Course Registration

The Evolutionary History of Plants

10 AM - 12 PM (AZ Time)
June 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29, 2021





Plants represent an important and extraordinarily diverse group of organisms. Photosynthesis in plants and algae contributes the energy supporting life in nearly all of the Earth’s ecosystems. Oxygen, produced by photosynthesis, has also radically changed the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and all life dependent on it. We are most familiar with flowering plants, which now dominate most environments on land, but these species are relatively recent innovations in plant evolution. In this course, we will go back millions of years in time, and discuss early life on Earth, the emergence of photosynthesis, and the first plants, which appeared on land. We will then follow the changes in form and function that have resulted in the diverse assemblages of modern plants. Our discussions will include now extinct plants, and surviving ancient species as well as particular modern plants that demonstrate novel evolutionary outcomes.

Registration will open online on Monday, April 12, 2021 at 8 AM (AZ Time)

  • Classes will be delivered online via the Zoom video conferencing platform. Course will be password protected and only available to enrolled students.
  • All class sessions will be recorded and made available to enrolled students for a limited time to assist those who may not be able to attend the live class times.
  • Enrolled students may withdraw from a course and receive a tuition refund if the request is received before the second class session. See our FAQ page here for more answers to general program questions.

Watch the video to learn more about this course: 

Required Reading: 

No textbook is required. All readings will be distributed to students electronically. 

Recommended Reading: 

Background reading on this topic for those interested in going further are included here:

  • Armstrong, Joseph E. 2015. How the Earth Turned Green: A Brief 3.8-Billion-Year History of Plants. The Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Essig, Frederick B. 2015. Plant Life: A Brief History. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.
  • Niklas, Karl J. 2016. Plant Evolution: An Introduction to the History of Life. The Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Meet Your Professor

Associate Professor
School of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment

STEVE SMITH is an Associate Professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. After receiving a B.S. in Plant Sciences from the University of California, Davis, he received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University, and did postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin. His interests reflect his training in plant improvement and his fascination with plant adaptation to aridity. Dr. Smith teaches courses in biology, field botany, and sustainability.


This course will be offered ONLINE ONLY
Classes will be live streamed during the time and dates specified in the course details section above. Instructions about how to access the course online will be sent to all enrolled students before the course begins.

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