The Botanist’s Eye: Identifying the Plants around You

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and stimulating course The professor is very enthusiastic and I appreciated the many visuals and review material. I'm out in the natural environment almost every day and I enjoy trying to identify the plants now that I know more about how to do that.
Date published: 2021-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So excited to learn this I love that this course is really dense in the facts. I don't want a lot of blah blah just stick to the facts, and Prof. Klein does that. I am on lecture 2 and so far really enjoying that it is information dense and really interesting.
Date published: 2021-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, and Delightful! I bought this course hoping to expand my knowledge as a follow on to 'An Introduction to Botany.' This course is delightful, informative, and much more than a field guide. Highly recommend this course to anyone who loves plants.
Date published: 2021-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Information Professor Kleier does an amazing job. This lecture series was just as amazing as the one she did earlier. She provides a great amount of information in a clear, concise manner. Her enthusiasm is contagious. The quiz at the end of each lecture was a great idea to make sure that we are learning the main points. I definitely would more lectures from her if they are available in the future.
Date published: 2021-01-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Marred by sloppy editing. There is so much great stuff in here. Although I'm a botany enthusiast, with a particular interest in plant morphology, I learned a lot that I didn't know before. Now, to the sloppy editing: In the section on the Magnoliaceae, while she's talking about magnolias, a picture of a dogwood is shown. In the section on Amaranthaceae, the same picture is used for both kochia and Russian thistle. In a couple of lectures, the audio and video are so out of synch that the result is nearly gibberish, so that when she's talking about dodecatheon, the slide shown is of phlox. I'm pretty sure that Professor Kleier is not the one responsible for the mix-up with the slides. Someone as knowledgeable as herself would never select a slide showing horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) to illustrate American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). I'm sure there are other examples, but I didn't take notes. These problems should be addressed. Most people won't realize they're getting a course that contains misinformation. The selling point of The Great Courses is that you can become better informed about a subject. If you know there's some percentage of misinformation in it, how can you trust any of it?
Date published: 2020-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely Wonderful! I loved this course! Professor Kleier provides an incredibly information-dense overview of the world of botanical identification, including a profusion of wonderful (and beautiful) photos and extremely helpful diagrams of plant (mostly flower) anatomy. The emphasis is on flowering plants of North America, but other plants and areas receive coverage as well. As a complete novice in this area, and while I have no intention of making plant identification into a hobby, I am profoundly thankful for the new appreciation I have gained for the astonishing plant kingdom, for its extraordinary variety and diversity, and for the botanists who have explored this area so deeply and so well. Professor Kleier does a truly superb job teaching this course. Every lecture is remarkably well-organized, with a brief description of where we will be going at the start, and a helpful review at the end. And her unalloyed joy in teaching this area, which she clearly loves, kept me smiling throughout. (In my generally positive review of her earlier course, "Introduction to Botany", I criticized the somewhat poor organization and stream-of-consciousness approach. I would like to believe that the great improvement here is a result of my earlier critique! I also found fault with her relentless enthusiasm in that course; I can only surmise that my sincere appreciation for it now is perhaps due to so much need for joy in the year 2020.) In addition to the plethora of information on plant structure, many fascinating tidbits are offered. Did you know that tumbleweeds tumble in order to distribute their seeds? (Yes, I should probably be embarrassed that I didn't just figure that out on my own.) Or that the 'Can' in 'Canola Oil' stands for 'Canada'? Or what the actual difference is between yams and sweet potatoes? Or that eating poppy seed cookies may cause you to have a positive opioid drug test? Or that many house plants come from the underlayer of tropical forests because these are plants that need relatively little light? Or that there are two types of poisonous hemlock, and that Socrates luckily took the one that doesn't cause convulsions, so he could be coherent until the end? - I could go on. For those who truly want to remember the material, our professor provides many creative mnemonics. The 'men' in 'stamen' reminds us that it is a male part. Sedges have edges. Not to mention that someone learning about plants is a budding botanist. . . But - the course, wonderful as it is, may not be for everyone. The stress is on plant anatomy, and most of us do not have the vocabulary to describe this. As Professor Kleier sort of apologetically notes throughout, botany effectively has its own language, and the huge mass of new terminology which she must utilize to describe the anatomy takes up a great deal of the course and may seem overwhelming. I just decided to let it flow by, but it may prove to be a bit much for some without a true interest. (And the otherwise excellent, very complete Course Guidebook lacks a glossary! - Come on, Great Courses people - This should have been obvious!) As a minor aside, please note that the 'g' in 'digitalis' and 'digoxin' is a soft g, pronounced like a 'j'. (I'm a physician, sorry, can't help myself.) So - if you can deal with the massive vocabulary, this course is absolutely superb! I can't do better than to quote Professor Kleirer's closing exhortation: "Revel in nature revealed.'
Date published: 2020-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very sophisticated and enjoyable course! This course is much more than a laminated backyard flower pamphlet for use in your garden! This is a sophisticated approach to “Identifying the Plants around You.” Dr. Kleier gives us a glimpse of the complex plant life around us and the challenges that botanists have in naming and classifying all these various plant forms. She wisely narrows the scope of this course to the most familiar plants we are likely to see in North America. The course is logically organized and has great flow. In preparing my review I reread the entire Course Overview as detailed on the Great Courses website. I assure the reader that this course does everything described and is accurate in its description. Dr. Kleier does all the course says and she does it in an enjoyable manner. Dr. Kleier is obviously a content expert in this field. She has a delightful way of communicating that puts the viewer at ease. Her speech pattern, mannerisms and humor make her a masterful speaker and communicator. Practical facts and tips are sprinkled into every lecture. This is much more than a cram course in plant taxonomy! I very much enjoy hearing her speak and you will too. Her final lecture, number 24, is an executive summary and a guided challenge where Dr. Kleier reviews the top plants we are likely to see in North America. This was helpful in simulating how the information in the course might be used to help identify a plant. I hope to be helpful in addressing an issue brought up by another reviewer. This person gave the course a low mark because it did not provide a full color, printed guidebook. Hardly Dr. Kleier’s fault, but this should be addressed. The course description does not say there is a color guidebook that can be brought out to the field. However, the course guidebook CAN be downloaded, and it is in full, high resolution color in pdf format. This means each photograph can be enlarged and examined. A downloadable PDF of the course guidebook is available as part of this lecture’s purchase. It can be downloaded to a laptop, tablet or cellphone. Now you have the full color guidebook to take into the field and you will not need a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. In closing I found this to be an exceptionally enjoyable and useful course with great illustrations and photographs. Congratulations Teaching Company and Dr. Kleier for yet another “Great Course!”
Date published: 2020-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Detailed and enjoyable! The presenter is terrific. She manages to keep your interest and cover an extraordinarily complex subject. To someone unfamiliar with the Latin names of plants , clear diction and consistent usage is very helpful. Learning lots and enjoying fully...
Date published: 2020-12-18
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The Botanist’s Eye: Identifying the Plants around You
Course Trailer
Why Learn the Names of Plants?
1: Why Learn the Names of Plants?

Knowing how to name plants can help you develop a better relationship with the outdoors. In this introductory lesson, get a brief overview of how life is divided and classified, walk through an example of taxonomy using a ponderosa pine tree, and consider helpful tools every good casual botanist may need.

30 min
Before There Were Flowers
2: Before There Were Flowers

Non-flowering plants have been on Earth longer than plants with flowers. Here, start with mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Then turn to ferns and fern allies and discover tried-and-true methods for identifying them. Lastly, consider several phyla of gymnosperms and their species, including the Gingko tree.

30 min
Plants Are Named like People
3: Plants Are Named like People

Dive into the many classification systems botanists used (and still use) to name plants. Among these are the binomial system popularized by Carl Linnaeus; the phenetic classification system, which aimed at revealing relationships based on shared characteristics; and the three ways botanists determine the ancestral traits of plants.

32 min
Organizing the Huge Diversity of Plants
4: Organizing the Huge Diversity of Plants

Professor Kleier helps you to make sense of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG), which botanists now use to classify flowering plants. You’ll learn how APG came about, what it does, and why it’s so important to field botanists. Then you’ll explore the six guiding principles for naming a plant species.

30 min
The Language of Botany
5: The Language of Botany

From roots and stems to leaf hairs and fruits, learn to determine the parts of plants so you can make your own identifications in the field. What are the two main types of root systems? What are the most common leaf arrangements? What are the three different symmetry types for flowers?

32 min
What the Terms Monocot, Dicot, and Eudicot Tell You
6: What the Terms Monocot, Dicot, and Eudicot Tell You

Embark on your in-depth exploration of the major plant families. First, learn to recognize the difference between monocots and eudicots. Then, explore the most ancient plant family in North America and four basal angiosperms. Among the plants you’ll encounter are: water lilies, magnolia trees, pawpaws, and avocado trees.

26 min
Parts of Three: The Monocots
7: Parts of Three: The Monocots

In this lesson, investigate monocot plants, which grow from bulbs and tend to bloom early in the spring. You’ll cover the Easter lilies of the Liliaceae family, the purple heart of the Commelinaceae family, the corpse flower of the Araceae family, and the Arecaceae (or Palmae) family with its instantly recognizable palm trees.

28 min
Monocots: Orchids, Asparagus, and Irises
8: Monocots: Orchids, Asparagus, and Irises

Continue your look at monocots with a lesson on four more plant families: the Orchidaceae (the second largest family of flowering plants); the Asparagaceae (which does include asparagus as well as agave plants); the Amaryllidaceae (which includes daffodils and paper whites); and the iris family, or Iridaceae.

31 min
Grassy Monocots: Grasses and Relatives
9: Grassy Monocots: Grasses and Relatives

The grasses, or Poaceae, are fairly easy to recognize—but are rather difficult to break down into individual species. There are four families you’ll learn about in this lesson: three which look superficially like grasses (rushes, sedges, and cattails), and the Bromeliaceae, or the pineapple family.

30 min
Early Eudicots: Buttercups and Poppies
10: Early Eudicots: Buttercups and Poppies

Now, enter the largest group of flowering plants: the eudicots, which all form a good group because they all have a similar pollen structure. Professor Kleier discusses three families (Ranunculaceae, Berberidaceae, and Papaveraceae) and also shares the floral diagrams and formulas botanists use to remember plant family characteristics.

28 min
Eudicots: Crassula, Euphorbs, and Willows
11: Eudicots: Crassula, Euphorbs, and Willows

You’ve already met some succulents in the Asperagaceae family, which includes agaves. Here, meet two other families that include succulents, the Crassulaceae and the Euphorbiaceae, and some other plant families that decidedly don’t include succulents but are related: Saxifragaceae, Violaceae, and Salicaceae.

29 min
Eudicots: Peas and Beans
12: Eudicots: Peas and Beans

The Fabaceae family is so diverse and so prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere that it deserves its own lesson. Home to important crops such as soybeans, green beans, peas, and alfalfa, this fabulous family is easily recognized by the “wings, banner, and keel” arrangement of the flowers.

27 min
Rose Eudicots: Roses, Mulberries, and Elms
13: Rose Eudicots: Roses, Mulberries, and Elms

The economically important rose family produces many tree fruits, including cherries, plums, apricots, nectarines, peaches, and almonds. Here, explore the rose family, the Rosaceae and some closely related families: the Moraceae, the mulberry or fig family; the Ulmaceae, or elm family; and the Cannabaceae, the hemp, hops, and hackberry family.

28 min
Eudicots: Squashes, Oaks, and Birches
14: Eudicots: Squashes, Oaks, and Birches

In this lesson, look at the Cucurbitaceae, the cucumber and gourd family, and the Fagaceae, the oak family, both of which are defined by their fruit types. Also consider three families closely related to oaks: the walnut family (Juglandaceae), the birch family (Betulaceae), and the “she-oaks” common to tropical beaches (Casuarinaceae).

28 min
Eudicots: Maples, Cashews, and Chocolate
15: Eudicots: Maples, Cashews, and Chocolate

Meet five plant families that are mixed in terms of woody and herbaceous members. Begin with the Sapindaceae, which in addition to maples, includes lychee. Continue with the cashew family, the Anacardiaceae; the Malvaceae, the mallow family, which includes hibiscus, cotton, and chocolate; and the Geraniaceae, or the geranium family.

29 min
Brassica Eudicots: The Mustards
16: Brassica Eudicots: The Mustards

Why learn to recognize the Brassicaceae? Because, as you’ll learn, it's the sixth largest family in North America, including around 650 species. And one of them, Brassica oleracea, has been cultivated into kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, red and white cabbage, Chinese broccoli, and other delicious vegetables.

30 min
Pink Eudicots: Pinks, Cacti, and Relatives
17: Pink Eudicots: Pinks, Cacti, and Relatives

In this lesson, learn the easiest way to recognize a carnation in the wild (hint: look at the leaves); gain a greater appreciation for the humble tumbleweed (also known as the Russian thistle); and explore the cactus family, with their iconic modified leaves (botanically called spines) and smaller bristles (called glochids).

28 min
Heath and Dogwood Eudicots
18: Heath and Dogwood Eudicots

Which plant genus produces berries that are almost all edible? What relationship exists between roses and rhododendrons (Greek for “rose tree”)? How can you determine whether or not a tree or shrub belongs to the dogwood family? Discover answers to these and other questions about heath and dogwood eudicots.

27 min
Gentian Eudicots from Milkweed to Coffee
19: Gentian Eudicots from Milkweed to Coffee

First, take a closer look at the milkweeds and dogbanes of the Apocynaceae family, known for their opposite leaves and milk sap. Second, learn about the Rubiaceae family, which gives us gardenias, quinine, and coffee. Lastly, consider the beautiful blue gentians in the Gentianaceae family—some of the only true-blue plants around.

29 min
Tomato-Type Eudicots
20: Tomato-Type Eudicots

Most of the plants you’ll meet in this lesson are herbaceous and have petals joined at the base. They are the Solanaceae, or nightshade family (which includes tomatoes and peppers); the Convolvulaceae family, whose members are usually vines; and the Boraginaceae, whose generally hairy members include the forget-me-nots.

28 min
Minty Eudicots with Liplike Flowers
21: Minty Eudicots with Liplike Flowers

In this lesson that focuses on liplike flowers, Professor Kleier introduces you to one of the easiest plant families to identify—the Lamiaceae, or mints—and one of the hardest: the Plantaginaceae, or plantain family. Plus, explore an intriguing plant family, the Orobanchaceae, whose plants are partly (if not all) parasitic.

28 min
Sunflower Eudicots: More than You Think
22: Sunflower Eudicots: More than You Think

What makes a weed a weed? Turns out, it’s not a botanical term at all—it’s just the name for plants that grow where they’re not wanted. In this lesson, you’ll meet two families: the bell-flower family, or the Campanulaceae; and the sunflower family, or Asteraceae, which includes everyone’s favorite weed, dandelion.

31 min
Parsley Eudicots: Plants with Umbels
23: Parsley Eudicots: Plants with Umbels

Examine a family of plants (known for their compound umbel inflorescences and hollow stems) that include a great many herbs and spices—coriander, cumin, cilantro, dill anise, and fennel—as well as some very toxic plants including poison hemlock. Also, consider examples from the ginseng family and the honeysuckle family.

27 min
Now You See Plants
24: Now You See Plants

To conclude the course, Professor Kleier gives you a brief review of 20 plant families: 10 of the most speciose and 10 she considers just as important. Then, she offers her insights on the future of botany and how new genetic evidence could change how we identify certain plants.

29 min
Catherine Kleier

Our lives are intimately bound up in the world of plants. We are dependent on plants for the very oxygen we breathe and everything we eat come either directly or indirectly from plants.


University of California, Los Angeles


California State Polytechnic University

About Catherine Kleier

Catherine Kleier is the Associate Dean of Faculty in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at California Polytechnic State University. Prior to that, she was a Professor of Biology at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, where she taught courses on general biology, botany, and ecology. She holds a PhD in Organismic Biology, Ecology, and Evolution from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Professor Kleier was awarded a National Geographic Society/Waitt Grant in 2011 to travel to northern Chile to explore populations of a rare, giant alpine cushion plant, Azorella compacta. In 2013, she was a Visiting Fulbright Scholar in the Department of Botany at the University of Otago in New Zealand, where she investigated facilitation in the alpine cushion plant genus Raoulia. In 2014, she was elected Faculty Lecturer of the Year at Regis University, and in 2015, she was named the Colorado Professor of the Year, sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Professor Kleier is also the presenter of the Great Course Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany.

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