The Difference Between Horticulture and Botany

If you’ve ever taken seventh grade science, there’s a great chance you learned all about botany. Memories may come flooding back of your soft-spoken science teacher, with a real love of all things leaves and fungi-related. At the time, how could you predict that someday you’d be seeking out articles on the subject?  Your teacher would be so proud!

Horticulture and botany are two terms that seem to be synonymous in the gardening and landscape circles. Perhaps you’re under the impression that the two are alike, and while you only have a very basic knowledge of botany, you may have never really heard of or understood about horticulture. The fact is, the two terms can be intertwined depending on how they are applied. If you are interested in learning the differences between horticulture vs. botany, either from a possible career standpoint or just from an outdoor enthusiast’s perspective, we’ve got a few key points to help you understand the differences and similarities.

The Difference Between Horticulture and Botany

While both botany and horticulture relate to plants, they do it in different ways. One is centered on more time spent in the lab while the other focuses on more time spent in the field.


Botany is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a branch of biology dealing with plant life; the properties and life phenomena exhibited by a plant, plant type or plant group.” Simply put, it is the study of plants and everything related to the way they grow, flourish, and eventually die. It is the study of the lifecycle of every plant species from the smallest type of bacteria all the way up through trees. Algae, fungi, ferns and sequoias are all studied by botanists. Even though some of these plants, such as fungi, algae, and bacteria are increasingly being studied under a different classification, they are still included under the larger umbrella of botany.

Due to the overwhelming number of plants covered under this biological classification, different subsets or specialties within botany have been created to help scientists focus on one particular area relating to plants. Some of these specializations include:

  • Plant anatomy: Plant tissues and cells
  • Biophysics: The physics behind the plant life cycle and processes
  • Cytology: Structure, function, and life history of the cells of plants
  • Ecology: The relationship between plants and their environments
  • Genetics: The way plants vary through hereditary factors and the function of genes
  • Physiology: Relating mineral nutrition to the photosynthesis process in plant growth
  • Taxonomy: Cataloging and identifying species of plants

These are just a few examples of the type of specializations a botanist may choose to focus in. In total, there are 26 subsections in botany to concentrate on. Each of the 26 plays an important role in helping scientists learn about the past and create a better future for the environment and human health.


Horticulture, the name, is made up of two Latin words, horti which means garden and culture which means to cultivate plants in the most suitable conditions for growth. Simply put, horticulture is the act of growing plants. It doesn’t matter where or what fashion the plants are grown in, it is still considered horticulture. It extends from landscapes to greenhouses. Horticulturists are constantly developing new ways to grow plants. The practice includes the following:

  • Soil management
  • Conservation of landscape
  • Restoration of landscape
  • Garden design
  • Maintenance of current gardens and landscapes
  • Construction of gardens, landscapes, greenhouses and the like

Horticulturists are focused on putting the best plants together, so they can thrive and help each other grow. Mixing the placement of plants and knowing which plants grow via a buddy system helps gardens and landscapes flourish and produce long after they are planted.

Horticulturists don’t just grow plants to look pretty. They are also very focused on the production of food. By analyzing soil components and knowing the right balance of nutrients that are essential for growing different types of plants, they can improve fruit and vegetable harvests. Horticulture, therefore, is an integral part of providing nutrition on a small scale – and a large one.

Both botany and horticulture are important pieces to understanding and improving plant life. The difference between the two is that while botany is exclusively the study of plants, horticulture is the act of growing them. The two work together in improving plant life and growth; thereby, improving the environment as a whole and the people who rely on it.

Advancements Made in Botany and Horticulture

Both botany and horticulture are making great strides in the betterment of our environment. By their very definition, both disciplines improve our quality of life by studying the world around us. Here are some advancements in the programs that further our quality of life.


Hydroponics is a method of growing plants that don’t involve soil. Horticulturists have started placing more emphasis on horticulture studies in the last few years, as it allows food to be cultivated and raised in arid environments. There are a few methods of hydroponics that have been developed and are successful in small and large-scale systems:

  • Water culture
  • Wick
  • Deepwater culture
  • Drip
  • Aeroponic
  • Nutrient film

In hydroponics, it is essential that nutrients are delivered to the plants through the water or liquid they are being grown using. It is reported that hydroponics can grow plants up to50% faster than normal garden growing. The reason for this all has to do with the mineral delivery. A plant in soil has to constantly expend energy trying to find the nutrients it needs in order to survive. Even if the soil has been cultivated and is healthy, this takes a lot of time, work and energy on the part of the plant. In hydroponics, the minerals needed for the plant to thrive are delivered directly via liquid. Therefore, when the plant no longer needs to expend any energy hunting for food, that energy can be concentrated on growing. The less a plant has to work for its food, the bigger and stronger it grows.

People are catching on to the hydroponic system to grow plants. Most notably, hydroponic systems of the varying construct are being sold online, and at specialty stores so anyone can try their hand at this gardening technique. More people than ever are trying hydroponic gardens, especially in states prone to seasonal gardening due to weather woes. All you need is a hydroponic system and access to a grow light, and you can have a modest garden cultivating inside with a foot of snow outside. If you’re handy, you can even construct your own hydroponic system out of just a few supplies.

Plant Breeding

Breeding isn’t just for animals. Botanists also engage in breeding plants for improvement purposes. Sometimes this results in a new plant that has special abilities. No, not superpowers, but plants have been developed that are resistant to drought, bacteria, algae, and bugs. This process is all about changing certain characteristics and traits to make the plant better. Sometimes this results in success and other times it doesn’t.

Botanists have also bred vegetables and fruits to make new flavors, textures, and the like. One of the beneficial qualities scientists have been able to work out is breeding food to make it healthier for humans. For example, one class of tomato can be cross bred with another to make a larger more vitamin-packed tomato variety. Sometimes plants are bred to make higher yields of fruit or vegetables when it comes to harvesting time. Regardless, plant breeding has been something botanists, and farmers have been doing for thousands of years.

Botany vs. Horticulture as a Hobby

You probably know one or two people who can grow just about anything they touch. It’s as if they just say they’re going to start a garden and bam! Beautiful tomatoes and cucumbers seem to manifest effortlessly. Some folks seem to have a knack for cultivating a garden, be it flower or vegetable. These people are referred to as having a green thumb because of their ability to grow something effortlessly. This doesn’t mean that it is effortless; it just appears that way because they may have some measure of knowledge or ability. Horticulture is a growing hobby as people look for ways to get outdoors and relax. These people enjoy the process and the ultimate yield.

Botany, on the other hand, is less of a hobby. It is a lot more difficult to be an amateur botanist. While you could technically take your microscope out and study fern spores, you probably won’t be doing any kind of cross breeding. You can be enthusiastic about plants and investigate the “how” and the “why” behind the way they grow or where they live, but when it comes to hobby versus career, horticulture is the friendlier discipline to both, while botany is just a career.

When it comes to the question of horticulture vs. botany, while the two are related they aren’t the same thing. Botany is the study of plants whereas horticulture is the action of growing them. While botanists do utilize what they’ve learned in studying plants to create new and improved breeds, they don’t grow them for enjoyment or food, as horticulturists do.

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