalistic explanation for the enormous plant diversity in the plant kingdom.
There are hundreds of thousand of plants in the world. They vary widely, even when related. This creates a major problems for accurate identification. For example, there are a wide variety of plants named in the Bible and in other ancient literature. However, identifying the exact plants named by biblical names is problematic. The same problem occurs when plants are named by other ancient literature; because they were given local names, the specific plants named are hard to precisely identify. For example, in the Hindu Vedas, there is frequent mention of the soma plant that was used as an intoxicant. Today, scholars are not sure which plant is the soma plant because of the absence of a universal, standard terminology of identification.
A standard nomenclature was adopted after the voyages of discovery, when a rich new variety of similar and uniquely new plants confronted botanists. Standardized nomenclature was developed using a taxonomy derived from Latin names. Latin, the language of scholarship until the 20th century, was used to assign a universal name to plants with different common names or national names in the many European languages. The use of Latin, a dead language, prevents changes in names that would occur in a living language, thereby creating lasting scientific precision.
The scientific naming has a fixed pattern, in which the first name identifies the genus to which a plant belongs. The second name is the species name, which denominates precisely to which subgroup it belongs. Each genus is a unique class with each of its species being also unique groups. Many plants also have varietal names. For example, the orange tree has a scientific name of Citrus sinensis; Naval and Valencia oranges are varieties.
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