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Botany Primer For Gardeners
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Botany Primer For Gardeners


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Presentation designed for a 3-hr teaching session for master gardeners in Oregon. The presentation is for beginners and covers many botanical subjects at that level. It is hoped that learners will be …

Presentation designed for a 3-hr teaching session for master gardeners in Oregon. The presentation is for beginners and covers many botanical subjects at that level. It is hoped that learners will be intrigued enough to discover more information on their own

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  • 1. Botany Primer for Gardeners
    Linda R McMahan, PhD
    Botanist & Extension Horticulturist
    Oregon State University Extension
  • 2. What We Will Cover
    Plant Diversity
    Algae, fungi and lichens
    Spore producing plants – mosses, liverworts, ferns
    Seed plants – conifers, ginkgo, and flowering plants
    Plant Structure and Growth
    Stems and roots
    Leaf structure
    Flowers and reproduction
  • 3. Plant Diversity
    From ancient time when we began studying the world around us, we tried to understand our surroundings by labeling plants and animals
    Our current scientific understanding continues to refine relationships, but historically, many organisms have been considered to be plants even if they are not now considered to be so
    I will use the historic understanding and explain modern differences as we proceed
  • 4. Plant Diversity
    The classification of various kinds of plants is based on reproduction
    Spore producing plants appeared on earth before seed producing plants
    Later, seed plants became more common—these are also the ones most common in our landscapes and gardens
  • 5. Plant Diversity
    Goal: Learning the patterns of diversity will help us learn to garden with nature rather than working against it
    Fallen leaves inside umbrella plant, Darmerapeltatum
  • 6. I. Organisms that reproduce through spores
    Algae and fungi
    Slime Molds
    Liverworts and relatives
    Sori, the spore carrying bodies on ferns, here a sword fern
  • 7. Algae and Fungi
    Some algae are considered to be plants and some are not--fungi now reside in a separate Kingdom but many people think of them as plants
    Both reproduce using some form of spore or similar structure
  • 8. Algae
    Include many different kinds, but the most familiar are those of streams, ponds and at the ocean shore washed up on the sand or growing on rocky shores
  • 9. Are Algae A Problem?
    Algae by themselves are not a problem-it is not a parasite for example
    Because growth of algae requires moisture and nutrients, it will grow where these are available, such as polluted streams. Algae grows in nutrient rich streams and on sidewalks because it can find required nutrients there. Control may be necessary for safety or other reasons, but the algae itself is not the cause of the harm, they just take advantage of the conditions.
  • 10. Fungi
    Many kinds of fungi occur on earth
    When you say “fungus”, most people will answer “mushroom” but fungi are much more complex
    As we shall see, by far the most fungi are beneficial organisms but a few do cause diseases which are of concern to gardeners
    It is important to distinguish between different kinds and not label all fungi as “bad”
  • 11. Fungi
    Some mushrooms and other fungi are also toxic, but this is rarely a concern. Unless you know they are a problem, please don’t treat mushrooms with fungicides because this will interfere with their positive interactions with plants and the environment.
    For controlling fungi that cause disease, follow the recommendations of your local or state cooperative extension office.
  • 12. Mushrooms in the Lawn
    Gardeners who are worried about safety can seek positive identification and information, or rake up the mushrooms and discard or compost them
  • 13. Positive Benefits of Fungi
    Fungi are one of earth’s major decomposers, helping to return organic matter to enrich our soils
    Soil fungi form mutually beneficial relationships with plants called mycorrhizae
  • 14. How Fungi Reproduce
    Fungi reproduce through spores that become airborne
    The visible part of a fungus is usually the spore-producing body
    The larger mass of the fungus is fine fungal strands that are often underground or inside a decaying organism
    A “mushroom” is one kind of fungal spore producing body
  • 15. Fungi
    Mushrooms and other spore producing bodies are often the most visible part of the fungus
    Mushrooms growing in an arc or ring are sometimes called a “fairy ring”
    Yellow houseplant mushroom
  • 16. Not all spore producing bodies are “mushrooms”
    Cup-like spore producing bodies in cracks in a brick walkway
    Cup style spore bodies in moss on a decaying branch
  • 17. Mycorrhizae
    Most soil fungi form relationships with most plants in a mutually beneficial relationship called mycorrhizae
    Perhaps every plant shown in this forest clearing has associations with soil fungi
  • 18. Mycorrhizae
    Mycorrhizae are found in the roots of the plants where tissues of the two organisms intertwine
    Fungal strands are in contact with the soil and extend the absorption capacity of the roots
    Fungi gain the benefit of photosynthetic nutrients made by the plants
  • 19. A new way to look at forests and gardens
    Part of the magic of this relationship is that individual plants may form associations with dozens of different fungi
    And, each fungus may form associations with dozens of trees
    Together, these create a network of interactions
  • 20. Slime Molds
    Slime molds are not technically fungi nor plants
    They grow in moist, usually warm conditions such as forests and damp gardens
    They are another form of decomposer but can alarm people who have not seen them before
    Slime mold spore producing bodies on turf grass. Oregon State University Plant Clinic
  • 21. Slime molds in the garden
    Slime molds have two phases. A moving mass first grows on decaying leaves, compost, or stumps. The spore producing phase is harder and often colorful. Both phases are ephemeral, disappearing only a few days or weeks after their appearance.
    Spore producing structures of a slime mold on the back of an oak leaf
  • 22. Lichens, a “special” group
    Lichens are usually small and are not individual organisms
    Instead, they are a combination of two different organisms—one is a fungus, and the other is algae
    British soldiers, a ground dwelling lichen
  • 23. Lichens
    Most are gray or greenish
    The visible part is the fungus, the algae are inside
    Lichens are another mutually beneficial relationship
    Several kinds of lichens on a tree branch
  • 24. Lichens
    Both algal and fungal partners benefit from this relationship
    Algae gain a moist environment and the fungus gains photosynthetic nutrients
    Together, they inhabit places like this rock where neither could if they were alone
    Lichens growing on a rock
  • 25. Lichens
    Some gardeners are worried about lichen, but they are not a disease and cause no harm to the plant
    Various lichens are indicative of good or bad air quality, an aid to understanding our environment
    White and brown lichen on a tree trunk
  • 26. Mosses
    Are common in the moist habitats
    Reproduce by spores
    Are of short stature because they lack an organized vascular system to move water and nutrients
    Help maintain moisture and provide homes for small creatures
    Mosses and tiny mushrooms on a downed log
  • 27. Mosses
    Mosses are a healthy part of gardens and ecosystems
    They often grow in lawns when the lawns themselves are not robust
    Mosses are opportunists and will grow wherever the habitat is appropriate
  • 28. Liverworts and other forest floor plants
    Liverworts and their relatives have been on earth since ancient times
    They reproduce by spores
    They usually grow in natural habitats but sometimes can be found in gardens
    They are not harmful in a garden setting
    Selaginella, usually a forest dweller
  • 29. Liverworts
    One species of liverwort has become adapted to live in nursery pots and is considered to be a pest by nursery owners
    Once in the garden, they usually disappear after a time and cause no harm
  • 30. Horsetails
    Perhaps no plant has caused such concern to tidy gardeners as the common horsetail. Rapidly spreading underground in a favorable environment, this plant can become quite a pest.
    Horsetail, Equisetum, showing the spore producing branches that appear before the typical green branches
  • 31. Horsetails
    Here is the familiar horsetail form
    Horsetails of many kinds are native around the world
    Control is usually through persistent hand weeding or tolerance
  • 32. Ferns
    Ferns also reproduce by spores
    Ferns are popular garden plants and some forms thrive in most, shady garden conditions
    Licorice fern growing on a tree trunk
  • 33. Ferns
    Typically the fern leaves, called fronds, uncurl as they open such as shown here
    Bracken fern in spring
  • 34. Ferns
    Spores are produced on the backs of the fronds or sometimes on separate modified leaves that only bear spores
    Sword fern spore bodies
  • 35. 2. Plants that produce seeds
    We will cover three kinds of seed bearing plants
    Flowering Plants
    Fruits of red osier dogwood, a flowering plant
  • 36. Ginkgo
    Very ancient plants once though to be extinct
    Related to conifers but have different reproductive structures
    They are neither conifers nor flowering plants but in a group all their own
    Fall foliage and seed bearing structures on a mature female tree
  • 37. Ginkgo biloba
    Good landscape tree, drought and pollution tolerant
    Distinctive leaf form often used in artistic work
    Native to China
  • 38. Conifers
    Bear their seeds in cones
    Conifers also have needles or scales
    When seeds mature, cones usually open
  • 39. Conifers
    Large group with many trees and shrubs
    Popular in gardens, particallybecause most are evergreen
    Pines, firs, cedars, juniper, larch, and many more
    An ornamental conifer with colorful cones
  • 40. Conifers
    Cones are made up of overlaping scales
    In new female cones, the ovules are inside the cone but the scales are open to allow pollination
    After pollination, the scales usually close while the seeds mature
    Cone on an ornamental larch
  • 41. Conifers
    Pollination time differs for each species
    Pollen is produced in tiny cones (dark orange in this tree) which is transferred by the wind to the tiny female cones at the tips of the branches
    New cones and year-old cones on a pine species
  • 42. Flowering Plants
    A very large group, the latest to appear on earth
    Developing seeds are protected within a solid structure which becomes a fruit
    Pollen must actually grow through tissue to fertilize the ovum
  • 43. Flowering Plants
    Include trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, vines
    Are very popular garden plants
    Are highly adapted to particular forms of pollination
    Many have very close mutually beneficial relationships with insect pollinators
    Gaillardia or blanket flower attracts bees and butterflies
  • 44. Pollination
    Is the process of transferring pollen from one flower to another
    Typically, can be by wind, insects, water, birds, bats, or human intervention
    Honey bee pollinating a Ceanothus flower
  • 45. Pollination
    Plants pollinated by insects are typically sweet smelling, colorful, and have places for insects to land
    The “reward” for pollination is food from nectar or pollen
    Bumblebee on an aster
  • 46. Pollination
    Plants attracting butterflies also provide nectar—they often have a large flat surface to support the butterfly’s body
    Butterfly pollinated plants often have “butterfly partners” that use the plant as places to lay their eggs
  • 47. Pollination
    Many other garden plants are pollinated by hummingbirds
    These flowers tend to be red or orange
    Birds can see these colors but bees cannot
    Red columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
  • 48. Pollination
    Plants pollinated by wind have less colorful flowers
    Pollen is usually produced in catkins which contain only male flowers
    Pollen is carried by the wind to female flowers that produce seeds
    Catkins on a willow
  • 49. Fruits
    When seeds mature, they are carried in fruits
    Fruits can be fleshy or dry and take many forms
    Berries as shown here are one type of fruit
    Calicarpa americana, the American beautyberry
  • 50. More Fruits
    Mimulus guttatus, yellow monkey flower has dry fruits called pods
    Big leaf maple, Acer macrophyllum has dry fruits called samaras
  • 51. 3. Plant Anatomy
    Seed bearing plants all share the same basic structures
    Typical parts include leaves, stems, roots, and flowers
    Differences are in the “details” which help us tell one plant from another
  • 52. Overall Plant Structure
    This is sweet cicely, a plant native to Oregon
    Botanists know this because it has white flower heads, each with many flowers of a certain type
    Another clue is the finely divided leaves in a particular pattern
  • 53. Stems
    Provide overall support
    Create the “architecture” characteristic of each plant
    Have internal vascular systems for transport of water, minerals, and photosynthetic nutrients
  • 54. Stem Structure
    This stem is woody, with wood cells for support
    The main stem has a side branch at a place called a node
    The side branch has two buds, one at the end – a terminal bud, and one on the side, called a lateral bud
  • 55. Stem Structure
    Here is another winter twig with no leaves
    Plants that loose leaves during dormancy are called deciduous
    Note the leaf scars on the side where the leaves fell off in the fall
    Also note that the terminal bud has scales
  • 56. Stem Structure
    Each year, when the buds break or start to grow, the bud scales fall off, leaving bud scale scars
    If you look carefully, you can sometimes see these scars circling the branch
    This helps us determine which is this year’s growth and which is last year’s
  • 57. Plant Growth Structure
    Buds are of many types including flower buds, branch buds, and mixed buds
    Lateral branch or mixed buds can grow into branches under the right conditions
  • 58. Plant Growth Structure
    Note that the small branch is growing from a node area, just above the leaf
    The buds that produce branches are usually in this location, leading to another name: axillarybud
  • 59. Kinds of Branching
    The kind of branching on the last slide is called alternate
    Here, the type of branching is called opposite
    The kind of leaf pattern and branching pattern leads to different shapes of plants
  • 60. Woody Stems
    Woody plants grow differently than herbaceous plants
    Herbaceous plants are most commonly annuals, biennials, or perennials, which create new aerial growth each year
  • 61. Woody Stems
    Here is a cross-section through a tree, showing typical woody structure
    On the outside is bark
    Right inside the bark is tissue called phloem that actively transports photosynthetic nutrients
  • 62. Woody Plants
    The inner part is xylem tissue that transports water and is considered to be the “woody part”
    This is also where we see growth rings, which can indicate the age of the tree
  • 63. Woody Plants
    One growth ring is formed each year
    At the beginning of each growth season, cells are large
    At the end of the season, they are smaller and more dense, leading to the darker “rings”
    The oldest growth of the tree is in the center
  • 64. Woody Plants
    Nutrient and water transport happen on the outer edges of the tree or shrub
    For this reason, it is important to protect the bark; injury can lead to disruptions of nutrient and water flow and growth
  • 65. Leaves
    Leaves are usually the site of the process of photosynthesis, using the sun’s energy to create sugars and other nutrients
    They also have unique patterns that help us identify plants
  • 66. Leaf Characteristics – Vein Patterns
    The vascular system of plants moves through leaves in 3 kinds of patterns
    The pattern shown here is called a parallel vein pattern
    Parallel veins on a lily plant
  • 67. Parallel Vein Patterns
    Parallel vein patterns
    Occur in a group of plants called Monocotyledons or “Monocots” for short
    They include grasses, lilies, onions, and many other related groups
  • 68. More Parallel Vein Patterns
    Mianthemum dilitatum, false lily of the valley
    Disporum species
  • 69. Pinnately Veined
    Vein patters are also sometimes called venation
    Pinnatelyveined leaves have veins in a feather-like pattern
    This is a common pattern and signifies that the plant is in the group Dicotyledon or “Dicots” for short
  • 70. More Pinnate Vein Patterns
    Leaf skeleton of a magnolia
  • 71. Palmately Veined Leaves
    Palmately veined leaves are the third pattern
    Main veins arise from the point of attachment, sort of like the fingers from the palm of a hand
    These are also found in the group called “Dicots”
  • 72. More PalmatelyVeined Leaves
    Fringecup, Tellima gandiflora
    A water lily
  • 73. Petioles
    Most leaves have a stem like structure connecting the leaf blade to the stem
    These are called petioles
    Some leaves do not have petioles, which helps us distinguish one plant from another
  • 74. Leaf Edges
    Patterns of leaf edges also help us distinguish plants
    This is one of many edge patterns or margins
    This one is called a toothed margin
  • 75. Simple Leaves
    Leaves with just one undivided leaf blade are called simple leaves
    Several simple leaves on a branch are shown here
    Oceanspray, Holodiscus discolor
  • 76. Simple Leaves
    Remember, each leaf has a bud associated with it to facilitate branching
    Several leaves and the associated axillary buds are shown here
    Salal, Gaultheria shallon
  • 77. Compound Leaves
    Compound leaves have more than one blade, each is called a leaflet
    There are several patterns of compound leaves, this one is pinnately compound and has 7 leaflets
    Oregon ash, Fraxinus latifolius
  • 78. Compound Leaves
    Here is another example of a pinnately compound leaf
    Remember, you can determine what is a leaf by looking for the bud at its base
    This plant gives us a clue because the entire leaf is reddish- it has 11 leaflets
    Berberis nervosa, long leaf Oregon grape
  • 79. Compound Leaves
    Another pattern is palmately compound leaves
    This one has 7 leaflets
  • 80. Compound Leaves
    Once again, the way to tell a leaf from a leaflet is to look for the axillary bud
    This is difficult to determine in a photographs but is usually much easier in a hand-held sample
    Wild lupine
  • 81. Compound Leaves
    One more pattern is also common and is doubly compound
    This particular pattern is called bipinnately compound
    Sometimes they are described as finely divided in herbaceous species
  • 82. Leaf Adaptations
    Leaves can be modified to perform many different functions
    These leaves are modified to catch insects in an insectivorous plant
    California pitcher plant, Darlingtoniacalifornica
  • 83. Modified Leaves
    This Pacific Northwest native plant has leaves modified for vegetative reproduction
    Piggyback plant, Tolmiea menziesii
  • 84. More Modified Leaves
    Floating leaves on a water lily
    Spines on a cactus
  • 85. Roots
    Since roots are underground, we seldom think about their presence
    Major functions include support, absorption of water and minerals, and storage of carbohydrates and other photosynthetic nutrients
    Large underground storage root of the wild cucumber
  • 86. Roots
    Even though we do not usually see roots, they are sometimes massive structures underground
    For example, roots of this ash tree, and even the herbaceous plants beneath it, will extend many feet beyond the canopy of the above ground part of the plant
    Veratrum emerging in the spring next to the trunk of an Oregon ash, Fraxinus latifolius
  • 87. Roots
    Woody plants also have woody roots
    Clip art showing roots of a tree
  • 88. Roots
    Carrots, like those shown here in a pretend bunny, are tap roots. Their main structure is a single enlarged root with smaller roots off the surface
    Tap roots often serve as storage for carbohydrates and other nutrients
  • 89. Roots
    Roots of many if not most herbaceous plants are fibrous, such as in this bulb
    Clip art
  • 90. Flowers and Fruits
    The existence of flowers is one of the reasons we garden
    Even vegetable gardens usually require flowers because fruits cannot form without them
  • 91. Flowers
    The purpose of flowers is to produce seeds
    A side product is that gardeners and pollinators can enjoy the benefits they provide
    Flowers of Rosa nutkana (Nutka rose) and Physocarpus capitatus (ninebark)
  • 92. Flowers
    A typical flower has four countable parts: Sepals, petals, stamens and pistils
    Sepals and petals are the outer parts—sepals are usually green and petals are usually colorful
  • 93. Flowers
    Many flowers are not typical
    In this iris, for example, the three smaller petal-like structures are acutally sepals. The larger three are the petals
  • 94. Flowers
    This trillium has the more typical pattern with three green sepals and three white petals
    The sepals are the outer layer of a flower and usually cover the flower bud before it opens
    Both iris and trillium are Monocots
    Trillium ovatum
  • 95. Monocot Flowers
    Plants with flower parts in groups of 3 or multiples of 3 are usually in the subgroup Monocots
    Note the parallel venation on this plant, which support that classification
    Slinkpod, Scoliopus bigelovii
  • 96. Dicot Flowers
    Flowers with flower parts in groups of 2,4,5 or multiples are usually Dicots
    This flower has 4 petals so is most likely a Dicot
    Notice that the central stigma (we will cover those later) is also split into 4 at the tip
    Flower of a Clarkia species
  • 97. Dicot Flowers
    These flowers also have 4 petals
    Look for the 4 smaller sepals
    Also note the vein pattern is pinnate
    This is a Dicot
    Fireweed, Epilobium
  • 98. Dicot Flowers
    In this penstemon, the petals are fused into a tube
    You can still determine that it has 5 petals however by looking at the number of flower lobes
    Notice the nectar guides, lines that point toward the center of the flower
  • 99. Dicot Flowers
    Notice that these flowers also have a fused petal tube, and you can distinguish 5 lobes
    Also note the nectar guides in this flower
    This is another Dicot
    Yellow monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus
  • 100. Flowers That Break the Rules
    Many flowers “break the rules”—learning to be observant will help you know plants better
    In skunk cabbage and some other plants, the colorful part is a spathe and the flowers themselves are very small and located on the whitish spikes
  • 101. Flowers That Break the rules
    In dogwoods, what appear to be petals are actually modified and colorful leaves called bracts
    The many flowers are in clusters in the center of the bracts
  • 102. Flowers That Break the Rules
    Some flower form tight clusters such as this wild carrot
    Each structure has many flowers, and each of these can bear seeds
    This kind of flat-top structure is called an umbel-umbel plants often attract butterflies
  • 103. Flowers That Break the Rules
    All plants of the sunflower family form flowering structures called flowering heads
    It looks like one large flower but instead is many tiny ones grouped together
    Each “petal” is a separate flower for example
  • 104. Flowers That Break the rules
    This is another member of the sunflower family
    Notice the tiny circular ring of flowers in the flowering head in the lower right
    Each of the tiny flowers in this ring is blooming and each will produce a single seed
  • 105. The Sexual Parts
    Although petals and sepals can be attractive, the real work of the flower occurs in the sexual parts
    Stamens bear the pollen
    Pistils bear the ovules that become seeds when fertilized
    Erythronium flower with pendulous stamens and pistils
  • 106. The Sexual Parts
    Look carefully at the central part of this flower
    Look for 6 stamens and 1 central pistil
    The pistil ends with a pink stigma split three ways
    The stigma is usually sticky and will hold pollen delivered by a pollinator, in this case probably a bee
    A cat’s ear, Calochortus species
  • 107. The Sexual Parts
    In this flower, note the 5 stamens and central pistil
    Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum
  • 108. The Sexual Parts
    This flower has numerous stigmas ready to release their pollen
    In the center is one pistil with the stigma divided into many parts
    Camelia sasanqua
  • 109. Fertilization
    Once pollination occurs, the pollen grain begins to grow and sends a tube down through the pistil
    This leads to fertilization and the production of seeds
    A species of wild rose, Rosa sp.
  • 110. Fruits and Seeds
    Seeds of flowering plants are carried in some kind of fruit structure
    This Asian pear is a kind of fruit called a pome and the seeds are inside
    Seeds are disseminated by foraging animals and the seeds pass through the digestive system
  • 111. Fruits and Seeds
    Seeds of this wild plant called a baneberry are most likely disseminated by birds
    The seeds are toxic, but since birds do not chew, the seeds pass unharmed through the bird’s digestive tract
    Actea rubra
  • 112. Fruits and Seeds
    Seeds of these lupines are carried in pods
    Pods open along lines to release the seeds when they are ready
    The red flowers are another species, Mimulus cardinalis
    Lupinus polyphyllus
  • 113. Fruits and Seeds
    Seeds of milkweeds have white parachute like attachments
    These are disseminated by wind
  • 114. Fruits and Seeds
    This is cow parsnip which has flowers in the umbel form
    This flat-topped structure persists in seed formation
    This is one of the plants that also supports the growth of butterflies
  • 115. Fruits and Seeds
    Beechnut produces seeds that are nuts
    The nuts are carried within an outer structure that splits open at maturity and releases the seeds to the soil below
    They may also be carried by animals to new locations
  • 116. Fruits and Seeds
    This pod has opened to reveal the seeds inside
    Each seed is capable of producing a new plant which grows from a tiny embryo inside
    Peony seeds
  • 117. Seed Germination
    Under suitable conditions seeds germinate into new plants and the cycle starts anew
    Clip art
  • 118. This is the End
    This is the end of our brief beginning tour of botany for gardeners
    We have only touched the surface and there is much more to discover and know
    I wish you luck on this journey
    Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swam’
  • 119. Botany Primer for Gardeners
    Created by Linda McMahan, Botanist and Community Horticulture Faculty, Oregon State University Extension Service in 2010
    All photographs except as noted are those of the author. This presentation and included materials may be freely used for educational purposes. For other uses, please contact the author at