Dr. Jim Baxter
Office: Sequoia Hall 306
Tel. (916) 278-4047

Class location and times:
Lecture - SQU 118: M 1:00 - 1:50 pm
Lab - SQU 118: M W 2:00 - 4:50 pm

Office hours:


Tentative Schedule

Week of



Lab (M & W)


Readings *



M: Greenhouse/American River walk
W: Classification & the plant kingdom

O: Ch.1, 4-33


The California flora

M: The structure of plants
W: Using plant keys

O: Ch.5, 112-125


California 's topography and climate

M: California conifers
W: Coast redwood forests; California conifers

O: Ch.2, 42-58; Ch.5, 140-149; Ch.6, 173-175


CA climate (cont'd); Soils

M: Review
W: Lecture quiz #1; North coastal forests

O: Ch.2, 58-67; Ch.6, 170-173



M: UCD soils exhibit field trip



Time, rocks & plate tectonics

M: Plant keying work
W: Coastal communities

O: Ch.6, 152-165


Saturday: Coastal field trip






M: Project work
W: Lecture Quiz #2; Past vegetation/climate relationships (guest speaker Dr. Jim Wanket)



Project work

M: Folsom Lake field trip; Valley and Foothill Woodland/Chaparral
W: Inflorescences; project work

O: Ch.6, 178-186;


Exam #1

M: Fleshy fruits; plant keying
W: Project work; practical review



Project work

W: NO LAB: Cesar Chavez holiday

O: Ch.3, 88-95; Ch.4





Assembling California

M: Valley grassland, riparian woodland, freshwater marsh
W: Vernal pool field trip

O: Ch.6, 187-197


Project discussions; Lecture Quiz #3 (cancelled)

M: California tree oaks
W: Montane vegetation

O: Ch. Ch.7, 200-211


Sunday: Sierra Nevada field trip





M: Open lab
W: California shrub oaks



Physical & biotic influences on plants

M: Transmontane vegetation; Project work; Review

O: Ch. 3; Ch.7, 212-227


The future of CA vegetation; Lecture Quiz #4

M: Natural history tours
W: Natural history tours

O: Ch.10


EXAM # 2: 12:45 - 2:45 pm



* O = Ornduff, Faber and Keeler-Wolf; to include outside readings as needed


What you'll need for this course

Required text : Barbour, M.G., et al. 1993. California's Changing Landscapes: Diversity and Conservation of California Vegetation. California Native Plant Society, Sacramento, CA.

Required text : Johnston, Verna R. 1994. California Forests and Woodlands: A Natural History. University of California Press., Berkeley, CA.

Set of 100 4 X 6 index cards for plant collections

Learning objectives

When you have successfully completed this course, you will:

•  Be able to describe the basic morphological structure and organization of plants
•  Understand the general hierarchical classification scheme of organisms and how they are named
•  Be skilled and self-confident in using simple taxonomic keys in identifying plant species
•  Be skilled and self-confident in identifying some of the common plant groups, families and species in California
•  Be able to describe the dominant species and distributions of the major vegetation types in California
•  Be able to explain the role of the major ecological factors that govern the distribution of vegetation types in California
•  Acquire an understanding of some important ecological interactions between plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi
•  Be able to explain the basic geological history of California
•  Be able to explain the evolutionary origins of the California flora
•  Acquire an understanding of the way various plant materials were used by Native Californians
•  Acquire an understanding of the human influences on California vegetation
•  Be skilled and self-confident recognizing ecological patterns in nature
•  Be skilled and self-confident in leading a guided natural history tour of a location along the American River Parkway


To determine how well you have achieved the specific learning objectives of this course (above), I will give two lecture exams, three lab practical exams, and 4 quizzes. In addition, there will be points given for two projects (described below), five field trips (3 lab field trips and 2 weekend field trips), and class participation.

Assessment mode

Points possible

Lecture exams (2)


Lab practicals (3)


Quizzes (4)


Plant collection project


Natural history tour project


Field trips (5)






I do not grade on a curve. Your final grade is based on your cumulative point total. Grading percentages will be as follows:

Percentage (%)


Percentage (%)


</= 93


73 - 76.9


90 - 92.9


70 - 72.9


87 - 89.9


67 - 69.9


83 - 86.9


63 - 66.9


80 - 82.9


60 - 62.9


77 - 79.9


</= 59.9



Exams and quizzes

Lecture exams make up about 17% of the grade, whereas lab practicals make up about 21% of the grade. Whereas the first lecture exam will cover material from the first half of the course, the second (and final) lecture exam is comprehensive, but it will focus primarily on the material in the latter half of the course. The lecture exams may include material from lecture, lab, field trips, project work and any discussion topics or assigned outside readings. The purpose of the lecture exams is to assess your understanding of the facts, concepts and principles presented in the course. The format of the lecture exams may include a combination of short-answer essay, multiple choice, matching, and/or short word answers.

The lab practical exams are different from the lecture exams. Lab practical exams will assess your skill and ability to site identify, describe and/or "key" (using simple taxonomic keys) various plant groups, plant (or other) materials or plant species learned in the course.

Quizzes are intended to keep you up-to-date on the lecture and assigned readings and will be multiple choice. The quizzes are designed as learning tools for simple facts, concepts and principles and are worth 10 pts each. Quizzes will generally be given at the beginning of class and cannot be made up.


The lab comprises about 71% of your course grade. This makes sense both in terms of the time you will spend in the lab and the importance of the lab experience in meeting the course learning objectives. Therefore, successful completion of the lab is critical to successful completion of the course.

Because the lab is where we will actually engage in the hands-on and experiential learning in this course, I consider our time in lab to be the most important part of this class. The lab is your chance to develop your skills and abilities in identifying plants and plant (or other) materials and to gain first-hand knowledge of California plant communities in the field. The lab is also designed to develop your ability to observe natural phenomena and to successfully lead a guided natural history tour for the lay public. The aim of the labs is to not only to reinforce and enhance what you are learning in the lecture, but to gain essential skills and abilities in plant natural history.

Plant collection project

During the course, you will come across a wide range of plants, both in and out of class. This project involves assembling a botanical collection of plants that you've encountered during this course. Your job is to collect AND ACCURATELY IDENTIFY as many plants as you can during the course of the spring semester. For each plant that you collect and properly identify, you will receive two points. If you collect and correctly identify more than 50 plants (i.e., > 100 points), the points you receive over 100 will be counted as extra credit. I will give you further instructions about how this will all work later in the course.

Natural history tour project

An important (and, I hope, fun!) requirement of this course will be for you to prepare and lead a short guided natural history tour of a particular location along the American River Parkway near campus. This project has three components: 1) The tour itself; 2) A written summary of your tour; and 3) A written summary of your natural history observations. Each of these is described below.

The goal of your tour is that you become an "expert" on a particular location of your choice so that you feel competent to lead a natural history tour of your location to the class. The place you pick is entirely up to you. In other words, it should be your own spot - somewhere that you feel curious, comfortable and creative. However, it must also be a place that you can lead a group through and that you can have some interesting and relevant things to talk about to the class. You will also be required to turn in a written summary of your tour.

As part of this project, you will be required to keep a journal of plant natural history observations for your tour location. I will ask that you turn in a typed and summarized version of your journal at the end of the course. The aim of this journal is for you to keep a detailed record of natural history events that take place at your particular location. This information will aid you in putting together your tour as well as be a valuable source of information for creating your tour and tour summary. More details regarding this assignment will be provided in a separate handout.

Field trips

There will be 5 required field trips during the course; possible additional trips may be planned depending on weather and plant flowering. Two of the field trips will take place all day on two different weekend days. The tentative dates of these trips are listed in the lab syllabus. So, please make advance arrangements to be available for these days. The all-day field trips will be to locations that are too far for us to visit during our regular three hour lab period and they will take the place of two of our regularly scheduled lab periods - not an equal exchange, but a great experience! We will also take 3 additional field trips during the combined lecture and lab time (that is, unless there are significant objections to that). Attendance on field trips will be worth 20 points each.

Missed exams and late assignments

You may be able to make up an exam if you notify me in advance. Other than circumstances beyond your control, you cannot make up an exam if you fail to notify me prior to the date of the exam. Keep in mind, however, that lab practical exams cannot be set up for individual cases. Likewise, if you know you cannot attend a lab or cannot turn in an assignment on time, you must notify me in advance. Since there is only one section of this course, there can be no make-up lab exercises. Late lab assignments will be accepted, but graded down 10% of the full point value per school day late.

Classroom behavior and academic honesty

I expect that all students in my class will exhibit appropriate and respectful behavior and adhere to the university's policy on academic honesty. Cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated and will be severely punished. University policy on academic honesty clearly defines what constitutes cheating and plagiarism. Because many students are not familiar with what exactly constitutes plagiarism, the university defines p lagiarism as: ".the use of distinctive ideas or works belonging to another person without providing adequate acknowledgement of that person's contribution." The university further states that "Regardless of the means of appropriation, incorporating another's work into one's own requires adequate identification and acknowledgement." I strongly encourage you to read the university's complete policy on academic honesty, which is provided on the web at:

As an example of plagiarism, if you cut and paste material from someone else's work and do not acknowledge the source of that material, that's considered plagiarism. If, after reviewing the university's policy, you are still unsure about what is and what is not plagiarism, please ask!

Anyone caught cheating or plagiarizing will not receive the points for the particular assignment on which they cheated or plagiarized; in other words, you will receive an F on the assignment. In addition, I may forward their name to the dean of student affairs. If a student is caught plagiarizing a second time, they will receive an F grade in the course and their name will be forwarded to the dean of student affairs.

Persons with disabilities

I am sensitive to students with disabilities. Any student having a visible or invisible disability that adversely affects their ability to succeed in my class should speak with me by the second week of class. This will allow me enough time to make reasonable accommodations in advance of exams and quizzes.

A note on cell phones

A cell phone that rings during class is disruptive to me and to other students. If, for personal reasons, you must leave your cell phone on and take a call during class please set the ringer to vibrate and take the call outside of class. Otherwise, I request that all cell phones be turned off during class.