|MadSci Network: Botany|
Natalie, The tools of a field botanist can be divided into two categories: field equipment and office/lab equipment. I've included a list of this equipment with a short description of its use. Field equipment: EYEPIECE WITH LANYARD: usually worn around neck and used to observe small details on plant(i.e. looking for glands on the underside of a leaf). NOTEBOOK AND PENCIL: recording field notes. COMPASS: record directional information and assistance getting in and, more importantly, out of the woods. PRUNER: to clip woody specimens. TROWEL: when collecting herbaceous plants, it is best to collect the whole plant, roots and all. COLLECTING BAG: place specimens in bag (zip lock etc.) to prevent wilting until you press plants. FIELD GUIDE: From Virginia northward to Maine, many use Gleason and Cronquist's Manual to Vascular Plants. In Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, Radford, Ahles and Bell Manual to the Flora of the Carolinas is the best source but it may be too heavy for field use. For professional and amateur botanist alike, Newcomb's Wildflower Guide is an excellent book and one that I highly recommend. CAMERA: For taking pictures of particularly rare plants. Photos may be used as voucher specimens if you do not wish to collect a plant. WATER: Especially important on long hikes or hot days. INSECT REPELLENT: Optional, depending on the habitat you are searching. FIELD PACK: To carry all the above in. PLANT PRESS: Some wait until they're back at the lab to press plants, others press plants while still in the field. APPROPRIATE FOOTWEAR: If you hiking steep rocky areas, this is especially important. GPS: With technology changing, more and more botanist are using GPS. BIRD BOOK/OTHER GUIDES: Optional, for those with interest beyond the plant kingdom. Once you arrive back to lab/office, the following tools are most useful. MICROSCOPE: Used to view the fine details that often distinguish closely related species. FLORISTIC KEYS: In addition to the guides I've mentioned above, one may use keys specific to a certain group of plants (i.e. key to aquatic species, key to goldenrods, etc.). These keys are used to determine the exact species / taxa you are trying to identify. DISSECTING NEEDLES: With many species, you need to dissect the plant to properly identify it. For example, many grass keys ask for differences in the seed shape, but the seed is protected by other parts of the grass. Needles are a good way to tease the tissue away and find the part you need. METRIC RULER: A ruler with millimeter markings is critical. Most measurements within the keys are based on the metric system. REFERENCE MATERIAL: If you have access to a herbarium, this is most helpful. Once you have tentatively keyed you plant, comparing it to a herbarium specimen will allow you to verify or reject your ID. PLANT PRESS: If you're material was not pressed in the field, it should be pressed as soon as possible after returning to the lab. Old newspaper sheets are best to use as holders for individual specimens within the press. The press may be placed in a plant dryer or simply in a warm, dry room. LABEL PROGRAM: Once the specimens are properly identified and pressed, a label providing directions to the collection site with a habitat description should be created. The specimen and label will be given to a herbarium so that they may mount the specimen on archival quality herbarium paper and place the specimen within their collection. If properly pressed and archived, the specimen may be used for many, many years by other botanist and researchers. The above only represents the most common tools that a botanist will use. Each botanist has personal preferences regarding what to use or not use. Some may not use some of the items listed, while others may have additional tools. This list is a good list describing the basic tools. Good luck and if you have any other questions, please let me know. Troy Weldy Associate Botanist NY Natural Heritage Program
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