There should be no monotony

In studying your botany.

It helps to train

And spur the brain

Unless you haven't gotany.

These silly lines, penned by poet Berton Braley in 1929, poke gentle fun at the science of plants. But botany is important stuff.

So important, the Chanticleer Foundation, which operates the Wayne public garden, is providing major funding for a $3 million project to codify, for the first time, more than 20,000 species of native or naturalized plants in North America north of Mexico.

Plant names, taxonomic relationships, distribution, and characteristics will fill 30 volumes when the "Flora of North America" project is completed in 2011. Twelve volumes are done, with Missouri Botanical Garden coordinating and experts contributing from around the country.

The project builds on information gathered since botanical studies began in this part of the world more than two centuries ago. It's intended to help taxonomists, conservationists, land planners, botanists, serious horticulturists, and anyone else doing research on plants.

"We're still discovering plants, and with habitat destruction, we need information on where they are today," says Janet Evans, library manager for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Chanticleer is donating a full "Flora" set to PHS, which has a small exhibit about the project, open to the public, in its library.

How relevant is the project to home gardeners?

"Most gardeners will never use this as a reference," says Bill Thomas, Chanticleer's executive director, "but almost all public gardens will. It's a way of documenting and identifying plants in their collection."

Anyone writing about native plants likely will use "Flora," too, which means the benefit will trickle down to readers. It's a lesson in no-monotony botany - unless, of course, you haven't gotany.

- Virginia A. Smith

The horticultural society's exhibit on the "Flora of North America" project is free and open through July at 100 N. 20th St.; 215-988-8800. Information on the project is at www.fna.org/FNA.