CAREERS

Botanists, examine lettuce raised indoors by hydroponics.

Agronomists, also known as crop research scientists, are botanists who develop new methods of growing field crops for more efficient production, higher yield, and improved quality. Agronomists use the principles of genetics, cellular biology, and physiology to increase and improve the quality and value of crops while preserving the environment and maintaining optimum soil conditions. They conduct breeding studies on farms and at experimental stations to determine the best ways to make plants larger, healthier, and more resistant to disease, weeds, and pests. These botanists also perform extensive soil studies, examining the chemistry, microbiology, mineralogy, and fertility of soil to learn how plants respond to varying soil conditions. Agronomists use their knowledge to improve food crops, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as other types of crops, such as turf grass and cotton.

A field botanist, below, uses a laser scanner and computer to record the progress of a diseased tree.

Arboriculturists, also known as “tree doctors,” are trained professionals who care for the trees that line our streets and dot our landscape. Arboriculturists consult with landscape architects to determine which trees to plant in a particular park or building site. To ensure that trees under their care grow healthy and strong, these specialists develop and supervise pruning, fertilizing, and pest-management programs. They fertilize trees to make sure they are getting the proper nutrients to grow healthy and strong and to resist disease. They prune trees to rid them of dead or diseased branches, improve their shape, and promote new growth.

If a tree becomes infested with pests, arboriculturists must decide which measures are best to take for the tree and the surrounding environment—whether to add the pest’s natural enemies to the area around the tree or to use pesticides.

Arboriculturists spend a great deal of time outdoors, usually working in crews of three or four. In addition to having an extensive knowledge of trees and their environment, arboriculturists must also be familiar with the equipment and methods used in caring for them. These include pruning tools, drills, chain saws, and techniques such as “bracing,” which involves installing special supports in tall trees to help prevent branches from being broken during storms and other extreme weather conditions.

Botanists are scientists who study all aspects of plants and their environment. Some botanists conduct their investigations and experiments in research laboratories, using sophisticated equipment such as electron microscopes to learn more about the growth processes, anatomy, physiology, and genetic structure of plants. Others, known as field botanists, travel to faraway places to examine plants in their natural habitat.

Botanists have an important role in the search for new and better ways to use plants for food and medicine, and specialties within this field are as diverse as the plant kingdom itself. Botanists who study plant biology focus on the cell and tissue structure of plants, their chemical makeup, and their functions and vital processes. Botanists specializing in the applied plant sciences focus on the practical value of plants and investigate ways to use them for the benefit of people.

Some botanists specialize in the study of a particular type of plant, such as mycology (the biology of fungi), pteridology (the study of ferns and similar plants), and lichenology (the biology of lichens). Botanists called taxonomists name and classify plants—and sometimes discover plant species that have never before been identified.

Foresters manage and develop forestlands and resources while preserving and protecting the environment. To ensure that forests are being used responsibly for economic and recreational purposes, foresters plan and carry out forestation, cutting, and reforestation programs. To develop these programs, foresters carefully map forest areas, measure standing timber, and estimate future growth. They also advise timber companies on the most effective ways of cutting and removing trees with minimal disturbance to forests and their wildlife. Foresters are also concerned about preventing fires, which are often devastating to forests. These specialists conduct fire-prevention programs and supervise airplane patrols over vast forest areas. If fire breaks out, foresters direct the efforts of fire-fighting crews. Sometimes foresters conduct prescribed burnings, in which small fires are deliberately set in the litter of the forest floor to reduce the potential for a large fire.

Horticultural scientists use their knowledge of plant biology, chemistry, and physiology to produce new varieties of plants that are especially beautiful, hardy, and productive. For example, horticultural scientists experiment with the production of hybrids by crossing two plant breeds to create a single plant with the best characteristics of the two parent plants. They also use a technique called tissue culture to create new plant species. Horticultural scientists conduct extensive experiments to determine the environment and nutri-‘ tion necessary for plant growth. They test plants for their adaptability to different climates, soils, uses, and processes. These specialists also work to find ways to control plant diseases and improve plant resistance to pests. They conduct most of their research at agricultural experiment stations, arboretums, botanical gardens, and colleges and universities.

A horticulturist, trims plants at a botanical garden.

Horticultural therapists plan, manage, and evaluate therapeutic gardening programs to help rehabilitate physically handicapped and mentally handicapped people, substance abusers, criminals, and the socially disadvantaged. In horticultural therapy, plants and horticultural activities are used to improve physical, psychological, social, and mental wellbeing. Activities are designed to enhance selfesteem, encourage a sense of responsibility, and develop motor skills and problem-solving abilities. These include propagating, caring for, and harvesting a variety of plants in indoor and outdoor garden settings. Patients release stress and anger through the physical exertion of planting, watering, and weeding, and they also experience the emotional gratification of nurturing living things. Horticultural therapists are highly educated in the fields of horticulture, psychology, and education, and work side by side with other health-care professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and occupational therapists.

Landscape architects plan, design, and manage development projects that use land in a practical way while enhancing the beauty of our natural surroundings. Landscape architects create plans for a wide variety of projects, from botanical gardens to national parks, resorts, playgrounds, residential projects, corporate sites, and city squares. They also design walls, fences, steps, pavement patterns, and planting arrangements.

Landscape architects work on resource-management programs and such projects as wetlands restoration, and play an important role in the preservation of historical landmarks. These specialists are involved in all phases of a land-development project, from land planning to site design. They use their knowledge of climate, water supply, vegetation, and soil composition to ensure that a development project harmonizes with its surrounding environment, while avoiding erosion, flooding, and air and water pollution. They work with architects to fit buildings and other structures into land formations, making the best use of sunlight, breezes, and the beauty of nature.

Paley Park in New York City was designed by a landscape architect.

Medical botanists explore ways to use plants to treat and cure human disease. Since ancient times, people have used plants to relieve pain and reduce or eliminate disease symptoms, and today’s medical botanists continue to investigate the many ways in which plants benefit human health. For example, the bark of the cinchona tree provides the drug quinine, which is used in treating malaria. And digitalis, used to treat certain heart diseases, comes from the dried leaves of the purple foxglove, a common garden flower. Medical botanists conduct their research in the field as well as in the laboratory. Because there may be plants in the tropical rain forest with great potential to treat human disease, medical botanists often set up small research stations deep in the jungle.

There, they study plant specimens and gather information from local people about using plant species in the immediate surroundings as folk remedies. Medical botanists work for research institutes, academic institutions, agricultural businesses, and pharmaceutical companies.

A medical botanist, works with a native expert to locate plants for use in medications in the Amazon Basin in Ecuador.

Plant ecologists are botanists who study the relationship between plants and their environment by investigating their life history, light and soil requirements, and resistance to disease and insects. These scientists collect and analyze information about how plants interact with one another and with animals. Plant ecologists also study the adaptability of plant species to new and altered environmental conditions, such as changes in soil type, climate, and altitude. They work with government agencies and industry to discover the effect of natural events and human activities on plant life and the environment. For example, if a hardwood forest is damaged by a hurricane, a plant ecologist would determine how long it will take the forest to recover. A plant ecologist may also work along riverbanks, studying the effects of water pollution on wetland plants. Although plant ecologists conduct much of their research outdoors, they also spend time in laboratories, libraries, and at their computer terminals learning more about the natural world.

Plant pathologists identify plant diseases and experiment with various treatments and cures—a vitally important study, since all life on our planet depends on plants. For example, outbreaks of plant disease can cause major damage to crops or destroy an important species. Plant pathologists are highly trained scientists with an extensive knowledge of biochemistry, ecology, botany, epidemiology, genetics, microbiology, and physiology. They use their knowledge to identify the organisms and environmental conditions that cause disease in plants. They also study how diseases affect the growth, yield, or quality of a plant product. Plant pathologists conduct their investigations in the field and in the laboratory, always searching for new ways to use chemical, biological, and cultural techniques to control plant disease. They work for universities, chemical and pesticide companies, and government agencies.

Soil conservationists plan and manage programs for responsible land use, soil erosion control, and water conservation.

These scientists use their knowledge of soil fertility, microbiology, physics, and chemistry to develop effective soil-management practices, such as crop rotation, reforestation, contour plowing, and terracing.

Their programs allow for the most productive use of the land without damaging or destroying the health and fertility of the soil. In field investigations, especially land mapping, soil conservationists use a special instrument called a stereoscope to create a three-dimensional picture of the landscape.

In this way, they gather important information about distinctive features of the land, such as moisture level, vegetation, and topography. Soil conservationists work closely with government agencies, farmers, foresters, miners, and rural and urban planners.

Soil conservationists help plan strip cropping to reduce soil erosion on sloping land.