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The Garden Scoop

The Joys of Botany

A new class of students began Master Gardener training this month. The first class in the program is always Botany; the scientific study of plants. At first many trainees probably wonder why is this class necessary and when will we get to the good stuff like tomato diseases. Perhaps the beauty of the Master Gardener program is that volunteers from all walks of life are willing to step outside their comfort zone and push themselves to learn something new about plants.


So what are the botany basics that a gardener should understand and can use in their everyday life? Lets start with a quick game of plant or animal. One key difference is that plants rely on water pressure to hold themselves up whereas animals have skeletons. On a hot summer day, it is usually obvious which flower beds need water. Without water pressure they begin to look like wilting wallflowers. Keep in mind; a plant that has been overwatered often resembles a plant that is under watered. Too much water pressure causes plant cells to burst; not enough and they shrink. Get your fingers dirty and check the soil.

Next, we have Dicots (often called broadleaves) and Monocots (leaves are grass-like). Why we should care which is which? Botany explains why one chemical kills broadleaf weeds and another the whole lawn. Certain herbicides target broadleaf weeds in turf. Perennials weed grasses like Quackgrass are difficult to control because they are botanically similar Kentucky blue grass. With any pesticide, always read and follow label directions.

Learning the proper botanical name is not just about impressing your friends and family. Don't let botanic names intimidate you. They are unique to one species of plant whereas common names can be very misleading. Botany educator, Sandy Mason, illustrates this point with an ad that attempts to sell Perovskia atripicifolia aka Russian Sage as Siberian Lavender. If you know the correct botanical name for lavender is Lavandula you would realize they are very different plants and there really is no such thing as Siberian Lavender.

Most remember the basic concept of photosynthesis from grade school. However, digging a little deeper into the world of botany helps gardeners understand why their tomato plant stops producing fruit when temperatures get too hot. A heat stressed plant cannot photosynthesize which means no food, no flowers, and no tomatoes.

Botany teaches us that some plants need very specific light requirements while others are day neutral. This helps explain why spinach grows best in spring and fall a

nd a poinsettia doesn

't automatically produce red leaves in December without at least twelve hours of complete darkness each night for ten to twelve weeks. This also explains why many Poinsettias end up in the compost pile.

One of the true joys of the Master Gardener botany class is learning about plant reproduction. Armed with cutting boards, razors and forceps, students are given live Asiatic lilies, Alstromeria, and daisies. Let the dissection begin! Male and female

parts including ovaries are exposed under a microscope camera for the world to see. Who knew that illicit sex has been going on in our flower beds all these years? And you thought those forget-me-nots were so sweet and innocent? After all, a flowers purpose is sexual reproduction. A daisy will never look the same after Master Gardener botany class.