Grocery Store Botany

Laura K. Thompson Dr, Furman University

Presented at Society For Economic Botany 55th Annual Meeting, May 11-14, 2014, Cherokee, North Carolina.


The vast majority of the plants we consume in our diets are Angiosperms, the most common plants on Earth today. Angiosperms are the plants we encounter most frequently not only in the landscape, but also in the grocery store. In this laboratory, we use grocery store vegetables to examine how Angiosperms are constructed. The study of body form is called morphology, a term coined by the German poet Goethe. As we see in this laboratory, Angiosperms can have diverse morphology. Even among the relatively few domesticated plants we use for food, we find a wide range of forms in the roots, stems, and leaves. Some of these forms have been accentuated through the domestication process in which people selected among individual plants over many generations to produce the features they sought in their crops. It is these highly accentuated parts that compose many delicious pieces of our diet. This laboratory exercise is used for the second laboratory session in Biology 402: Applied Plant Science. The prerequisite for this course is only one Biology course, majors or non-majors. Therefore no assumptions can be made about student’s knowledge of plant anatomy. Since this course deals with domesticated plants, plant morphology is introduced using plant material from the grocery store. We observe flowers, root types and root anatomy, shoots, and leaves. At the end of the laboratory session we examine fruit types. The objective is to teach students the parts of a plant with material that they readily recognize and appreciate when they visit a grocery store. We discuss the importance of human selection on agricultural plants as well as where the plants originated.