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Plants and flowers not only provide esthetic beauty to our gardens and freshen up our lives, but also act as important scientific materials for our basic needs. For one thing, without any greenery, humans would have a hard time getting the proper oxygen to breathe. Can you imagine a world without plants? Impossible!

Botany is the scientific study of plants, which includes a wide range of living organisms from the smallest bacteria to the largest living trees. Botanists study plants and plant systems and apply their knowledge in the disciplines of biology, ecology, reclamation, agriculture, horticulture, forestry, plant breeding, medicine, pharmaceuticals, forensics and plant biotechnology.

Plants are chemical factories that produce all kinds of products useful to humans. Besides food, plants provide raw materials for paper, building materials, solvents and adhesives, fabrics, medicines, and many other products. Botanists study the chemicals produced by different plants to find new uses for them. For example, we use some plant chemicals to treat certain types of cancer.

Since the field is so broad, botanists may specialize in various areas such as plant genetics, conservation work, environmental biology, limnology (the study of freshwater plants, animals and chemistry), mycology (the study of fungi), or taxonomy and systematics (the classification of plants and their relationships). Some focus their work on field studies, searching for new species to perform experiments, while others study the ecology of plants, that is, the interactions of plants with other organisms and the environment.

Conservationists use botanical knowledge to help manage parks, forests, rangelands, and wilderness areas. Public health and environmental protection professionals depend on their understanding of plant science to help solve pollution problems. Some botanists organize and participate in field inventories, documenting species for various types of studies. Others work primarily in research and teaching. The results of botanical research have increased and improved our supply of medicines, foods, fibers, building materials and other plant products.
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  Interests and Skills  
Botanists must have an interest in nature and an appreciation for all forms of plant life. They are quick learners and have the ability to work outdoors for extended periods of time. Most have a serious concern for the environment, and are interested in protecting endangered plant species. Many botanists are open to interpreting facts in different ways, and have the ability to work both alone or in teams. They should have strong communication skills, both written and oral, and enjoy synthesizing information.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study plant growth, development, function, distribution and origin
  • Perform microscopic experiments on amoebas and related species
  • Study environmental issues such as conservation, re-vegetation and weed control
  • Lecture to university students and at conferences
  • Work in greenhouses, growing plants and other species
  • Work in the field, searching for new plant species
  • Supervise the work of technologists and technicians
  • Some botanists work primarily outdoors, collecting and identifying terrestrial and aquatic plants, taking samples, and surveying and documenting plant communities. Others work primarily indoors in offices, classrooms, laboratories and herbaria. Work on evenings and weekends may be required.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Botanists work for governments, universities and colleges, research and development departments in large corporations, botanical gardens, herbaria and museums, biotechnology firms, and environmental, forestry and agricultural consulting firms.
  • Some botanists work in marketing or administration of plant-related industries such as pharmaceutical companies, seed companies, biotechnology firms, scientific publishers and biological supply houses. With additional training, botanists can become scientific writers, computer programmers, botanical illustrators, or even lawyers or physicians. Service in public affairs, at the community and national levels, is an increasingly important role for plant biologists.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Potential for advancement as a botanist usually depends on the individual's university degree. Botanists who have a bachelor's degree may find work as interpretative naturalists, environmental reclamation technicians, or laboratory technicians in research facilities. Many master's graduates work as consultants in the environmental, horticultural and agricultural sectors, and a PhD is usually required for research positions in government and biotechnology companies, and for university teaching positions.

  Educational Paths  
Most botanists begin their post-secondary education by completing a four-year Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in botany or biological sciences. Independent researchers need a master's degree or, preferably, a doctoral degree in botany. Many botanists continue their training as post-doctoral fellows after receiving their PhDs.

Other valuable experiences include participation in science fairs and science clubs. It also helps to have a summer job or internships related to biology, such as working in parks, plant nurseries, farms, experiment stations, laboratories, camps, or for florists or landscape architects. Hobbies such as camping, photography and computers are also useful.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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