Strategy for Botany Optional for UPSC

Botany – the ‘eldest daughter of medicine’ is the study of plant life and is a branch of biology. Being a specialised science subject, it is not highly popular as a UPSC optional. Nevertheless, there have been toppers who were able to secure a high rank in the UPSC civil services exam with botany optional. In this article, you can read all about the botany optional – syllabus, strategy and tips, books to read and more.

How many take Botany optional?

The number of people who take botany as their optional subject in the UPSC Mains exam is not high. It is generally between 50 and 100. The chief reason is that only people with a background in this subject would naturally take it, botany being a specialised science. It can also be taken by candidates with an educational background in biotechnology or biotech engineering.

Let us take a look at the following table which gives the number of candidates who appear and clear the IAS exam with botany optional.

Table showing Botany optional success rate:

Year No.of candidates appeared No. of candidates cleared Success rate (%)
2011 135 9 6.7
2012 104 12 11.5
2013 50 7 14
2014 58 0 0
2015 56 5 8.9
2016 312 14 4.5

Toppers with Botany optional

Name Year Rank
Nikhil Thawal 2017 799
Dibya Jyoti Parida 2015 26
Stuti Charan 2012 3
Gopala Sundera Raj 2011 5

How is Botany as an optional in Mains UPSC?

Botany, as mentioned before, is a specialised science subject and only candidates with a background in it should consider it as an optional. People with a prior experience in biotechnology can also opt for it. There are some benefits as well as drawbacks if you take this optional. Let us consider them.

Botany optional pros

  • Objective subject – being a science subject, answers in botany cannot be subjective and left to the examiner’s interpretation.
  • Scoring – there is ample scope for diagrams and pictorial representation of facts which make it more scoring. A picture speaks a thousand words. Diagrams make explanations better and less verbose. This saves time and fetches more marks too.
  • Safe optional – botany is also considered a “safe” optional as the questions asked are generally direct in nature. You can easily write good answers with the correct facts and concepts. With conceptual clarity, you can score good marks in this subject.
  • Less competition – there is less competition in this subject unlike the other more popular ones like political science, pub ad, geography, etc.
  • Static portions – the syllabus is pretty much static.

Botany optional cons

  • Only candidates with a background in botany or any life sciences, or biotechnology can opt for this subject.
  • Even if you have an educational background in botany, you should select this as your optional only if you have an interest in it. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to complete the syllabus.
  • The syllabus is vast and takes a good 5 – 6 months to complete.
  • There is very little margin for error here. The questions, being direct, would require precise answers. There are no opinion-based answers here.
  • Overlap with the General Studies papers is very less. Only in some science and technology topics can you find some overlap, especially related to current affairs.

Botany optional syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for botany for the UPSC mains exam.

There are two optional papers in the UPSC exam pattern. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

Download the Botany syllabus PDF.

Botany optional strategy

  • It is very important to complete the UPSC optional syllabus for botany. Each and every topic should be done thoroughly.
  • For every topic, you should prepare the explanation/description first. Then, practice diagrams for the topic. Diagrams should be neat and correctly labelled. Diagrams fetch marks, so prepare them very well.
  • You should prepare examples for every concept or theory wherever possible.
  • You should also prepare the names of scientists or botanists for concepts. Their names add value to your answers. This is especially important if there are Indian scientists who have made contributions to that field.
  • Finally, prepare uses or applications for concepts or theories if there are any.
  • Your answers should be precise and to-the-point as botany is a science. For this, conceptual clarity is most important.
  • You must practice previous years’ UPSC question papers if you wish to clear the IAS exam.

In the next subsection, we give you a topic-wise preparation strategy for botany.

Botany Paper I

  1. Microbiology and Plant Pathology – microbiology portion can be covered from any standard graduate-level textbook. The key in this section is to be well-versed with the scientific names of the microorganisms. Also, prepare topics like Prion and Prion hypothesis in detail. The section on plant pathology is extremely scoring because you have to only study about 12 diseases in the following format:
  • Diseases
  • Causal organisms
  • Symptoms and
  • Control measures

          You should also study the plant quarantine rules of India because questions have been asked from this section in the interview to candidates with this optional.

Example questions:

Q. Describe the disease symptoms, causal organism and the control measures of loose

smut of wheat. (15 marks, 2015)

Q. Describe the causal organism, disease symptoms and the disease control measures of

Tikka disease of Groundnut, Citrus canker, Rust of Wheat, Ergot of rye. (12.5 X 4 marks, 2014)

Q. What are the symptoms and causes of hay fever? (20 marks, 2006)

2. Cryptogams – this topic can be done from ‘A Text Book of Botany’ by Singh, Pande, Jain.

Example questions:

Q. Draw well labelled diagram of the LS of Anthoceros sporophyte. Discuss the

evolutionary significance of Anthoceros also. (8 + 7 marks, 2015)

Q. Describe the various methods of genetic recombination in bacteria. (18 marks, 2013)

3. Phanerogams –  this is a vast subsection but it is very important. It has seen a lot of questions in the UPSC exam. This section is divided into Gymnosperms and Angiosperms. Under both these, you should study a number of families focussing on  their floral formulas, floral diagrams, and characteristics.

For the topic Systematics, refer to the first four chapters of ‘Plant Systematics’ by Gurcharan Singh.

For Embryology, you can read ‘The Embryology of Angiosperms’ by Bhojwani and Bhatnagar.

Example questions:

Q. Describe the distribution of living Gymnosperms in India and their economic

Importance. (20 marks, 2015)

Q. Distribution of cycads in India. (10 marks, 2013)

Q. Distinguish the Androecium of Malvaceae, Asteraceae and Asclepiadaceae from each

Other. (12.5 marks, 2015)

4. Plant Resource Development – this is a simple section which can be referred to from online sources. If you want to read a book, you can go through ‘Economic Botany’ by Kochhar. Here, the questions asked are generally about examples of particular uses of plants, for instance, plants as resins. In this case, you are advised to make your own lists of these uses while preparing.

Example questions:

Q. Discuss the components of a full fledged Botanical garden. (15 marks, 2015)

5. Morphogenesis – this is a simple application-based topic. It can be sufficiently covered from books by Indra Vasil and Razdan. You can also read the chapter on ‘Plant Development’ from the book ‘Developmental Biology’ authored by Scott Gilbert. In this field, Indian scientists like Guha and Maheshwari, particularly in anther culture and haploid development. You must quote their work and names in relevant questions to fetch brownie points.

Example questions:

Q. Give an account of Micropropagation and its utility towards ex-situ conservation of

rare and endangered plants. (15 marks, 2015)

Q. Describe the method of production of androgenic haploids. (17 marks, 2015)

Q. Briefly describe the importance of Somaclonal variation. (10 marks, 2011)

Botany Paper II

  1. Cell Biology – this is a familiar topic for life sciences students. Prepare specifically for plant cell organelles and their unique characteristics as different from animal cell organelles.

Example questions:

Q. Explain the following: Mitochondria (10 marks, 2015)

Q. Distinguish between Ribosomes and Peroxisomes. (10 marks, 2010)

2. Genetics, Molecular Biology and Evolution – from this section, you can expect analytical questions. To answer such questions, you can refer to books by PK Gupta. They are quite helpful for these questions. Here, make sure you are good with the fundamentals of each topic.

Example questions:

Q. Describe about the factors that affect the recombination frequencies. (10 marks, 2016)

Q. Citing suitable evidences, explain plastid inheritance in four o’clock plant. (15 marks, 2016)

Q. Role of RNA in origin and evolution. (20 marks, 2015)

Q. Role of RNA world in origin and evolution. (10 marks, 2012)

3. Plant Breeding, Biotechnology and Biostatistics – this is an application-based section. In your answers for these topics, add examples and flowcharts to make them more appealing. Here, you must understand the underlying scientific concepts of each technique. Questions from biostatistics are asked repeatedly, so it is prudent to prepare this section thoroughly. You can prepare notes for each statistical method.

Example questions:

Q. Explain the following: Hybrid vigour (10 marks, 2015)

Q. Describe the numerical variation in chromosomes. (15 marks, 2015)

Q. Discuss briefly the mechanism of disease resistance. (15 marks, 2015)

4. Physiology and Biochemistry – many questions in this paper are asked from this topic as it is a vast section. You can refer to Salisbury and Ross for physiology. The biochemistry section can be covered from any standard graduate-level textbook. Biochemistry topics should be covered properly because compulsory ten-markers are asked from this section.

Example questions:

Q. Explain the following: ATP synthase (10 marks, 2015)

Q. Explain the following: Senescence (10 marks, 2015)

Q. Describe the process of biological nitrogen fixation with special emphasis on denitrogenase. (20 marks, 2015)

Q. What are symplasmids? Mention role in root nodulation and N2 fixation. (15 marks, 2014)

5. Ecology and Plant Geography – this is a scoring section as direct questions are asked from here. This section is sort of dynamic in nature. So, keep track of current events and make updated notes for the same. You should study Indian legislations like CAMPA, and also the establishment of new sanctuaries. The statistics of the Indian Forest Survey will also help in adding value to your answers.

Example questions:

Q. Explain the following: Conservation of biodiversity (10 marks, 2015)

Q. Describe any four principal phytogeographical regions of India. (15 marks, 2015)

Q. Define Biodiversity and measures to conserve it. (15 marks, 2015)

Q. Discuss principal systems of environment Pollution and reasons thereof. (15 marks, 2015)

Q. IUCN classification of extinction risks. (10 marks, 2014)

Q. IUCN threat categories of biodiversity and implications. (20 marks, 2012)

UPSC Botany optional books

  • A Text Book of Botany – Singh, Pande, Jain
  • Plant Systematics – Gurcharan Singh
  • The Embryology of Angiosperms – Bhojwani and Bhatnagar
  • Economic Botany – SL Kochhar
  • Developmental Biology – Scott Gilbert
  • Plant Physiology – Frank B. Salisbury & Cleon W. Ross
  • Cell and Molecular Biology – E.D.P De Robertis
  • Genetics – Monroe Strickberger
  • Plant Anatomy – BP Pandey
  • General Microbiology – CB Powar
  • Taxonomy of Angiosperms – R Nair
  • Botany : For Degree Students : Pteridophyta – PC Vasishta

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