History of Botany – Biology History

The systematic and scientific study of plants is known as botany. This field primarily focuses on their structure, biochemistry, physiological processes, links to the environment, and interactions with other living things. The 4th century B.C.E. is when botany first emerged.

Man’s interest in plants led to numerous botany discoveries that greatly influenced how we live today. Numerous subfields of botany have already developed at this time. These include forensic botany, palaeobotany, plant pathology, and plant ecology.

Botanists frequently use multicellular, eukaryotic organisms—which do not have sensory organs and have, when complete, roots, stems, and leaves—to more broadly characterise plants.

History of Botany – A Timeline

During the Pre-17th Century

4th Century B.C.E:  Both Aristotle and Theophrastus got involved in identifying plants and describing them.  Because of his contributions, Theophrastus was hailed as the “Father of botany” because of his two surviving works on plant studies.  Although Aristotle also wrote about plants, he received more recognition for his studies of animals.

In A.D. 60: Dioscorides wrote De Materia Medica. This work described a thousand medicines, the majority of which came from plants. For 1500 years, it remained the guidebook on medicines in the Western world until the invention of the compound microscope.

During the 17th Century

Early 17th century: For a brief period, the search for knowledge in the field of Botany temporarily became stagnant. However, the revival of learning during the European Renaissance renewed interest in plants

  • Prehistoric Era: Humans have likely been using plants for food, medicine, and other purposes for thousands of years. The earliest evidence of plant cultivation dates back to around 10,000 BCE in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East.
  • Ancient Civilizations: The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all had a strong interest in plants and made significant contributions to the study of botany. The ancient Greeks, in particular, made significant advances in the classification and naming of plants.
  • Middle Ages: During the Middle Ages, botanical knowledge was largely preserved and transmitted through monasteries and universities. The 13th century saw the publication of several important botanical texts, including the “Herbarius” and the “Physiologus,” which described the medicinal properties of plants.
  • Renaissance: The Renaissance saw a revival of interest in classical learning and the natural sciences, including botany. The 16th century saw the publication of several important botanical texts, including the “Herbal” by Leonhart Fuchs and the “Historia Plantarum” by Theophrastus.

During the 18th Century

1727:    Stephen Hales successfully established plant physiology as a science.  He published his experiments dealing with the nutrition and respiration of plants in his publication entitled Vegetable Staticks.  He developed techniques to measure the area, mass, volume, temperature, pressure, and even gravity in plants.

1758:  Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linne), the “Father of Taxonomy“, introduced the science of taxonomy which deals with the identification, nomenclature, description, and classification of organisms (species). His classification is based on the fact that species was the smallest unit and each species (taxon) is under a higher category (Farabee 2001).

In the 1760s:   Botany became even more widespread among educated women who painted plants, attended classes on plant classification, and collected herbarium specimens.  However, the focus of their study was on the healing properties of plants rather than plant reproduction. Women began publishing on botanical topics and children’s books on botany appeared (Mason 2016).

The prize resulting from the period of exploration was accumulated in gardens and herbaria. And the task of systematically cataloguing them was left to the taxonomists.

Later part of the eighteenth century:  Joseph Priestley laid the foundation for the chemical analysis of plant metabolism.  Joseph Priestley published his works Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air in 1774. The published paper demonstrated that green plants absorb “fixed air” (carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, give off “gas” or “dephlogisticated air”, which is now known as oxygen, and that this gas is essential to animal life (Rook 1964).

During the 19th Century

The early part of the nineteenth century: Progress in the study of plant fossils was made.

1818:    Chlorophyll was discovered.

1840:     Advances were made in the study of plant diseases because of the potato blight that killed potato crops in Ireland. This led to the further study of plant diseases (Richman 2016).

1847:    The process of photosynthesis was first elucidated by Mayer. However, the exact and detailed mechanism remained a mystery until the 1862.

1859:    Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution and adaptation, or more commonly referred to as “survival of the fittest” (kenyon.edu 2016).

Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace collaborated. Darwin soon published his renowned and highly recognized book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Around the same time, Gregor Mendel was performing experiments on the inheritance among pea plants.

Gregor Mendel became the “Father of Genetics”.

1862:    The exact mechanism of photosynthesis was discovered when it was observed that starch was formed in green cells only in the presence of light.

1865:    The results of Mendel’s experiments in 1865 showed that both parents should pass distinct physical factors which code information to their offspring at conception. The offspring then inherits one unit for each trait from each of his parents (Richman 2016)

Twentieth Century up to the Present

Early 20th Century: The process of nitrogen fixation, nitrification, and ammonification was discovered.

1903:    The two types of chlorophyll—a and b were discovered. Learn more here.

1936:    Through his experiment, Alexander Oparin demonstrated the mechanism of the synthesis of organic matter from inorganic molecules.  Refer to a controversial observation of his findings in later years.

The 1940s:   Ecology became a separate discipline.  Technology has helped specialists in botany to see and understand the three-dimensional nature of cells, and the genetic engineering of plants. This greatly improved agricultural crops and products (Arber 2010).

Up until the present, the study of plants continues as botanists try to both understand the structure, behaviour, and cellular activities of plants. This endeavour is in order to develop better crops, find new medicines, and explore ways of maintaining an ecological balance on Earth to continue to sustain both plant and animal life (Mason 2016).


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  • JRank Articles. e: Botany – History of botany – Plants, Plant, Study, and Century. 2016. http://science.jrank.org/pages/996/Botany.html (accessed July 24, 2016).
  • kenyon.edu. History of Genetics. 2016. http://biology.kenyon.edu/courses/biol114/Chap01/history_genetics.html (accessed July 22, 2016).
  • Kumar, Punam. Introduction to botany. 2016. http://www.peoi.org/Courses/Coursesen/bot/frame1.html (accessed July 23, 2016).
  • Mason, M.G. Introduction to Botany. 2016. http://www.environmentalscience.org/botany (accessed July 23, 2016).
  • Rhoads, Dan. History of Cell Biology. 2007. http://bitesizebio.com/166/history-of-cell-biology/ (accessed July 22, 2016).
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  •  ROOK A (ed.). 1964. The Origins and Growth of Biology. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, Ltd. 403 p.
  • History of Botany Link.

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