Milne Open Textbooks

Inanimate Life


Inanimate Life is an open textbook covering a very traditional biological topic, botany, in a non-traditional way. Rather than a phylogenetic approach, going group by group, the book considers what defines organisms and examines four general areas of their biology: structure (size, shape, composition and how it comes to be); reproduction (including sex when present); energy and material needs, acquisition and manipulations; and finally their interactions with conditions and with other organisms including agricultural interactions between plants and people.  Although much of the text is devoted to vascular plants, the book comparatively considers ‘EBA = everything but animals’ (hence the title): plants, photosynthetic organisms that are not plants (‘algae’, as well as some bacteria and archaebacteria), fungi, and ‘fungal-like’ organisms. The book includes brief ‘fact sheets’ of  fifty-nine organisms/groups that biologists should be aware of, ranging from the very familiar (corn, yeast, pines) to the unfamiliar  (cryptophytes, diatoms, late-blight of potato).  These groups reflect the diversity of inanimate life.

This updated edition was published in July 2022 and includes corrections, revisions, additional figures, and fact-sheets for several more groups.  

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Chapter 1: Organisms

Chapter 2: Taxonomy and Phylogeny

Chapter 3: Boundaries

Chapter 4: Organism form: composition, size, and shape

Chapter 5: Cellular Structure in Inanimate Life

Chapter 6: Organ, Tissue, and Cellular Structure of Plants

Chapter 7: Producing Form: Development

Chapter 8: Vascular plant anatomy: primary growth

Chapter 9: Secondary growth

Chapter 10: Vascular Plant Form

Chapter 11: Reproduction and sex

Chapter 12: Fungal sex and fungal groups

Chapter 13: Sex and reproduction in non-seed plants

Chapter 14: The Development of Seeds

Chapter 15: Sex and Reproduction in Seed Plants

Chapter 16: Reproduction: development and physiology

Chapter 17: Sex, evolution, and the biological species concept

Chapter 18: Matter, Energy and Organisms

Chapter 19: Cellular Respiration

Chapter 20: Photosynthesis

Chapter 21: Metabolic diversity

Chapter 22: Nutrition and nutrients

Chapter 23: Soils

Chapter 24: Material movement and diffusion’s multiple roles in plant biology

Chapter 25: Plant growth—patterns, limitations and models

Chapter 26: Interactions Involving Conditions

Chapter 27: Biotic Interactions

Chapter 28: Agriculture

Chapter 29: Weeds and weed control

Chapter 30: Threats to agriculture: insects and pathogens

Chapter 31: Propagating plants and developing new plants


A Diversity of Organisms

Acetabularia, an unusual unicellular green algae

Agaricus bisporus, the commercial mushroom


Bracket Fungi

Calupera, a large coenocytic green algae.

Chlamydomonas, a small unicellular green alga

Chytrids, tiny fungi

Clubmosses: Lycopodium

Coccolithophores, photosynthetic unicellular algae

Coltsoot: Tussilago farfara


Corralorhiza, a plant that eats fungi

Cryptomonads, unicellular photosynthetic algae


Diatoms, unicellular photosynthetic algae

Dictyostelium: a cellular slime mold

Ephedra: jointfir

Euglena: a unicellular algae


Glomeromycota: important mycorrhizal fungi

Gonyaulax: a dinoflagellate



Horsetails, the genus Equisetum


Kelp: Laminaria, a brown algae

Lungwort lichen (Lobaria pumonaria)

Marchantia: thalloid liverwort

Marsilea: the 4-leaf clover fern

Molds: ubiquitous fungi

Nostoc: the smallest multicellular organism

Oedogonium: a filamentous green algae

Physarum: a plasmodial slime mold


Pinus: pine trees

Polytrichium: hairy cap moss


Potatoes: Solanum tuberosum

Porphyra: an edible red algae

Redwoods: the tallest and largest trees

Rhizobium: nitrogen fixing bacteria



Rust fungi (order Pucciniales, formerly Uredinales)


Sarracenia, a carnivorous plant

Seaweed, Fucus: a brown algae

Sensitive fern

Soybeans (and other beans)

Sphagnum-peat moss

Sunflower: Helianthus annuus

Tar Spot Fungus

Thermus aquaticus


Wood ferns


Additional Media Attributions

George M. Briggs

The author grew up in coastal Maine and received a BA in Biology from Dartmouth College before attending Utah State University, where he received an M.S. degree in ecology, studying alpine sedge dominated communities, and a PhD degree in plant physiology, studying the effect of root pruning on the water relations of sunflower.  He has taught at Middlebury College, the University of Montana, the Cranberry Lake Biological Station and SUNY, College of Geneseo, from which he retired in 2021.