The Botanist's Eye: Identifying the Plants around You

Join an experienced botanist for 24 richly illustrated lessons on how to ID-and better appreciate-the marvelous diversity of plant species.
The Botanist's Eye: Identifying the Plants around You is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 20.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and Insightful This is one of the best courses on this platform. It offers a very detailed introduction to botany that is delivered with obvious enthusiasm and passion. It was a joy having Professor Kleier go through each lecture. The many images used in this course were a great addition.
Date published: 2021-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course for learns at many levels Professor Kleier has a contagious enthusiasm for Botany. The variety within the world of botany is truly amazing. But, with that variety professor Kleier teaches us the basic indicators to help identify plants. The course will deepen my appreciation for the plant world has we travel about North America.
Date published: 2021-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Boyany For the Common Man What I enjoyed most about this course is the enthusiasm that the guest lecturer brings to the subject. Too many times I have sat in college courses listening to the drone of a professor who has tired of the academic process. But here...the teinkle in her eyes, the smiles, the enthusiasm is contagious...One can tell that she absolutely loves her subject and is excited to bring to the public her knowledge.
Date published: 2021-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So interesting and professionally taught I love this course! It’s my first course on GC and I am very satisfied. I find the teacher very relatable and friendly, it’s fun to learn with her instruction. The little anecdotes and “jokes I made up” make it all more human. I’m impressed by the density of information in this course. I chose this as something good to do for myself during a pandemic lockdown and I am so glad I did! I’ve already been looking at the irises and daffodils in the vase with a new “botanist’s eye”.
Date published: 2021-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Took my wildflower hikes up several notches! I've been a wildflower enthusiast for decades, know my way around my old Peterson wildflower guide, and am pretty good at identifying many common U.S./Canadian plant families, but this course has upped my wildflower *and* gardening game, and given me a more precise vocabulary for describing the differences I see between related plant species. Dr. Kleier has once again presented a fun, accessible, informative course that has prepared me to ask yet more detailed questions. I listened to the whole course but selected a few minutes in a couple of lectures where it was useful to watch the video.
Date published: 2021-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Up to Date Information I asked for exactly such a course in a Great Courses survey a year or so ago. This class is precisely what I needed since my education is 50 years out of date. The instructor, Dr. Kleier, is even better than in her previous course, Plant Science. Thank you for this course!
Date published: 2021-01-29
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
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How can you learn to better see-and appreciate-the world of plants? In The Botanist's Eye: Identifying the Plants around You, explore the most common plant families in North America, as well as some of the fascinating species within them. Along the way, learn the history of botanical science, tips and tricks botanists use to identify seemingly similar plants, and the myriad ways plants define what it means to be human.


Catherine Kleier
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.


California State Polytechnic University

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.

By This Professor

The Botanist's Eye: Identifying the Plants around You


Why Learn the Names of Plants?

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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