Dr. Chris Martine sheds light on botany

Gillian Feehan, Campus Life Editor

Associate Professor of Biology Chris Martine published a Huffington Post article titled “I Am a Botanist (And No, I Don’t Grow Marijuana),” on Aug. 14 that has garnered attention from botanists and members of the general public around the globe. Martine discusses the general public’s misconceptions about the term “botany.” He explains that many people have no idea what botanists do and, as a result, many people presume that botanists have a simple job and spend their time sniffing flowers.

This summer, Martine gathered with over a thousand botanists to discuss their research at the Botanical Society of America’s (BSA) annual conference. At the end of the conference, a select group of botanists had a strategic meeting about where botany was going in the next decade.

“One of the things that came up [at the meeting] was the fact that our field suffers from a perception problem. We know as a botanist what we do and what botany is, but the public at large seems to have a very different idea of what botany means,” Martine said.

Martine and the BSA then took on the challenge of making the term “botany” known and understood by the public. To do so, the BSA decided to turn “I Am a Botanist” into a social media campaign.

“[The BSA] sent an invitation to all members … and said, ‘Let’s have everyone take a selfie with a sign that says #IAmABotanist, where you live, and what kind of work you do, and let’s see what happens,’” Martine said. “In the course of the first three or four days of the campaign, there were hundreds of botanists that came out of the woodwork from all over the world.”

Martine’s blog and the subsequent campaign sought to inform the general public what being a botanist entails. In the process, Martine explained that the campaign also inspired botanists to step up and proudly tell everyone what they do.

“I love the fact that being a botanist doesn’t end at the end of the work day. For me, botany is my job, my vocation, and my hobby all at the same time. No matter where I go, I see plants and every one of them is interesting to me,” Martine said.

Alexandra Boni ’15, a researcher in Martine’s lab, also believes that the field of botany is misunderstood.

“To me, being a botanist is more than just loving plants because they are ‘pretty’ and mostly smell nice. It’s appreciating them for the complex and interesting ways they reproduce, ward off things that try to eat them, attract pollinators, and even just how they convert sunlight into chemical energy,” Boni said. “I do feel that people underestimate what we do, that we are just studying plants, because there is a bias that places a larger importance on research that directly studies humans. Plants are at the bottom of the food chain, literally, as primary producers, and that’s reason enough to study them. Conserving and maintaining diversity in both agricultural and native populations of plants is really important and has a huge impact on humans.”

The “I Am a Botanist” campaign continues to thrive on social media sites such as Twitter. Soon enough, perhaps the majority of the public will finally understand what it truly means to be a botanist.

(Visited 264 times, 1 visits today)