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Plant Basics

Images of different plant species.

If you're not a microbe and you're not an animal, you are probably a plant. There are about 300 thousand known species of plants. Because plants adapt so well to almost any climate, scientists needed a way to organize the hundreds of thousands of species. In the same way there is a system of classification for animals, there is also a system of classification for plants.

Common Plant Traits

What do plants have in common? Photosynthesis is the biochemical process that connects plants. Photosynthesis is the process that allows plants to take energy from the Sun and create sugar molecules. As with all of biology, there are exceptions to the rule and you will learn that not all plants survive through photosynthesis. Some plant species are parasites.

Images of different plant species.

There are two big biochemical processes on Earth: Photosynthesis and Respiration. Photosynthesis stores the energy and respiration releases that energy. It all starts with the Sun. Plants are able to turn sunlight into energy but not directly. Plants are able to store energy in the chemical bonds of sugar molecules.

Plants also have cell walls that are made of cellulose. In the cells tutorials we explained that all cells have a membrane but plants have an additional cell wall made from cellulose. Cell walls serve as support structures by protecting individual cells and creating a larger structure for the entire plant. Cellulose is called a structural carbohydrate. Redwood trees that are hundreds of feet tall are only possible because of cellulose in the trunks and branches.

Learning from Plants

Not only do you see plants everywhere in the real world, but they are also all over the scientific world. Some scientists use them to study genetics. Gregor Mendel used pea plants and their flowers to come up with some of the first ideas on how traits are passed from one generation to another. Botanists might look at weeds and learn how they are able to become resistant to herbicides. Other scientists develop new plants that are more resistant to disease and insects.

On a non-scientific level, farmers have been observing plants for thousands of years. They look for plants that grow quickly and have higher yields. They also know about good fertilizers and the amount of water needed to have the most productive crops. Once they understand how one species works, they take that knowledge and apply it to other crops.

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Next Page on Plants

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National Botanic Garden (US Capitol Video)

Useful Reference Materials
Encyclopædia Britannica:
Books on
- Stern's Introductory Plant Biology (Stern, Bidlack, and Jansky)
- Biology of Plants (Raven, Evert, Eichhorn)
- Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections (Reese, Taylor, Simon, and Dickey)
- Prentice Hall: Biology (Miller and Levine)

- or -
Plants Quiz

Plants Slideshow

- Biology4Kids: Photosynthesis
- Biology4Kids: Scientific Method
- Chem4Kids: Metabolism
- Chem4Kids: Carbohydrates
- Geography4Kids: Ecosystems
- Geography4Kids: Food Chains
- Geography4Kids: Carbon Cycle
- Geography4Kids: Oxygen Cycle
- Geography4Kids: Nitrogen Cycle

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