MadSci Network: Botany

Re: What kind of tools does a botanist use

Date: Thu Jan 27 12:24:24 2000
Posted By: Troy Weldy, , Botany, New York Natural Heritage Program
Area of science: Botany
ID: 948418076.Bt


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 

GPS: With technology changing, more and more botanist are using GPS.  

BIRD BOOK/OTHER GUIDES: Optional, for those with interest beyond the plant 

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 

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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