Plant Biology

Plant Biology Degree: Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Degree in Biology

About the Plant Biology Degree

Learn about your environment and ecosystem to prepare for an exciting career.

The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology program at PennWest California offers students a unique opportunity to examine and build expertise in plant sciences. In Pennsylvania, PennWest California is a leader in offering distinctive courses in the field of plant biology.

Plant biology is the study of how plants function as organisms and interact with their environment. It is a highly integrated discipline across biology and the environmental sciences, and includes such areas as taxonomy, medicinal plants, ethnobotany, anatomy, morphology, physiology, cell and molecular biology, development, genetics and ecology.   

This concentration combines fundamentals with in-depth study: Students receive a core foundation in biology with a specialized focus on plant science. In addition to completing core courses required by all biology majors in such areas as general botany, and cell and molecular biology, students deepen their knowledge by studying plant sciences.

Students also may choose either an ecology or a biology focus as related to plant biology to complete upper-level course program requirements:

  • The plant ecology track focuses on plants and how they live in the environment.
  • The plant biology degree track prepares you to work with natural products chemistry and plant bioengineering.

Students in this concentration benefit from exceptional faculty and their broad expertise in biological sciences, including plant taxonomy and speciation, ecology and wetlands, as well as plant interactions and agriculture. As a result, students receive broad yet directed study in botany.  

Gain a career advantage with PennWest California’s emphasis on hands-on experience.

Biology students are encouraged to pursue an internship and/or to study abroad to gain further expertise and practical experience in the field. Many of our biology students have completed internships in professional offices, biological labs, hospitals and other medical settings, and at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. 

The undergraduate biology program also offers students opportunities to select a concentration in one of these key areas: pre-professional programs, mortuary science or nanotechnology, in addition to this concentration. The bachelor’s degree in biology can be completed in four years of full-time study.


Broad-based Expertise: Students in this program will learn not only how to identify plants, but also how they function and respond to the world we live in. They will study how plants influence the world around us and work with other organisms, such as mushrooms, to provide humans and all organisms with such necessities as food, oxygen and paper. Plant biology degree majors can take courses ranging from Plant Anatomy to Wetlands Ecology, and learn about plant poisons and medicines, and how we can get more food from plants. Students are prepared to start their careers after graduation, or they may choose to go on to graduate school or professional school. 

High-demand Field: A steady demand exists for plant biologists and other professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2017, plant scientists had a median annual wage of $62,430. Employment of soil and plant scientists is projected to grow 8% through 2022. reported that as of 2018, botanists earned a median salary of $49,284 annually. Online says that plant biologists can work in a wide variety of settings, from the laboratory to the field, with both small and large biotechnology companies, as well as universities and state and government agencies.

Learn more about applying

120 credit hours for this bachelor's degree, which can be completed in four years of full-time study.
Number of plant species known to science, according to a 2016 report by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England.
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Degree Benefits

With a concentrated focus on botany, PennWest California students gain an understanding of key concepts in plant sciences as organized at the level of molecules, cells, systems, organisms and ecosystems. They also learn scientific methods, including quantitative skills and abilities to analyze, evaluate and interpret experimental design and results, and understand and use the information from scientific papers, reports and related public information. Plant biology majors also develop their ability to effectively communicate scientific data and information. PennWest California’s biology curriculum is designed to prepare students to enter careers in the broad field of biological sciences or to pursue further professional training, including going on to medical school. PennWest California biology graduates have been accepted by professional schools at many outstanding institutions, such as Penn State, Auburn University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ohio State University, Ohio University, Ross University of Veterinary Medicine, West Virginia University, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. 

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Graduate Outcomes

Biology students have many career options, from continuing their education to finding employment in various types of laboratories or with private industry, government or nonprofit organizations. Career opportunities in plant biology span the private and public sectors. Jobs may be in the laboratory or the field, and in forestry, pharmacognosy (medicines from plants), botanical gardens, nurseries and horticulture, in food science and environmental consulting, in agricultural and biotechnology companies, and in ecological-related positions and environmental protection. Plant biologists work in positions with the USDA and with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.


B.S., Plant Biology Courses

Students who major in this undergraduate degree program will receive a core foundation in biology with a specialized focus on plant science.


Course Credits
Freshman Year  
First Semester 15
BIO 120  General Zoology 4
CHE 101  General Chemistry I 4
ENG 101  English Composition I 3
UNI 100  First-Year Seminar 1
General Education Course 3
Second Semester 17
BIO 125  General Botany 4
CHE 102  General Chemistry II 4
ENG 102  English Composition II 3
MAT 273  Applied Calculus  OR  MAT 281  Calculus I 3
General Education Course 3
Sophomore Year  
Third Semester 14 or 15
BIO 215  Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology 4
PHY 121  General Physics I 4
Free Elective 3 or 4
General Education Course 3
Fourth Semester 15
BIO 218  Genetics 4
BIO 248  General Ecology   4
CHE 331  Organic Chemistry I 4
General Education Course 3
Junior Year  
Fifth Semester 15
BIO 300/400 level Plant Ecology or Biology Option Course 4
BIO 335  Plant Physiology 4
Free Electives 4
General Education Course 3
Sixth Semester 17
BIO 336  Plant Taxonomy  OR  BIO 307  Plant Anatomy 4
BIO 300/400 level Plant Ecology or Biology Option Course 4
MAT 215  Statistics 3
Free Elective 3
General Education Course 3
Senior Year  
Seventh Semester 16 or 17
BIO 478  Evolution 3
BIO 300/400 level Plant Ecology or Biology Option Course 4
Free Electives 6
General Education Course 3 or 4
Eighth Semester 14 or 15
BIO 336  Plant Taxonomy  OR  BIO 307  Plant Anatomy 4
Free Electives 6
General Education Course 4 or 5
Total 120

Select either the Biology or Ecology option:

Ecology Option (12 credits)

  • Select at least two of the following:
    • BIO 407  Mycology (4 credits)
    • BIO 414  Plant Ecology (4 credits)
    • BIO 442  Forest Ecology and Dendrology (4 credits)
    • ENS 475  Wetlands Ecology (4 credits)
  • Select any 300- or 400-level BIO or ENS course not used to fill another requirement (with adviser's approval)

Biology Option (12 credits)

  • Select at least two of the following:
    • BIO 326  General Microbiology (4 credits)
    • BIO 480  Cell Biology (4 credits)
    • CHE 415  Biochemistry (3 credits)
  • Select any 300- or 400-level BIO or ENS course(s) not used to fill another requirement (with adviser's approval)

B.S., Biology - Concentrations and Minors

  • Biology
The SAI Farm at PennWest California offers a biological perserve, greenhouse and wetland.

Top Facilities

The Biological and Environmental Sciences Department at PennWest California maintains a wide variety of facilities for biology majors. There is a 9-acre biological preserve within the 94-acre multi-use SAI Farm, along with a greenhouse, herbarium, wetland, apiary, organic garden and campus arboretum. All of these are available to enhance education and provide unlimited learning opportunities for students. Partnerships with local organizations such as the Republic Food Enterprise Center, the Washington County Food Bank, Westmoreland Conservation District and many others allow biology majors to work directly on projects serving the community. All teaching classrooms for biology offer up-to-date computer technology and WiFi access. Teaching labs are equipped for the study of anatomy, botany, cellular and molecular biology, ecology, genetics, microbiology, parasitology, and physiology; the zoology lab was recently remodeled. Students are provided excellent opportunities to carry out independent research projects with faculty and present their results in a professional setting.

A Plant Biology Degree student measures a plant for research

Getting Involved

Many biology students become members of Beta Beta Beta, a national biological society, which requires students to participate in a research experience. All students are given the opportunity to engage in research with a faculty member, and then to present their findings at a local, regional or national venue. Biology students are encouraged to join and actively participate in other department clubs, including the Biology Club, Medical Interest Club and Sustainability/Horticulture Club. These clubs help to prepare biology students for professional school by sponsoring visits to graduate schools, inviting guest speakers to campus, providing volunteer opportunities, and giving students a forum for learning more about career opportunities and the graduate school application process.

Students studied plants an local biology in Madagascar.

Award-winning Research

Our biology students frequently win awards for their research at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania University Biologists (CPUB) annual conference. For instance, biology graduate Shelby Zikeli ’16 conducted research on toxoplasmosis in Madagascar Forest rats, a project funded by PennWest California’s Faculty Professional Development Center and CPUB. This unique research was made possible by Dr. Summer Arrigo-Nelson, who does research in Madagascar while conducting a summer field program for students. Other award-winning student research projects have focused on such areas as small-cell lung cancer, ovarian tumors and wound healing.