Student Center | Instructor Center | Information Center | Home
Plants and Society, 3/e
Information Center
Table of Contents
About the Authors
New to this Edition

Help Center


As we approach the 21st century, plant science is once again assuming a prominent role in research. Renewed emphasis on developing medicinal products from native plants has encouraged ethnobotanical endeavors. The destruction of the rain forests has made the timing for this imperative, and also spurred on efforts to catalog the plant biodiversity in these environments. Efforts to feed the growing populations in developing nations have also positioned plant scientists at the cutting edge of genetic engineering with the creation of transgenetic crops. However, in recent decades botany courses have seen a decline in enrollment, and some courses have even disappeared from the curriculum in many universities. We have written Plants and Society in an effort to offset this trend. By taking a multidisciplinary approach to studying the relationship between plants and people, we hope to stimulate interest in plant science and encourage students to further study. Also, by exposing students to society’s historical connection to plants, we hope to instill a greater appreciation for the botanical world.

Recently, general botany courses have placed greater emphasis on the impact of plants on society. In addition many institutions have developed Plants and Civilization courses devoted exclusively to this topic. This has invigorated the traditional Economic Botany from a dry statistical treatment of “bushels/acre” to an exciting discussion of “botanical marvels” that have influenced our past and will change our future. Plants and Society is intended for use in this type of course which is usually one semester or one quarter in length. There are no prerequisites since it is an introductory course. The course covers basic principles of botany with a strong emphasis on the economic aspects and social implications of plants and fungi.

Students usually take a course of this nature in their freshman or sophomore year to satisfy a science requirement in the general education curriculum. Typically they are not biology majors. Although most students enroll to satisfy the science requirement, many become enthusiastic about the subject matter. Students, even with a limited science background, should not encounter any problems with the level of scientific detail in this text.

As indicated, the primary market for this text would be a Plants and Civilization course; however it would certainly be suitable for an introductory general botany course as well.

We feel that Plants and Society is a textbook with a great deal of flexibility for course design. It offers a unique balanced approach between basic botany and the applied or economic aspects of plant science. Similar texts emphasize either the basic or applied material, making it difficult for instructors who wish to provide better balance in an introductory course. Another distinctive feature is the unit on fungi. While other texts cover certain aspects of this topic, we have an expanded coverage of fungi and their impact on society.

Plants and Society is organized into 26 chapters that are grouped into seven units. The first nine chapters cover the basic botany found in an introductory course. However, even in these chapters we have included many applied topics; some in the boxed essays but others directly in the chapter text.

Unit I—Plants and Society: The Botanical Connections to Our Lives. Chapter one stresses the overall importance of plants in everyday life. The properties of life and an introduction to chemistry are also included.

Unit II—Introduction to Plant Life: Botanical Principles. This unit addresses basic botany. Chapters cover plant structure, from the cellular level through the mature plant. Reproduction, including mitosis and meiosis and the life cycle of flowering plants, is discussed in a separate chapter. Other chapters cover genetics, plant physiology, plant taxonomy, and plant diversity. Among the economic topics in this unit are vegetables, fruits, sugar, and perfumes.

Unit III—Plants as a Source of Food. This unit describes the major food crops. It begins with a chapter on the requirements for human nutrition and continues with a chapter on the origin of agriculture. Other chapters cover the grasses, the legumes, and starchy staples. The unit ends with a chapter on the Green Revolution, the loss of genetic diversity, the search for alternative crops, and development of new crops.

Unit IV—Commercial Products Derived from Plants. This unit covers other crops that provide us with consumable products such as beverage plants. Herbs and spices, and materials such as cloth, paper, and wood. The origin and historical impact of these crops is explored.

Unit V—Plants and Human Health. Unit five introduces students to the historical foundations of western medicine, the practice of herbal medicine, and the chemistry of secondary plant products. Descriptions of those plants that provide us with medicinal products as well as psychoactive drugs are discussed. The unit also covers the ubiquitous poisonous and allergy plants in our environment.

Unit VI—Algae and Fungi. Chapter 22: The Algae is a new chapter that is devoted entirely to the biology and applied aspects of the algae. The discussion of the major algal groups and their characteristics also includes information about the impact of algae as food, in industrial products, and as a source of toxins. This unit also describes the impact of fungi including their biology, their role in the environment, and the plant diseases they cause. Fermented beverages and foods from fungi are discussed, as is the medical importance of fungi as sources of antibiotics, toxins, poisons, and human disease.

Unit VII—Plants and the Environment. Chapter 25 is an introduction to the principles of ecology: the ecosystem, niche, food chains, biogeochemical cycles, and ecological succession. The major biomes of the world are discussed, with the economic value of certain desert plants and the strategy of extractive reserves emphasized.

This textbook is written at the introductory level suitable for students with little or no background in biology. Like any introductory book, this is a broad-brush treatment. The nature of the course dictates an applied approach, with the impact of plants on society as the integrating theme, but the theoretical aspects of basic botany are thoroughly covered.

Learning Aids
In addition to the textual material, each chapter begins with a chapter outline and chapter objectives. Key terms are in boldface throughout the text, and each chapter ends with a summary, review questions, and suggested readings. Topics of special interest are included as boxed essays. Concept Quizzes are inserted in areas of the text where more difficult material has been introduced. The quizzes begin with either a summary of the preceding text or an introduction to new information that is complementary to the chapter. The questions that follow are designed not only to test comprehension but, in many instances, to promote critical thinking by asking students to apply their knowledge to real-life situations. The Concept Quizzes may also be assigned by instructors or used to initiate in-class discussions. A new feature in the third edition, Learning Online, lists chapter-related topics that are hotlinks in this website. Appendices, which include the metric system and plant taxonomy, and a Glossary conclude the text.

The number of people to thank increases with each successful edition of Plants and Society. We fully realize that the third edition would not be possible without the continued support of the entire McGraw-Hill editorial and design team, especially Marge Kemp (Publisher), Kathy Loewenberg (Senior Developmental Editor), Kay Brimeyer (Project Manager), and David Hash (Design Manager).

We would also like to recognize our colleagues, students, and families for their inspiration and encouragement during the entire revision process. Lastly, we would like to express gratitude for the efforts of the reviewers whose insightful comments and suggestions have helped make the third edition, the best edition, of Plants and Society.