BOT 360F - Families of Vascular Plants 

Assignments, Fall 2012; past assignments

Each assignment involves working either individually or in a group to produce a report along the lines described below. Each of these reports has the potential to be transformed into a WWW document accessible to others, or into a printed poster, and so must be both clear and concise, and also in compliance with The usual academic standards of acknowledgement of sources (and non-infringement of copyright). See the section on literature cited in the "Instructions for Authors" found on the American Journal of Botany website for details of the format to be used in the EEB337H assignments (follow the link there for formatting examples). Plagiarism will not be tolerated. The assignments were designed so as to minimize the "need" to plagiarize, and recourse was made to the services of to further discourage plagiarism.

Academic integrity is fundamental to learning and scholarship at the University of Toronto. Participating honestly, respectfully, responsibly, and fairly in this academic community ensures that the U of T degree that you earn will be valued as a true indication of your individual academic achievement, and will continue to receive the respect and recognition it deserves. Familiarize yourself with the University of Toronto’s Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters ( It is the rule book for academic behaviour at the U of T, and you are expected to know the rules. Potential offences are described HERE, and to remind you of these expectations, and help you avoid accidental offences, I will ask you to include a signed Academic Integrity Checklist with every assignment. If you do not include the statement, your work will not be graded. This is in addition to the use of

Assignment 1 - Vascular plant families and climate change - theory (10%)

For this assignment you will be assigned one of the families of vascular plants that we study in this course. You are to argue why (or why not) members of this family (or of selected genera within it) are likely to provide evidence of climate change in Ontario. There is no "right" answer; rather, you are to expected to make a concise, logical argument based on what you know and can discover about these plants and their biology. Regarding the potential impacts of climate change, the Wikipedia page, "Effect of climate change on plant biodiversity," has numerous useful references, among which one, Climate change and biodiversity (Lovejoy & Hannah eds. 2005) will be on reserve in the ESC Library later this week. Another tool for this and the second assignment will be the CANADENSYS Explorer web page (Note that this link is to a view created by filtering for only Ontario records; further please note that the georeferencing of specimens is not without errors!). Page limit: 1-3 pages, plus references.

This assignment should be submitted to the website by midnight of 26 October 2012.

Assignment 2 - Vascular plant families and climate change - data (25%)

For this assignment you have been given one of the families of vascular plants that we study in this course. Having argued why (or why not) members of this family (or of selected genera within it) are likely to provide evidence of climate change in Ontario, you are now to use data accessible to you in the literature, via the Canadensys Explorer website, and/or in the ROM Green Plant Herbarium, to evaluate the argument you made in Assignment 1. Again, there are no "right" answers. Rather, you will be evaluated on how well you access and use the data available to you to support your thesis.

We are fortunate that colleagues in California have prepared several educational resources to help students and others collect and analyze plant occurrence data in connection with questions related to climate change (Haggerty et al. 2012a,b, below). You may also wish to visit the Canadian PlantWatch site that provided the Beaubien and Hamann reference (below). In addition, or instead, you may use the same data sources to evaluate the likely availability of suitable habitat over time, and come up with possible explanations for what you find (see Fig. 6 in Argus et al. 1982-1987).


Your report for this assignment that you (if you're working alone) submit, or that your group submits, should consist of

Marks will be based on completeness of your data collection and analysis, and the concise, logical arguments that you make concerning evidence for an effect of climate change, based on your data and what you can find out about the biology of the species you've looked at. You must map the specimens you use, and use the map to decide whether or not to explore flowering date as a function of latitude. Some people collected data on species found only in southern ontario, while others worked on species collected from lake erie north to Hudson's Bay. In the latter case you might want to regress julian date on latitude, and then see what relationship the residuals have with year of collection. at the very least, use the map as a guide, and do histograms and regression analyses for as many covariates as seem like they might be involved. In other words, analyze the data that you and your group have rather than just following a cookbook recipe.

Past Assignments

Some of the assignments given in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 are described briefly below.

2011 - Assignment 1 - Review information available online about a given vascular plant family (10%)

For this assignment you will be assigned a family of vascular plants in an e-mail from the instructor. Working by yourself, you are to review the quality and quantity of information about this family that is available online. To assist you in this, you may consider the information available in the following texts as authoritative: Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III; Judd et al. (2008); Kramer (1990), Kubitzki (1993), Kubitzki (1998a), Kubitzki (1998b), Kubitzki (2003), Kubitzki (2004), and any further volumes in this series; and Mabberley (2008). Your review should evaluate information about your family from (a) the five sources listed below, and from (b) five that you find online using the tools described HERE (for part (b) do not use online sources from the list for part (a)).

Criteria to consider in evaluating quality and quantity are as follows:

Sources for part (a):

  1. Angiosperm Phylogeny Website
  2. Encyclopedia of Life
  3. IPNI
  4. online floras (North America, China, etc.)
  5. Tree of Life

This assignment should be submitted to the website by midnight of 4 November 2011.


2011 - Assignment 2 - Illustrating an important concept encountered in this course (20%)

This assignment involves creating a diagram to illustrate concepts or events encountered in this course, and that you have found challenging to understand. Your diagram can be static or dynamic (i.e. animated), and should be interpreted using simple straightforward text (or audio, in which case you will have to provide a copy of the script).

Media. Your assignment comprises a short written report of three to four pages that reports on points 1-3 below, plus the fully labeled diagram itself. The diagram can be hand-drawn or done as a computer graphic. in either case it should be formatted to be no smaller than a standard sheet of poterboard, say 22" x 28" in either portrait or landscape orientation. If the diagram is hand-drawn the labels should be produced as computer print-out, cut out, and glued in place. In either case, hand-drawn or computer graphic, labels should be no smaller than 24 pt for details, and preferably 36 pt throughout. Titles should be 96-192 pt in size. Make sure that the individual illustrations are large enough that they can be understood from a viewing distance of 3-4 feet or so. As a rule of thumb this means that you will probably not be able to fit more than five or six subunits into your diagram, and fewer would probably be a better idea. If you are drawing you may want to do the drawings on paper and then cut them out and attach them to the posterboard.

Rubric. - The list below indicates the criteria to be used in evaluating your work

  1. Research - The report referred to above should outline the factual basis for your diagram in sufficient detail be of value to a student in this course. (20%)
  2. References - All sources consulted in (1) should be fully acknowledged using author-year in line citations, and a list of corresponding references formatted according to the instructions given at the top of this page. This includes not only all factual content but also all sources of images or graphic concepts. (20%)
  3. Your understanding of the concept or event - This will be evaluated from both the report and the diagram. (20%)
  4. The accuracy with which you depict the concept or event - This will be evaluated on the diagram. (20%)
  5. Imagination - This will be evaluated on the diagram; it is the component related to the novelty (visual, analytical, etc.) with which you explain the concept you have chosen. (10%)
  6. Technical accomplishment - The small proportion of the total mark for this assignment accorded to this component is meant to (a) enable anyone with a minimum of skill to earn a respectable mark on components 1-5, while at the same time providing (b) an acknowledgment that some students can efficiently produce well-designed graphics (10%).

This graphic component of the assignment should be submitted via e-mail or (by prior arrangement with the instructor) using an online dropbox, in the case of a computer graphic, or by hand at the ROM staff entrance, in either case by 1800h on Friday, 2 December 2011. The written portion of the assignment (components 1 and 2) should be submitted to the website by midnight of 2 December 2011. Please note that if you prepare a digital graphic your electronic submission should include the vector or other files that you used to develop the the complete design.

2010 - Assignment 2 - Prepare a draft treatment of the same family that conforms to Wikipedia best practice (20%)

For this assignment you are to use what you learned about your assigned family to draft a treatment of it that could be used on Wikipedia. Please note: the assignment is not to edit an existing Wikipedia treatment, or to post a new one. Rather, it is to organize the information you have collected using the format seen in some of the better (more complete) Wikipedia plant family articles. You may have noticed that many such articles include a table of contents, so I have reproduced three of these below so as to remind you of how you might organize your treatment:

Rosaceae Contents:
  1. Distribution
  2. Taxonomy
  3. Characteristics
  4. Genera
  5. Economic Importance
  6. References
  7. External links
Poaceae Contents:
  1. Structure and growth
  2. Growth
  3. Grass Evolution
  4. Subfamilies and genera
  5. Economic Importance
  6. Ecological importance
  7. Grass and society
  8. References
  9. Image gallery
  10. See also
  11. References
  12. Further reading
  13. External links

Fagaceae Contents:

  1. Classification
  2. Genera
  3. Distribution
  4. References
  5. External links

Probably the first example shows the right amount of detail to attempt, not so much in the specific subheadings, but rather that only one or two of the list items need to be subdivided further. Please do not try to reproduce the formatting of the Wikipedia articles; rather keep the format as simple as possible. If you want to include images, please collect them at the end of your report as Fig. 1, Fig. 2, etc., and be sure to provide each with a complete caption that includes full details about the source of the image. You are not expected to obtain permission for use of images, since their use in your report is fair use - but you must provide complete information about where the image was obtained, and if possible, about who created it.

Some further ideas re content of your treatment: What are the synapomorphies for your family? To what other groups is it related, i.e. where does it fit within the order to which it belongs? Synonyms? Authority? Is there a subfamilial classification? Is there anything special about your family biologically?

The style you use should be appropriate to Wikipedia in the correctness and accessibility of the language, and in the way in which you acknowledge your sources. Consult the the following links to see the advice given to Wikipedia authors and editors:

2009 - Assignment 1 - Plant Family web- and libraryquest (10%)

This is an exercise on obtaining information about specific families of vascular plants. Using both print and web-based resources like those described on the Online bibliographic tools page and in the course Reading list, collect and evaluate information about the family that will be assigned to you. You should receive an e-mail from the instructor with "EEB337H" and the name of your family in the subject line by the end of the day on 2 October 2009. This assignment is to be submitted via on (or before) 5 November 2009.

The family you will be assigned is one that is present in the flora of Ontario, and that is not covered in detail in this course.

For the first part, find and list five URLs on the World Wide Web that refer to this family. For each one, indicate the search strategy you used to find it (you should compare at least three search methods). For each URL, evaluate the information that it provides about this family. Is this information original, or is it based on other sources? You should endeavour to find examples of both. Are the sources clearly acknowledged? Are links or other references provided by means of which the visitor can obtain more information about this family?

In evaluating websites, you may wish to look at suggestions for criteria to use; some suggestions are available at the following URLs:

The second part of this assignment consists of obtaining information about your family using print resources (see suggestions above). Using the same family as in the first part, find 10 print references, and record their location using standard bibliographic format (see the "Instructions to Authors" found on the Canadian Journal of Botany website, or simply consult a recent issue of the journal in the Noranda Earth Sciences Library).

Five of these references must be from monographs (including floras, manuals, etc.), and five must be from periodicals. Moreover, in each of these five one must be from each of the following time periods: pre-1900, 1900-1950, 1950-1990, and since 1990. The post-1990 should not be the Judd et al. course text (any edition; see below). Append to each reference a brief note outlining the search strategy you used to find the reference; note that both print and electronic resources may be used to find these references.

Please also note that in most cases one of the most valuable post-1990 print resources for this assignment will be the entry for your family (and perhaps also the entries for included genera) in D. J. Mabberley's third edition of his Plant Book (2008). Taking advantage of this will introduce you to the Plant Book and allow you to rapidly learn some basic, modern information about your family from an authoritative source. Whatever post-1990 source is used, the treatment of your family should be compared briefly with that in the Judd et al. course text (third ed. 2007).

Summarize in one paragraph what you have learned about this family and the way in which our knowledge of it has developed. In a second paragraph compare and contrast the web-based information that you found with the print-based information.

Click HERE to see an annotated copy of one student's work on a similar assignment (in this example the web-based component was an earlier assignment).

2009 - Assignment 2 - Botanical and cultural interpretations of a plant group (20%)

For this assignment you may create a DELTA database (this choice is only available if approved by the instructor) or do the following. Please choose a plant group (genus or family) that is familiar to you (or with which you wish to become familiar), and interpret it in the twin contexts of its systematics and its significance for a cultural group with which you are acquainted (i.e. your own, or one which you wish to know better). Please submit your proposed choices (taxonomic group, cultural group) to the instructor no later than 1300h on 3 November 2009. You must get the instructor's approval for your proposed topic before proceeding with this assignment. Your report cannot exceed seven pages in length, not counting references and illustrations. Please do not include a title page. All sources must be fully acknowledged, using the instructions above. This assignment will be due by midnight on 4 December 2009.

2008 - Assignment 2 - Plant family poster (20%)

Students will work in teams to create a poster that reports on a flowering plant family with respect to the different ways in which humans perceive (have perceived) it, e.g. in terms of its classification, biology, cultural significance, economic importance, etc. You might think of this poster as an advertisement for your family, that tries to "sell" how interesting and (or) valuable it is. Teams will be struck and families assigned on 4 November 2008.

Making this poster will involve...

Teams will be assigned by TAD in an attempt to ensure that each one has a suitable mix of skills and strengths. If time permits, some or all of the last lab period (on 4 December 2008) may be used for brief presentations to the class of some or all of the posters (again, in digital form only).

Please note that it will not be necessary for you to actually print your poster, as this can be quite expensive. Instead you will submit the graphics file (e.g. .ppt, .pptx, or .cdr) and a brief report that summarizes who did what, what tools (bibliographic, graphic design, etc.) were used, what sources were consulted, and what the your main findings are, together with an appendix containing the blocks of text used in the poster. The poster should be designed so as to be three feet (91 cm) wide, and four feet (122 cm) tall, in both cases including a margin of 0.5 - 1.0 inches (1.27 - 2.54 cm). Please also note that by prior arrangement reports may be submitted individually if there is some good reason for doing so.

The brief report on this assignment is to be submitted via on (or before) 4 December 2008. By the same deadline please also submit your poster file to TAD either as an e-mail attachment or, more likely (because of the large size of the file) on a CD.

If the mark for this assignment is to be given to the group as a whole then the 20 marks for this assignment will be assigned equally to all members of a group on the assumption that all members contributed equally to the success of the completed assignment.

The mark for this assignment (20% of the final mark) will break down as follows:

  1. - 5/20 - information content of the text;
  2. - 5/20 - information content of the images;
  3. - 3/20 - completeness of the acknowledgement of sources (on the poster) and of the bibliography (in the report);
  4. - 3/20 - visual effectiveness of the poster;
  5. - 4/20 - the degree to which poster and report reflect care and attention to detail.

Please consult tools like those listed below in order to streamline the process of creating the poster, and ensuring that it is as visually effective as possible. In consulting these sources, look for tips about font size and style (serif or sans-serif?), color combinations, image resolution, etc.

Other instructions and suggestions may be added here over the weeks remaining before this assignment is due.

2006 - Assignment 2 - Plant species distributions (20%)

Students will work in teams to collect data on the Ontario distribution of particular species pairs, using specimens in the Green Plant Herbarium (TRT) in the Royal Ontario Museum at 100 Queen's Park. Data collection for this assignment will be done in TRT following the formal presentation there on 12 October 2006. Subsequent visits to collect data must be scheduled in consultation with herbarium staff, and should be made as early in the term as possible in order to allow enough time for satisfactory completion of the project as a whole.

The report for this assignment will consist of: (1) two maps showing the locations at which the TRT specimens were collected, and indicating how recently the collections were made; (2) a 2-5 page report briefly describing your species and summarizing your findings and their probable explanation and (or) significance (compare the distributions of the two species with each other and with their congeners elsewhere in North America); and (3) a brief, annotated bibliography on the species in question that documents the sources consulted for (2). Please note that by prior arrangement reports may be submitted either individually or by groups. In both cases the reports must include a brief explanation of how responsibilities were apportioned in the group so that it is clear who did what.

Maps can be prepared using the free Windows program MapPad 2.0, which you should download, install, and try to use as soon as possible. To facilitate computer data entry a spreadsheet file has been developed and will be e-mailed to all class members. Limited facilities are available for data entry in the herbarium sousing your own laptop will be helpful.

Further information is available on how to use the data entry spreadsheet, georeference specimens, and prepare maps with MapPad.

The report on this assignment is to be submitted via and as hardcopy on (or before) 7 December 2006. Please also submit your .xls and .mpd files as e-mail attachments sent directly to TAD.

If the mark for this assignment is to be given to the group (1-8) as a whole then the 20 marks for this assignment will be assigned equally to all members of a group on the assumption that all members contribute equally to the success of the completed assignment.

The mark will break down as follows:

  1. - 5/20 - two maps (hardcopy) showing the locations at which the TRT specimens were collected, produced (presumably) using MapPad and the Ontario basemap. You are welcome to zoom in on a region within the province if your sites are all clumped together in a small part of the province. Be sure to include a key to the symbols you used.
  2. - 5/20 - a 2-5 page report as described above; attach the printout of your map to that of your report. You do not have to include a copy of your map as a graphic embedded in the file you submit through
  3. - 3/20 - a brief, annotated bibliography (remember: MapPad and the Ontario base map are two of your references!)
  4. - 2/20 - the .xls (or other; .xls preferred) file containing the data you collected in the herbarium, sent to me as an e-mail attachment (scan for viruses before sending!).
  5. - 2/20 - the final version of your .mpd files, sent to me as an e-mail attachment (scan for viruses before sending!).
  6. - 3/20 - these marks will be assigned to reflect the timeliness and accuracy of the group's data collection, and the overall cooperation received from the group by the herbarium staff.

2005 - Assignment 1 (12%)

On one of the Field Trips (preferably on 1 October 2005) or elsewhere you are to collect a single plant specimen that as nearly as possible meets the specifications for a good herbarium specimen (see also HERE; "The plant specimen itself..."). Using the resources available to you (field guides, floras, etc.) identify the species that you have collected as completely as possible. What are the features of this plant that enabled you to identify it? Download, print, and fill out the data sheet provided so as to capture the information that will be needed for the specimen's label. Now use the reference material available in the Earth Sciences Library to research the family and genus to which this species belongs. For each name (family, genus, species) who is the authority? What does the species epithet mean? Does this species have a common name? - more than one? Are there scientific names that are no longer used for this species? Why not? How does the habitat in which you found this plant compare with the habitat that the literature suggests is typical for this species? Is this plant native to Ontario, or is it introduced and perhaps naturalized? Write a report not more than two pages long that summarizes the answers to the questions above. You may (and probably should) use a third page for the citations of the sources you consulted. This assignment is to be submitted via on (or before) 20 October 2005. Arrangements will be made so you can press and dry your specimen, and your mark on this assignment will be determined by the quality of both the specimen and the report.

2005 - Assignment 2 (12%)

For this assignment answer the question, "What is a herbarium?" and explain your answer with reference to herbarium websites and the information they provide. Your report should provide information gleaned from these websites about the word "herbarium" itself, the history of herbaria, and herbarium methods. You should find some examples of herbaria named after famous people, and explain why these people were honored in this way. How else are herbaria named? What is a herbarium's acronym? What information does Index Herbariorum provide about herbaria? Can you find examples of herbaria with special collections? The challenge of this assignment will be to package this information into a readable essay that consists of not more than three pages of text. One additional page may be used for the citations of the websites from which you obtained your information. This assignment is to be submitted via on (or before) 10 November 2005. You are encouraged to submit a draft of your essay to the instructor (TAD) before 3 November. No drafts will be looked at after 3 November, and it is only common sense that if yours is one of 15 drafts received on 2 November it will receive only one fifteenth as much attention as a draft received (perhaps by itself) two weeks earlier. Only one draft per student, please.

2005 - Assignment 3 (12%)

For this assignment find one or more online databases of herbarium specimens, explore their contents, and evaluate their user friendliness, and the quality and quantity of their content. For each database suggest what kind of visitor will find it most useful. This assignment could possibly be done in the form of a tabular comparison. Allow at least one page for the citations of the websites from which you obtained your information. Your assignment should be submitted via on (or before) 8 December 2005.

2004 - Assignments 1-2 (16%)

These were similar to Assignment 1 in 2006, in that students first researched an assigned plant family on the World Wide Web, and then in the library. Selected webquest results from 2002 and 2004 can be seen by clicking HERE.

2004 - Assignment 3 (20%)

Students mapped species distributions using MapPad, much as in Assignment 2 in 2006.

2004 - Oral Presentation (5%)

This was an opportunity for a brief (5 minutes!) presentation of the results from Assignment 3 (or on the family investigated in assignments 1 and 2). Students used the blackboard, an overhead projector, html, or PowerPoint, and whatever props were practical in such a brief show-and-tell. All class members wre responsible for giving their own individual presentation in order to earn this mark. If two students who worked on Assignment 3 both wished to present on the data collection and map-making, they arranged to present on different aspects (e.g. species studied, interpretation the distribution map).

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In the past some of the contents of some assignments were covered in term projects. Alternatively, students prepared taxonomic databases in the DELTA format with varying degrees of success. Examples of some of the best of these past term projects in BOT307H include...

| What are plant families? | How do we distinguish them? | How and why do we study them? | Selected vascular plant families of Ontario | Reading List | Course outline |

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