Plants are all around us – flowers, trees, moss, shrubs, seaweed, and most anything that is alive and green. They are the reason that we are alive. They produce things that we depend on like food, fiber, wood, energy, and most importantly oxygen. We know about plants because of hard-working botanists.
Botanists are scientists who study plants. They become experts on the growth, development, functions, distribution, and origin of over 300,000 species of plants. Most botanists focus on specific plants or geographic regions. A botanist’s love of nature and her appreciation for everything green helps us understand plants and how we interact with them.
Botanists study cell structure, anatomy, heredity, reproduction, growth, development, interaction, distribution, climatic effects, rainfall needs, effects from sun, sustainability, and whether or not humans will benefit from them. They spend time in the field and in laboratories to learn new and exciting things that will contribute to mankind.
Plants are responsible for the majority of raw materials that we use everyday. Without plants we wouldn’t have cotton for t-shirts, coffee for caffeine boosts, wood for houses, medicines for colds, or paper to write on. As you can imagine, the science of botany results in billions of dollars of industry.
Botanists help create stronger, healthier plants through plant breeding, protection of endangered species, reclamation and rebuilding damaged ecosystems, developing new medicines, documenting new species, teaching students, and ensuring conservation. Without botanists our quality of life would be very different.
Botanists may spend days, months, or even a lifetime in the depths of the Amazon jungle researching a newly discovered plant, in the forests of Washington testing a rare form of moss, in the Appalachian examining spruce trees, in the New Mexico desert learning about cactus reproduction, in a research laboratory cross breeding seeds, or off the coast of New England protecting endangered seaweed. Wherever there are plants, there are also botanists studying plants.
Like any scientist, botanists focus both on academic research and applied research. That means lots of laboratory time peering through microscopes, writing reports, and also time scrutinizing plants and geographic areas. Botanists study and work in agriculture, biology, ecology, horticulture, forestry, plant genetics, medicine, biotechnology, agronomy, and entomology. They attend university and earn a bachelor, master, or doctoral degree in botany, biology, or a botany niche. The amount of education they receive will help determine what they do.
At the lower level, a botanist may work as a technical assistant. With experience they may perform research projects, or even work for a pharmaceutical company. The work is hands-on and the results can change the world.
Botanists must specialize in a niche. Studying high alpine moss or alternative fuels is very different than studying prairie grass or sending plants to Mars. In fact, botanists have many job titles – forest ecologist, mycologist, toxicologist, plant breeder, interpretive naturalist, wetland conservationist, environmental biologist, agronomist, or enthobotanists. These are some of the niches in the science of botany.
Every specialization involves different types of work. Botanists may study field crops, marine plants, forests, herbs, flowers, plants, or mushrooms. They are the world’s experts on tiny, delicate mosses, towering, massive redwood trees, and colorful, aromatic roses – all very different plants.
The majority of botanists work for research universities, but there are plenty of jobs with government agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, National Biological Service, and even NASA. Other botanists find work at greenhouses, arboretums, herbariums, botanical gardens, seed and nursery companies, pharmaceutical companies, large corporations, museums, forestry organizations, fruit farms, or organizations like the Nature Conservancy. Depending on where they work and what they research, botanists can make $33,000 to $103,000 per year. Most botanists average $60,000 per year.
If you want to explore a scientific career as a botanist, find your botanical niche and go wild. Who knows what your green thumb will discover?
Quick Facts About Botanist Work
Job Title: Botanist
Description: Study plants
Employers: Universities, government, nurseries, corporations, conservation agencies
Pay: $33,000 to $103,000 per year, average is $60,000 per year