Plant anatomy is the study of the physical structure of plants. It is also known as phytoanatomy, with a practitioner of this scientific discipline being known as a phytoanatomist. As with animal anatomy, the goal is to learn more about how organisms are put together and how they work, with this information being used to obtain a deeper knowledge of how to care for plants and how to address diseases that affect them. Phytoanatomists work in a number of settings, including natural history museums, arboretums, and laboratories that develop new plants for agriculture and landscaping.
Phytoanatomists both study the structure of plants as a whole and dissect them to learn about their component parts. It can also take place on the microscopic level, with the anatomist examining plant cells to learn more about their function, and to differentiate between the various kinds of plant cells. Plant anatomists are also interested in the development of plants, from their earliest stages as seeds through their maturity into adulthood.
By dissecting and studying plants, researchers can learn about the differences between various plants, which is an important part of plant taxonomy. Two plants may look very similar on the surface, for example, but be radically different when they are dissected and viewed under the microscope. These differences can be used to describe and categorize the plants so that they can be placed within a taxonomic system. Plant anatomy can also involve carefully studying newly discovered plants to confirm that they are unique and to gather data about them that can be used to categorize them.
Increasingly, people are separating plant anatomy and morphology, with anatomy being concerned with the internal structure of plants, while morphology involves the exterior appearance of a plant. There are some overlaps between the fields, however. A flower, for example, can be examined by a morphologist and an anatomist, with both being interested in the exterior and internal structures of the flower to learn more about it.
People who work as plant anatomists usually take college courses in botany, biology, and related topics. They may choose to focus on specific types of plants, such as tropical plants, food crops, and so forth, or they may work as general anatomists in facilities like natural history museums, cataloging new acquisitions and managing existing collections so that they can be easily navigated and used as a resource by visitors. They can also work in sites like pharmaceutical research labs, studying plants with medicinal properties.