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What does a Botanist Do?

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  • Written By: Haven Esme
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Botanists are scientists who study various aspects of plant biology. They are sometimes referred to as plant scientists. Most botanists have a desire to understand everything there is to know about plants. The botanist studies a plant’s relationship to the environment and other living organisms.

In addition to plants, botanists may also study fungi and algae. Generally, botanists study plants, but there are numerous subfields regarding plants in which botanists can obtain specialization. For example, a botanist may choose to specialize in paleobotany, which is the study of fossilized plants.

Botany is an ancient area of science. Early botanists focused on finding resourceful uses for the plants around them. These botanists conducted research and experiments to distinguish between plants that were edible and poisonous. Early botanists also made observations regarding a plant's effect on human and animals, which helped them determine if a plant was medicinal. Present-day botanists still perform the same tasks, but have the tools and technology to study plants on a biochemical, genetic and molecular level.

Botanists are adept at conducting research. Research is often a vital job component. Many botanists find work in laboratory environments conducting research, although most botanists work outdoors at some point. In some cases, a botanist may have the opportunity to travel to different locations around the world to research plants. Botanists venture into different geographical territories in an effort to discover and classify new species of plants.

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A botanist may also travel to study a plant’s effect on a culture. This is especially true for botanists who specialize in ethnobotany, the study of how different cultures use their native plants. There are certain distinctive qualities that good botanists have. For example, botanists tend to have great observation skills, a strong interest in scientific studies, and a love for nature. Some botanists work for scientific research facilities, government agencies, botanical gardens and educational services. Individuals interested in becoming a botanist must be willing to spend long hours in a greenhouse or laboratory facility to carry out experiments on plants.

Plants are incredibly important to the world. They are used as food, fibers, drugs, and have many other resourceful uses. The field of botany is critical to providing the world with nutrition and medicine. Botany is an evolving discipline that is crucial in helping governments effectively produce plant food for a growing global population. The science helps the world better understand how to grow plants under controlled conditions. Botany increases food supply and even aids in producing more medicinal remedies.

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stl156
Post 4

Does anyone know, are there any famous botanists? I'm sure there are people that are well known in the world of botany, but how about someone the average person would be familiar with?

Also, do botanists ever get involved with less "natural" things like landscaping or horticulture?

Emilski
Post 3

@JimmyT - It sounds like a love of plants is a regular theme around here. I always thought it would be fun and interesting to be a botanist. I love being outside, and I like talking walks and hikes in new places and trying to identify the plants I see.

At the nature center near my home, there is a full time botanist who is responsible for leading groups on nature hikes and managing the land. Unfortunately, a lot of parks have had to lay off their botanists or put them more of a maintenance position due to budget problems.

On a lighter note, anyone interested in botany or plants in general should read about paleobotany. I just got into it, and it is a fascinating subject learning about how we can learn about old plants in fossils.

jcraig
Post 2

@JimmyT - I took a plant taxonomy course when I was in graduate school, and it was great. I think it would have been more up your alley compared to regular botany courses.

I talked to the professor a lot about the field of botany, and it is kind of depressing. In the past, most botanists were trained in the field to identify the features of different plant families and genera. Now, a lot of the focus has turned to characterizing plants based on genetics rather than visual observation. There is a lot of debate over which method is most appropriate, since you can come up with some extreme changes either way.

Because of the shift toward looking at plants in labs, classically trained botanists and botany departments are falling to the wayside in favor of cellular biologists and related departments.

JimmyT
Post 1

When I was in high school and college, I loved taking botany classes even thought I wasn't that great in them. Plants were always interesting to me. I still like trying to learn and identify new plants, but I never did very well in the classes since they were a lot more than just identifying plants.

Besides working at a university or somewhere similar doing research, what other types of jobs can botanists get? I would assume they are important at places like parks and nature centers. What do they do on a day to day basis?

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