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Botany for Gardeners – STOCKSCH 100 (BS)


Welcome to Botany for Gardeners


Fall Semester (SPIRE # 35842)

This is a class on the science of plant life especially designed for students who either dislike science or have found it difficult in the past.  I present a holistic view of plant science in the context of world food production, our favorite foods and flowers, and home gardening.  We will look at plant parts, how plants work, the evolution and ecology of plants, and try to relate these topics to our own lives.  This class satisfies the General Education requirement for Biological Sciences (BS).  4 credits. 


Time: 9:05am-9:55am MWF

Location: Thompson Hall; Room 106

To Register: Stockbridge School of Agriculture SPIRE # 36842


Instructor:  John M. Gerber, Professor Sustainable Food and Farming

Web Page:  

Office: 308 Bowditch Hall

Contact: 545-5301 or

Facebook Group: Just Food Now in Western Massachusetts


Blackboard Learn:


Student Learning Objectives:

1. Students will learn the basics of plant science including anatomy, physiology, ecology and evolution.

2. Students will learn to integrate these research-based approaches to understanding plant science in a holistic manner in order to apply them to growing house plans and home gardens, to enhance their understanding of where there food comes from, and to better understand global issues such as loss of biodiversity, world food problems, and global climate change.

3. Students will appreciate both the science and the mystery of life on the planet by becoming more familiar with the life of plants.


Format:  This class is a lecture format with occasional discussions.  I make every effort to make the class interesting and I truly hope that you will want to be here.  If you miss a class, the PowerPoint presentations will be available online after class, however you should know that I often include video materials in class which will not be available online.  The exams cover materials from the PowerPoints, videos, lecture, Botany of Desire video, online discussion reading/video, and our discussions in class.  You will need to come to class if you want an excellent grade!  


Grading: There are four unit exams and a final comprehensive exam.  Exam questions will come from lectures, PowerPoints, videos shown in class, as well as the required video (Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan).  There are also 4 quizzes covering the video Botany of Desire.  The 4 quizzes will add up to one exam grade, making a total of 6 possible exam grades each worth 100 points.  The lowest grade of 6 will be dropped. There will be no make-up exams.  If you know in advance that you will not be in class during the scheduled exam, contact the instructor at least 2 weeks and advance and alternate plans will be made. Since one score will be dropped, if your grade is satisfactory after taking Exam IV, you don't need to take the final exam. Also, you can earn up to 3 points extra credit points (added to your final grade) for participating in the online discussions.  NOTE: while participation in the online discussion is optional, the material from the discussion essay or video WILL be on the exam.  More information on the grading policy is here.


Required Video:  You will be asked to watch the PBS Video Botany of Desire.  You are not required, but you may also wish to read the book: Pollan, M. 2002. Botany of Desire: a Plant's Eye View of the World.


Optional Textbook: Capon, Brian (any edition).  Botany for Gardeners: An Introduction and Guide.  Timber Press, Portland, OR.  This book is available from the Bookstore Annex, local bookstores and sometimes used at or other on-line sources. It is not required but may be useful. No exam questions will come exclusively from this text.


Blackboard Learn: class materials may be found on the class page on Blackboard Learn.  To access the page, go to: and login with your NetID and password.  You will see our class on your list of classes.  Blackboard is a bit simpler than Moodle but otherwise it is a similar framework.  If you need help, check out this page: Blackboard Learn Advice. Finally, there is a new “help” service for Blackboard Learn here: HELP!


Optional Online Discussions:  There will be an essay to read or video to watch for each unit.  Questions from the essay or video WILL be on the exams.  In addition, you are invited to participate in an online discussion. You may earn up to 3 extra credit points (added to your final grade) for participating.  This may make the difference between earning a B+ and an A-. 


General Education Designation: This course carries a Biological Sciences (BS) GenEd designation and fulfills these requirements as follows:

·        Fundamental questions and ideas in the natural sciences are examined in this class using your own personal experience as a guide.

·        Exams include critical thinking questions in which you will be required to use your basic understanding of plant science to make recommendations appropriate to home gardening or farming situations.

·        Periodic classroom discussions will challenge you to consider the impact of your own decisions regarding food consumption on sustainability of the planet including economic vitality, environmental quality and social equity.

·        Questions about the evolution and the ecology of plants will inevitably lead to a richer understanding of the complexity and mystery of life on the planet. 


This class specifically addresses the need for students to "understand fundamental questions, ideas, and methods of inquiry related to biological science."  For example, in addition to a basic understanding of plant anatomy and physiology that is a foundation of biology, students are challenged to understand their own place in the world by learning how plants have evolved over time (evolution) and how they interact with the environment (ecology).  By understanding these aspects of plant science and then discussing the interaction of humans and plants (through farming, gardening and food consumption) students begin to understand the impact of their personal decisions on the world around them. 


Further the class helps students "develop knowledge of the biological sciences and the theories that have been developed to explain and understand in a coherent way the great diversity of nature."  Specifically, lectures and classroom videos are employed to provide examples of the many ways in which plants have adapted to varying environmental regimes (from the tropical rainforest to the tundra).  Students who have visited these biomes share their own experience in classroom discussions which make abstract lessons more personal and "real."


Notes: All of the PowerPoint presentations will be available online.  WARNING: the online PowerPoints will not cover all of the materials on the exams (see Grading above).  Additional videos, stories, discussion points and more will be shared in class and may show up on an exam.


To learn about life, begin with wonder


@2013 John M. Gerber