Botany is as old as mankind. Man tried to learn about plants, when he was tired of hunting for food. Once man recognised that plants could provide him both food and shelter, he preferred to settle at a place and reap the advantages of plants. This probably happened seven to plan thousand years back.
Since that time, plant science has evolved into the present day botany. The history of plant science can be discussed under headings like early civilisation, golden age of Greece, the Dark age and the science age.
As early as 5000 B.C., Assyrians and Egyptians were amply aware about plants. Chinese people of that era also had much knowledge of plants Sushruta, an Indian surgeon, descried 700 medicinal plants during early Indian civilization. Parasar (10 AD), an Indian sage and herbalist, described and classified plants. Charak (10 AD) furthered the work of early Indian workers by listing around 340 herbs with medicinal properties in his ‘Charaka Samhita’.
Golden age of Greece
Greeks were the first to pay attention to characters and behavioral patterns of pants. However, most workers of early civilisation stressed on medicinal use of plants. The greatest philosopher of all times, Aristotle (384-322 BC), laid the foundation for Biology as a discipline and described certain plants. Theophrastus (380-287 BC), who was a student of Aristotle observed plants and described the morphology, medicine use and natural history of about 480 plants. His classic contribution is ‘Historia Plantarum’. Besides, he had also authored a book titled, ‘The causes of plants’, which included the physiological and ecological aspects related to plants. Theophrastus is therefore called the father of botany.
A book titled, ‘Materia Medica’, also authored by a Greek physician Dioscorides (60 AD), listed and described around 600 medicinal plants. Pliny (70 AD), a Roman naturalist, described 1000 plants of medicinal importance in his book entitled, ‘Natural History’.
The Dark age
The Medieval or Middle age (200-1200AD) is usually termed as dark age, as not much was added to knowledge on plants during this period. However, one contribution that can be remembered about this age is that of Arabs who had shown special interest in botanical gardens.
The Science age
The science age started in 1400 AD. Scientific study of plants was initiated during this time. Information in the form of printed books starting with Hortus Sanitatis was published during this period. German botanists like Brunfels, Block and Fuchs made significant contribution to the knowledge of plants in the 16th century.
With the seventeenth century, started the development of various modern branches of botany. Branches of botany like cytology, anatomy, taxonomy and plant physiology were founded by Robert Hooke, Nehemiah Grew, Carolus Linnaeus and Stephen Hales respectively during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Genetics and Evolution came out as independent branches of biology in the nineteenth century due to the contributions of Gregor Johann Mendel and Jean Bakptiste Lamatck respectively. The nineteenth century also witnessed addition of a number of branches to the field of plant sciences.
New branches like Biotechnology started in the later part of the twentieth century and ensured a promising future for plant sciences in the present century.