June 14, 2008

Basic Botany Course

theobroma cacaoThe seeds of Theobroma cacao become chocolate!

This weekend I took a Basic Botany Course at Fairchild. These free classes are for volunteers and staff only. We’re encouraged to take them so that we can learn more about plants. (There are other classes for the public at the garden too.)

The class ran from 9:30 am to 4 pm with a 1/2 hour lunch break. We got a hand-out and learned through lecture time, hands-on “dissection” and examination of plants as well as a little field trip out in the garden. Our instructors were Gillian Drake, Youth Education Manager and Jack B. Fisher, Senior Research Scientist and Administrator of Graduate Studies.

The class was very casual, fun and great way to refresh my memory about anything I might’ve learned in high school biology.

We focused mainly on the different parts of plants, the classification of leaves, plant reproduction and flowers. We also talked about the naming of plants, the use of Latin and how to interpret plant labels in the garden.

basic botany course at fairchildThat fleshy part of the coconut is called an endosperm.

Kitchen Botany was particularly interesting. There was so much I didn’t know or had never thought about ... it left me stumped! Many of the categories assigned to plants at the supermarket are not accurate, botanically speaking.

For example, a potato is technically a stem, not a root. Ditto for ginger. And a celery stalk is really a leaf. Onion and garlic are bulbs and the part we eat are leaves. The only easy one to guess was broccoli—the part we consume is the flower (actually it’s many little flowers).

basic botany course at fairchildIdentifying leaf shapes in the wild coffee plant. That big tree in the background is a baobob.

basic botany course at fairchildDioscorea looks like a rock, but it's actually a plant!

basic botany course at fairchildPicking a ripe Theobroma cacao in the rain forest section of the garden.

basic botany course at fairchildA magnifying glass (10x) helped us examine fern spores.

coconutI thought my classmates would be mostly retired folks, but the group ranged from 20s to 60s.

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