How I Discovered the Secret World of Plants

Two years ago, I fell into an amazing job I never would have expected to love so much. I work with botanists. They speak in a foreign language (of Latin names but also very technical science speak). Honestly, I don’t fully listen to a lot of conversations. I’ve learned to pick up what I need to.

And what I’ve learned and seen has transformed the way I view the world.

If you’ve never known a botanist, you know that going anywhere with them is difficult. They tend to walk one step at a time, stopping to crouch and look at plants. They shout out plant names (always the scientific name) and families. They disagree. They collect and identify later. Sometimes they encourage you to smell or chew on a leaf. Which I always do because the botanists I work with are my friends, and I trust that they aren’t trying to kill me (don’t get any ideas from this, y’all).

I’m not anywhere near that level (I never will be), but the little I know is enough to annoy the non-botanists around me. Joseph doesn’t care about the names of the plants we walk past in the parking lot, but I can’t help but say them. Is that what it feels like to be a mansplainer (although I hope I’m less awful)? 

There’s a whole world of plants around us that I didn’t care about or notice before. How did I go about my world not seeing this before? And new species are discovered every day.

Joseph and I have always liked hiking. But now that I know to look at the vegetation, I can’t even remember what I got out of hiking before. I am finally really looking at the world around me – and it’s unlocked this key to being outside that I didn’t know was missing.

Although Joseph would say otherwise, I think it’s started to rub off on him as well. On our recent trip to Palo Duro Canyon he fell in to the same habits as me. As we walked, we noticed the vegetation and how it changed along each trail. He joined me on pointing out when we encountered a species we hadn’t yet seen. What fun! Seriously! Try it!

There are a few other benefits to my job in the world of botany:

I work with rare botanical books dating back to the 16th century, like the one above: Flora Londinensis by William Curtis, published in 1777. (I can also go on and on about William Curtis….)

In my building is an herbarium full of over 1 million dried plant specimens. I’ve spent a lot of time marveling at how pretty they are, although they are also used by hardcore scientists for other reasons! Like… actual science!

The natural sciences is one of the few STEM fields that employs more women than men. And for me that’s a huge bonus! I love working with badass smart women every day. Even better when we get to work outside.

And some pretty cool men too. How do you get a West Texan man to walk around with a handful of pretty, pretty flowers? It’s science!

One comment


  • You and I would travel well together! I’m an identifier, too. I need to know the names of birds and flowers and animals that I encounter. I am very glad that you have discovered this career which seems perfect for you. And you are writing, too!

    6 June 2017

Leave a comment


Name*

Email(will not be published)*

Website

Your comment*

Submit Comment

© Copyright 2008-2017 Alyssa B. Young