Planting a seed with songs: Botany students try out musical sides

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It was early on a bleak winter morning, but Professor David Baum's Botany 130 class in Birge Hall was awash with the sounds of students belting out melodies about spores, diploids and mitosis.

Each year, Baum offers an extra credit assignment in his General Botany course: Students can write and record a song describing the life cycle of one of six types of plants (angiosperms, conifers, homosporous ferns, lycopodiums, mosses or selaginellas). The idea was inspired by Baum’s father Harold, a longtime professor at King's College London who published "The Biochemists’ Songbook" in 1982.

Baum Baum

Baum, who estimates he's offered the optional assignment for the past eight years or so, awards points based on the accuracy of the biological details in the songs' lyrics, the completeness of the description of the life cycle, the use of proper terminology, the rhyming and scansion of the song, and the choice of tune. And he provides a suggested procedure for the songwriting process: choosing a tune, picking out its patterns, determining the key points and terms that need to be included, writing a chorus and then filling in the rest of the life cycle while maintaining the song's rhythm.

"They need to work through the plant life cycles in a linear way, and when you write a song, you kind of do that," Baum says. "Of course, it adds a bit of entertainment and fun. We want botany to be fun."

The entries span the musical spectrum — "everything from Sinatra to hip hop," Baum says — but are mostly parodies. This year, Baum added one piece of advice.

"I discouraged them from using Christmas songs, because I was getting kind of sick of those, and they don't work very well," he says.

Lee Weintraub's moss-themed parody of "I Just Can’t Wait to be King" from the Lion King drew some laughs, but the fourth finalist — an original offering about ferns by a student who wished to remain anonymous — took home top honors and a box of chocolates from Baum on Wednesday.

To listen to the winning song, click the play button:

Under the leaf
(the sorus, the sorus)
Filled with sporangium
(the sorus, the sorus)
Enlarged jacket cells form the annulus
With thin outer walls that dry out first
Tapetum! Nourishes the sporocyte cell
(diploids, diploids, diploids, diploids)
Division, Meiosis,
4 little baby cells
I’m breaking down to give ya sporopollenin
Now everyone's a spore yeah!

Now for the spore release
(It's drying, It's drying)
Like an accordion
(it's tearing, it's tearing)
A spring that throws my baby spores out into the world
Where they form hermaphroditic gametophytes
The Rhizoid