Formal Writing Assignment – Biol 212 Introduction to Plant Biology


Throughout the semester I will be reading to you short passages of popular scientific writing on subjects that we are covering in class.  Although few scientists attempt this style of writing, it is very important as it provides information on science to the non-science community (the interested layperson).


Here is an example of popular science writing which answers the question, why do we refer to the fruiting bodies of some fungi as mushrooms and others toadstools?  You may have heard these terms, but not be aware of their origins.


“The Roman satirist Juvenal described women using toads, presumably Bufo vulgaris, to kill unsuspecting husbands.  The toxicity of the venom provided the basis upon which the Talmud differentiated between frogs and toads, classifying the latter with all animals that were poisonous to the touch – an idea that persists to this day in Western societies.  European sorcerers believed that toads derived their venom from the earth by eating mushrooms – hence the English word toadstool…”


From “Smoking Toad” in Davis, W. 1998. Shadows in the Sun. Broadway Books, NY.


Wade Davis is a Harvard trained ethnobotanist who came to the public’s attention though his 1986 book on the biology and psychology of zombification in Haiti; The Serpent and the Rainbow.


Your assignment will be to choose your favorite topic from those that we have covered in the course and write a short popular science article on this topic.  Your article will be 250 words in length excluding the title.  It will be graded on creativity, scientific accuracy, and clarity of communication.