Instructor and contact information

Matt Lavin, 308 PBB (office in Plant Bioscience Building) and 408 Lewis Hall (MSU herbarium), email.
Lecture & Lab: Mondays 12:00-5:00 PM
Locations: 307 Lewis Hall and field locations in east Bozeman: Gallagator Trail & Burke Park.
Office hours: Mondays 10:00AM-12N in 408 Lewis Hall and by appointment.

Required materials

Text, required: Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, by Peter Lesica.
Course announcements posted to D2L

Course learning outcomes

Students will be able to: 1) sight identify upwards of 200 of the most common plant species in Montana; 2) effectively use dichotomous taxonomic keys in order to identify plant families, genera, and species; 3) relate botanical terminology to plant morphology; 4) combine sight-identification and dichotomous taxonomic keys to expedite plant identification of species; 5) predict the general habitat of a plant species from its membership in a plant genus or family.

Schedule of lecture-labs (content to be posted during the prior week)

17 August: introductory lecture-lab. Attend either 12N-1PM or 3-4PM. Bring your copy of Lesica.
24 August: Polemoniaceae, Hydrophyllaceae, Boraginaceae, Lamiaceae, and Verbenaceae.
31 August*: Brassicaceae & Cleomaceae.
7 September*: Memorial Day, no class.
14 September*: Salicaceae.
21 September*: Asteraceae.
28 September*: Artemisia and shrubby Asteraceae.
5 October*: Rosaceae.
12 October*: Amaranthaceae and Sarcobataceae.
19 October*: Elaeagnaceae andPolygonaceae.
26 October*: more Asteraceae.
2 November*: more Asteraceae.
9 November*: Fabaceae.
16 November*: Anacardiaceae, Apiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Orobanchaceae, and Santalaceae.
23 November*: additional plant families.

*lecture-lab with a quiz (13 total)

Course grading policies

Final grades come from the scores of 13 weekly plant identification quizzes (50 points each) and 14 weekly sets of dichotomous key questions (50 points each). The plant identification quizzes involve a combination of site identification and the use of taxonomic keys for identifying a plant specimen to family, genus, and species. Plan on using a hand lens and Lesica's Manual of Montana Vascular Plants during all quizzes. Your copy of Lesica can include any annotations made directly on the pages of that book (e.g., don’t use notes, specimens, etc. that are not part of the pages of Lesica). 

Class protocol

As the COVID-19 pandemic permits, from 12N-1PM and from 3-4PM (choose one of these time frames) for each Monday lecture-lab, I will go over the taxonomic and ecological features of a subset of the 15 plant species that represent the plant families and genera introduced for that day. I will make these two sessions interactive with the use of Lesica’s book, plant specimens, and hand lenses or dissection scopes. Other than this 1:15 hour of introduction, students will on their own time study the plant specimens by working them through dichotomous keys, as assisted by the dichotomous key questions posted to D2L for that week.

Field sites in Bozeman

Sites along the trail systems in southeast Bozeman will be visited in small groups during certain Monday afternoons as the COVID-19 pandemic permits. Any field excursion will be announced during the noon lecture. These field trips are designed to learn plant families, genera, and species in the field using the dichotomous keys in Lesica. They will generally complement the indoor lecture-labs. The sites are:

  • Gallagator Trail (native and introduced riparian and wetland plants): plant list
  • Burke Park ridge and west facing slopes (native and introduced rangeland plants): plant list

Plant specimens

During this fall semester, we will identify over 30 families, 90 genera, and 150-200 species of native and introduced flowering plants, all common to Montana and adjacent states. I will provide specimens for many of these species, which are pressed and dried so that a reference collection can be made, if desired. To facilitate identification of these dried specimens, photos are available on Flickr of each species and these illustrate the habitat, habit, and diagnostic traits.

Lab items

In addition to your copy of Lesica, I strongly encourage you to have at each lecture-lab a hand lens, which can be purchased at the MSU Bookstore, the Herbarium Supply Company, or at Amazon. You might also consider bringing forceps, needles, razor blades, or pocket knives for plant dissections. Tape or glue and botanical paper are suggested if you are making reference specimens. In addition to the MSU Bookstore, Bozeman’s Herbarium Supply Company has a great selection of equipment related to plant collection, identification, and specimen preservation.

Relevant websites

  • Flickr collection of albums for the Plant Systematics course, BIOO 435.
  • Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria. Search for images of herbarium specimens for all Montana plant species, view images, and download CSV files of selected data. This database includes all Montana specimens housed in the Montana State University Herbarium.
  • High Country Apps offers a great selection of regional plant identification apps, including Montana Grasses and Flora of the Yellowstone Region, which include many of the common species we will study during this course.
  • USDA NRCS Plants Database provides geographic, ecological, and taxonomic information for plant species. This site also provides the common and symbol (or code) name for each plant species. This site is best accessed through a Google search of scientific names because any misspellings will be corrected.
  • Wikipedia has a comprehensive Glossary of Botanical Terms. Search Google for "botanical terms" or for a specific botanical term (e.g., acaulescent, sericeous).
  • TreeLibA high-quality tree database for educators, students and lay persons.
  • These line drawings introduce some basic terminology used in angiosperm taxonomy: 123456