What is Botany?
Botany is a field of science, a discipline of biology in particular, involved in the study of plants. Plants include a wide range of living organisms from the smallest bacteria to algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, ferns, conifers, and flowering plants, all the way up to the largest living things - the giant sequoia (or redwood) trees. Because the field is so broad, there are many kinds of botanists, or plant biologists.
Who is a Botanist?
A botanist is a biologist who specializes in the scientific study of plants. From the vast variety of botanists, those interested in ecology study interactions of plants with other organisms and the environment where as field botanists search to find new species or do experiments to discover how plants grow under different conditions. Some botanists study the structure of plants. They may work in the field, concentrating on the pattern of the whole plant. Others use microscopes to study the most detailed fine structure of individual cells. Many botanists do experiments to determine how plants convert simple chemical compounds into more complex chemicals. They may even study how genetic information in DNA controls plant development.
The results of botanical research increase and improve our supply of foods, fibers, medicines, building materials, and other plant products. Conservationists use botanical knowledge to help manage parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Public health and environmental protection professionals use their understanding of plant science to help solve pollution problems.
Plant science offers different specialties and career opportunities from which one can choose. This allows people with different backgrounds, aptitudes, and interests to find satisfying careers in plant biology. Among the careers available to a person who enjoys the outdoors are positions as an ecologist, taxonomist, conservationist, forester, or plant explorer. Work in these areas may take you to foreign and exotic lands. A person with a mathematical background might find biophysics, developmental botany, genetics, or systems ecology to be exciting fields. If one is interested in chemistry might become a plant physiologist, plant biochemist, molecular biologist, or chemotaxonomist.
Plant structure may appeal to a person who enjoys microscopy and the beauty of intricate form and design. Persons fascinated with microscopic organisms often choose plant microbiology, phycology or mycology. With genetically modified food becoming a regular practice, students of cytogeny, the study of the genetic make-up of plants is currently very much in demand. On a larger scale, ornamental horticulture and landscape design requires artistic use of plant form and color. A person concerned about the world food supply might study plant pathology (diseases) or plant breeding. Honey production is another area where you can be employed to determine the quality of honey, depending on the pollen grain count, which is used as a scale of measurement by any company. Paleobotany (the study of plant fossils) is another field that botanists may venture into.
At larger universities there are frequently separate departments specializing in different applied subdisciplines of botany. Some examples are: Agronomy (field crops), Horticulture (ornamentals, fruits and vegetables), Microbiology (microbes such as bacteria and fungi) and Plant Pathology (diseases of plants). Plant biologists who enjoy working with people have a wide range of opportunities in teaching and public service.