Why did you want to become a botanist?
I grew up spending my summers at a research station that was founded by my father, in the mountains of Colorado. I was continually exposed to people with a passion for inquiry, who knew the names of plants and I wanted to learn from them. In the broadest sense, botany includes agriculture and ethnobotany, two subjects that fascinate me because of their connections to global food security and the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.
How did you become a curator of botany?
I have been very fortunate in that nearly every job I have had, had something to do with plants, often involving some aspect of plant identification: environmental consulting, range technician, ecological studies and ethnobotany. After finishing my bachelor of science degree in environmental biology, I thought I was finished with school forever. I never intended to go to graduate school and obtain master and doctoral degrees. After spending four years as someone else's technician, I realized that if I wanted to determine the course of my career, I was going to need more education.
What do you do as curator of botany?
A lot of my job involves using references and the collection to identify plants that have been sent to the museum by others, or that I have collected, or that have languished in the collection for many years. Sometimes I find plants with an incorrect or non-current name (in which case I make the correction to the best of my ability). For 13 years I have been involved in a project to survey the alpine flora of the mountains of northern British Columbia and to use DNA markers to trace the migration of arctic and alpine species in the northern hemisphere, with an emphasis on British Columbia.
Why do you think it is important for non-scientists to learn about the native plants in their neighbourhoods?
Some people are simply curious and enjoy knowing about other organisms, and some want to know what kind of plants are edible or poisonous for themselves and for other animals. Knowing the name is a first step to knowing much more about a plant.
Plants produce many chemicals that aid in their defence against plant-eating animals (herbivores). Humans use some of these same chemicals as medicine. The Royal BC Museum native plant garden has several interesting examples of the use of plants for human medicine.
This Week in History, season 4, episode 10. Published on Nov 19, 2015.