tree-logo.gif (7741 bytes) Plant Taxonomy (BIOL308)  -  Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D.; Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321;;

Plant Taxonomy – Biology 308
Fall 2008

General Information

: Dr. Stephen G. Saupe
(call me Steve, Dr. Saupe or whatever is most comfortable for you)

Office: 335 Science Bldg; 363-2782; 363-3202 (fax)
Office Hours: posted on my web site
email Address:
Home Page:
Course Web Site:

Course (Catalog) Description: A study of the principles of naming, identification, and classification of plants with an emphasis on the characteristics and phylogeny of select families.  Laboratory and field work provide opportunities to prepare herbarium specimens, use dichotomous keys, and learn the local flora.

Audience: Plant Taxonomy is an upper division biology course that serves as an upper division science requirement for students majoring in Natural Science or as an elective for the botanically-inclined.

Objectives: Upon completion of this course you should be able to:

  1. recognize & describe the characteristics of ca. 50 plant families
  2. identify ca. 150 species of common plants growing in central Minnesota
  3. describe the characteristics of the common vegetation types in central Minnesota
  4. collect and prepare herbarium specimens
  5. use terminology to describe the morphology of vascular plants
  6. identify appropriate taxonomic literature for identifying plants
  7. use and prepare dichotomous and polyclave keys
  8. understand the principles of nomenclature
  9. understand the principles of classification, including phenetics and cladistics
  10. describe the origin  and phylogeny of vascular plants and the angiosperms

To accomplish these objectives, the course is divided into three sections:

Section 1: Skills & Background Information - during the first part of the semester we will lay the basic foundations. Specifically, we will learn techniques for collecting and preserving plants, principles of naming, terminology related to vegetative and reproductive structures, methods of identification, and how to access botanical literature.

Section 2: Plant Families - the middle portion of the course will focus on the characteristics of important families of primarily temperate plants.

Section 3: Classification/Phylogeny  - the final third of the course concentrates on flowering plant phylogeny and diversity and on various methods of classification from the earliest days to modern techniques, especially highlighting cladistics.

The purpose of the lab will be to provide an opportunity to learn the local flora and to work hands-on with the topics covered during lecture.  We will especially focus on learning techniques to identify plants and the characteristics of select MN families. 

Class Time/Place: Our class meets odd days (1-3-5) from 11:20 - 12:30 (period III).  Lab meets on Day 1; 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Our lecture meets in PENGL375 and the lab in PENGL 342.

 Required Texts/Materials: (Copies of these are available in the SJU bookstore)

Recommended Texts:

Recommended Materials: I recommend that you purchase a 10x hand-lens (available at the St. John's Bookstore). You may borrow one from me if you give me a deposit of $5.00.  Other worthwhile investments are note cards (I prefer 4 x 6) to prepare study flashcards, a pair of pruning shears (I have some that you can borrow during the course, but it will be more convenient to have your own), and a digging tool (I use an old hunting knife).

Supplies: With the exception of the items listed above, all necessary materials will be supplied. You will be issued a plant press to use during the semester.  It must be returned at the end of the semester or your grade will be withheld until you return the item or pay the replacement cost (frame - $50.00; straps - $20.00).

Three Ring Notebook: I strongly recommend using a three-ring, loose-leaf notebook for your general course notes/materials.  All course handouts will be punched with three holes for your convenience. In my experience, students with neatly organized notebooks perform better than those with messy ones.

Course Format: Course material will be presented using a hands-on approach. This means that class time will be spent studying plants, hiking in the field, going over exercises, discussing botany, and working together. I will minimize lecture because I believe that science is best learned by "doing."  Field trips will provide an opportunity to see plants first-hand.

Field Trips: We will take field trips during both lab and lecture. We may get muddy, wet, cold, snagged in brush, and bug-bitten. Please dress appropriately and bring sunscreen, a beverage, and/or insect repellent as the conditions dictate. Please read the lab and field safety information carefully.

Evaluation: Grades will be determined on the basis of your performance on:

  1. Lecture Exams (60%; 4 @ 15%) - the exams will be a mixture of subjective and objective questions. Sample questions and past exams will be provided. Questions will be taken directly from homework assignments and material that we cover in class. The final exam will be a take-home-exam and will include a comprehensive component.   There are also a variety of web sites with practice tests that you may want to check out (e.g., Texas A& M University).
  2. Plant Collection (15%) - You are required to make a collection of 20 plants representing a minimum of 15 different families.  The collection must follow all guidelines described in the Plant Collection Information page.  Each specimen should be accompanied by a typed herbarium label. The collection will be accompanied by a Plant Collection Grading Worksheet and a "Field Notebook" that includes a Field Record Form for each plant you collect during the term.  Your collection becomes the property of the CSB/SJU Herbarium. If you want to start and/or add to your personal herbarium, collect duplicate specimens.   The collection is due on the date(s) given in the syllabus for the final grading.  Throughout the term I will be happy to give you feedback about the quality of your notebook and collection.  The plant press must be returned when the final collection is due.  The collections will be evaluated on the basis of the Plant Collection Information page.  Points will be deducted from the collections for turning in specimens late.  You will be awarded 2 points for collecting specimens in each of the required families.  You can turn in 5 additional plants for 2 bonus points each (maximum 10 bonus points).  You will be asked to mount a minimum of five of your specimens for the CSB/SJU Bailey Herbarium.  Each is worth 2 points.  The total value of the plant collection is: 230 points [(20 specimens x 8 points/specimen) + 30 points (for 15 required families) + 30 points for the field notebook + 10 points mounting] 
  3. Plants-to-Know Quizzes (10%) - you will be tested on the plants that we see in the field and lab.  At the beginning of each lab period following a field trip there will be a short quiz that will feature 10 plants observed during the previous lab(s).  The quizzes are cumulative (i.e., include species from all previous labs).   Each plant is typically worth 4 points (family = 2 pts; genus = 1 pt; specific epithet = 1 pt).  Common name counts only if the genus or specific epithet is incorrect.  In this case, a correct common name will earn you half the points missed.  Herbarium specimens of the plants included on the quizzes will be available for study and samples of previous exams are available in the public folder.  I will drop your lowest quiz score.
  4. Plant Identification Work (5%) - during several labs you will use a dichotomous key to identify unknown specimens.  For each plant you will complete a Plant Analysis Worksheet and include it in your "Field & Lab Notebook."

  5. Family Quizzes (5%) - you will complete a quiz for each plant family (quizzes are available in the public folder).  These will be inserted into your "Field & Lab Notebook" and turned-in on the day of the exam for that particular family.

  6. Assorted Assignments/Participation (5%) - This component of your grade will is based on your completion of assorted assignments (e.g., nomenclature assignment, preparing a dichotomous and polyclave key; ergot essay, completing a cladistic analysis) and general class preparedness. 

Grade Assignment: Grades will be assigned based upon the percentage of total points accumulated according to the following scale: 100 - 92% = A; 91 - 88% = AB; 87 - 82% = B; 81 - 78% = BC; 77 - 72% = C; 71 - 68% = CD; 67 - 60% = D; below 59% = F

    To determine your approximate grade at any time during the semester, simply divide the total number of points you have accumulated by the total possible. This information will always be provided. In addition, I will periodically provide you with a grade report. You should check this report for accuracy and to give you an indication of your progress. Keep all of your graded work, including lab work, for your records.

    Never hesitate to come and talk to me about your grade, or any aspect of the course, at any time during the semester!

    S/U grading can be requested at any time during the regular semester. You must submit your request in writing on a separate sheet of paper (not on a test or other assignment). Note: I do not recommend that anyone take the course for S/U grading, especially considering this is a majors course, but this is ultimately your decision. After final grades have been submitted to the Registrar, I will not change a letter grade to S/U or vice versa. Note: "S" is awarded for a letter grade of "C" and above.

Appeals:  You have the option of appealing the grading you've received on any exam question (or assignment).  To do so, type on a separate sheet of paper your rationale for why you should receive credit for the question.  Be sure to frame your argument carefully and concisely.  Turn in your typed appeal and the exam/assignment to me before the next exam - no appeal will be accepted after the date of the subsequent exam (or two weeks after an assignment is returned).  Please note that if I have made any errors in grading your exams (i.e., incorrectly counted up points, mis-marked a question) please see me immediately and I will correct the error without the need for an appeal.

Email:  I typically check and respond to email first thing in the morning (between 8 & 9:00 am) and before I leave in the evening (usually about 5:30 pm).  If you send an email after about 5:00 pm I will not see it nor respond to it until the following day because I do not check email after leaving my office.  Please plan accordingly.

Personal File, References And Cubby: You will have a file folder in a file box in our lab room. You may use it to store papers/notes/etc. In addition, I will place in this file any assignments not returned to you personally, extra copies (if any) of handouts, and course readings. When in doubt or need, check here. Copies of references cited in class will be placed in the Reference File that is also in the lab. You will also be assigned a "herbarium cubby" for storing plant specimens.

Honor Code: I run this class on the Honor Code system; in other words, I trust you to do your own work at all times. If you violate my trust, the consequences will be severe (first offense = failing exam/assignment; second offense = failing course). If you have even the slightest doubt that an activity violates the Honor Code - don't do it. For more information, consult our institutional policy on Academic Honesty.

Bonus Work:  You will have the opportunity to earn bonus points by attending lectures, analyzing journal articles, participating in formal nature walks, or even reporting on science-related television programs.  If it is "scientific" and can be reasonably considered to pertain to our course you can earn bonus points for participating in the activity.  Obtain a "Bio-Bonus Form" and turn it in to me following the activity.  Bonus work is due no later than Study Day.  As a general guide -  lectures are worth five bonus points, journal summaries and book reviews are worth 3 bonus points, and summaries of TV programs are worth 1 points.  For other activities, we will assign an appropriate number of points.  If in question, ask.  The Bonus Card can be obtained online.  As a rule of thumb, more than 20 bonus points will have little impact on your final grade.

Attendance: Each class I will pass around an attendance sheet to sign/initial.  To reward you for your attendance you will receive a "cool sticker".  You will not be penalized for missing class, but remember that being absent does not excuse you from completing assignments on time (i.e., turning in any that are due and getting the assignment for the next class). In general, you will not be able to make up anything missed in lecture or lab.

Classroom Etiquette: The following is a list of suggestions to make our classroom experience as enjoyable and productive as possible for all of us:

Visitors: Visitors to our classroom are welcome. Please introduce your visitors to me. And, they should plan to participate (as best they can) in class activities.

Late Assignments: I expect that assignments will be turned in on time. I reserve the right to accept/refuse late assignments and to deduct points accordingly for any late assignments that are graded.

Pride: I believe that the appearance of an assignment is a reflection of the quality of the work and the degree of respect it deserves. Thus, for your benefit I require that:  (1) Written assignments must be typed. There will be many obvious exceptions. For example, any assignments completed in your field notebook or assignment book need not be typed. If in question about whether an assignment should be typed, please ask. Assignments not typed will be penalized 50% of the total possible points; (2) Assignments with multiple pages must be stapled.  Any assignment that is not stapled will automatically loose 2 points.  Please note that I have a stapler available with me in every class; (3) Frayed edges - any assignment turned in on paper with frayed edges ripped out of a spiral bound notebook will automatically loose 2 points.  If you use spiral notebooks that's fine - simply remove the edges before turning in the assignment.

Course/Teaching Philosophy: This is a mastery-based course. In other words, anyone can earn an "A" if he/she "masters" course materials. Since you will know exactly what material to master, there is nothing standing between you and an "A" except yourself.

    I like to consider myself as a "coach" and you are one of the players. Among other things, the coach of a sports team must: (1) teach a player techniques to play better; (2) provide motivation for a player to achieve success; and (3) evaluate the skills of a player. Like coaches, a classroom teacher serves these same roles; to teach, provide motivation for learning and evaluating (grading) the success of student. Thus, we are on the same team trying to win the "plant taxonomy game". To help foster team spirit, we may occasionally do motivational cheers, listen to music and probably most importantly, we will work together cooperatively.

    I also think that learning should be enjoyable. Hopefully we will laugh together and have fun. Stamps, stars and stickers will adorn some of your graded assignments. "Botanical" music will greet you when you arrive in class. This is all done in good fun, to make our learning environment more pleasant. Yet, we will always be respectful of one another. Some students in the past have commented that they think some of what we'll do is "childish." I hope so because I want to generate some of the fun and enthusiasm that children have for learning. But remember, even though we may be silly and have fun, I am still very serious about the goals of our course.   You may want to read more about my teaching philosophy.

Computer Literacy: Every biologist should be familiar with word-processing (i.e., Word), database (i.e., Access), and spreadsheet (i.e., Excel) software. Informational Technology Services offers many interesting workshops that you should consider if you need to improve your computing skills.

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Last updated:  08/22/2008 / � Copyright by SG Saupe