Plants provide us with food, clothing,
shelter, and medicine. Between 10,000–12,000 years ago, groups of people gradually changed from a
hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural way of life, intentionally saving
and planting seeds from the best individual plants of crops that could be used
as food. Encouraging the propagation of certain individuals artificially selected
particular traits; in this way, humans have influenced the evolution of domesticated
Cereals such as corn, wheat, and rice are members of the grass family, whose
edible seeds (grains) have been critical for civilizations around the world.
For centuries, humans and other animals have used plants for their medicinal
properties. Today, natural-products chemists use a combination of laboratory
techniques and information from folklore and herbal medicine to make compounds
with effects similar to those of plant-derived compounds in the search for new
and more effective drugs.
A plant is an organism that shares many characteristics with all organisms on
earth, including an energy requirement and the ability to reproduce and respond
to the environment. Plants also possess characteristics that make them different
from other organisms, including being auotrophic, possessing cell walls composed
of cellulose, and having open growth.
Botany is the scientific study of plants. Plants have a fascinating history
and lore, and our national and world economies are based on them. Virtually
everything we do is influenced by plants. Botanists learn about plants and the
world by using a scientific method of investigation, a systematic way to describe
and explain the universe, based on observing, comparing, reasoning, predicting,
testing, and interpreting. Everyone uses a scientific method of investigation
at times. Plant biotechnology is a multibillion-dollar industry that is changing
our lives and society.