Inspiring the Botanists of the future

Part of the goal of Plant Cuttings items is to share news of botanical research with the wider plant-minded community, the better to advertise that wonderful example of human scientific endeavour. And that’s fine for promoting the work of established plant scientists. But what about the not unimportant – i.e. very important – matter of trying to ensure ‘continuity of supply’? How do we enthuse the new botanists to replace those who will eventually retire, etc. (and whose own future discoveries and contributions to botanical knowledge may one day be shared via a Plant Cutting)? To help with that, and another aim of these items, is to inform the current crop of plant practitioners of ‘tools’ and resources that they can use to inspire the next generation of plant biologists. So, here’s a round-up (no glyphosate-related pun intended; these items are intended to ‘cause to flourish’ rather than kill…) of some that caught my eye recently.

Female botanist
Copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock Photo

First – although in no particular order of importance– is the initiative of Prof. Lena Struwe (of the USA’s Rutgers University)*. Called Botany Depot, this resource aspires to be “a global website for creative ideas and materials for teaching botany in the 21st century for all ages and levels”. Whilst the focus of most of those resources is on existing students and inspiring plant knowledge and understanding within that important audience, it is equally necessary to reach out to the general public and help them to appreciate the importance of plant science and plants more generally. Developing projects and activities to achieve that admirable aim was part of the outcomes of the ASPB Conviron Scholars Program. Organised by the ASPB (the American Society of Plant Biology), the programme’s participants were drawn from a global pool of talented and aspiring plant scientists from the USA, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, and Belgium. Many of the projects are suitable not only for informing but also enthusing the general public with plant science. They should also work well with students (who, after all, until they commit to a plant science career, are also members of the general public…), and can be explored here.

A personal interest of mine is exploring the inter-relatedness of plants and people. That is catered for by Herbaria 3.0. Although it’s arguably less ‘academic’ in focus than some of the other resources considered in this item, it encourages the sharing of stories about plants and people, especially those that cause us to recall and reflect upon the important role that plants play in all our lives. The more such stories are shared, the more people might realise how important plants are. This in turn might also help to inspire a desire to study them further. All of the resources mentioned have the goal of sharing the excitement and joy that one gets from knowing about plants. If that helps to enthuse, inspire, and create the next generation of plant biologists, that is a job well done.

At the other end of the spectrum of ‘outreach’ and spreading the message that plants are cool (too!…) and worthy of study, is a mention of Plant Roots and Light, a blog by Dr Kasper van Gelderen (Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands). Kasper is an established plant scientist whose research focuses on the integration of shade avoidance signals from the shoot to the root and vice versa. His blog concentrates on those aspects of his professional life, with the intention to introduce this work to a broader audience. Real plant scientists blogging about their work (or using other social media platforms), with passion, is another great way of inspiring more and future plant scientists – and is another free resource to use and share. Blog on, Kasper – et al.!**


* Regular readers of Plant Cuttings might recognise this name, for it’s the same person that runs the Better Botanical Business Bureau, which appears as the Botanical Accuracy blog site. The latest item to appear there [when this Cutting was written] was a surgical dissection of a press release from the UK’s University of Bristol. Entitled “Plants colonized the earth 100 million years earlier than previously thought”, it purports to report the science behind Jennifer Morris et al.’s paper “The timescale of early land plant evolution”. However, rather than just itemise the perceived deficiencies and inaccuracies in the press release (and explain why they are deficient and/or inaccurate…), Prof. Struwe also helpfully provides a reworked version of the press release. In that way she is attempting to educate those who report on the work of botanists. After all, it is important to have the important work of botanists reported in the most accurate way possible.

** One was tempted to say ‘High Five’ to Kasper, as an appreciative pun that alludes to his work with the HY5 transcription factor. But that might be far too specialist for the more generalist audience a Plant Cutting item is trying to reach. So I resisted the temptation…