by Evan Filion
I first discovered my love for plant identification and analysis in the summer of 2018 at the Bucknell University Farm. I was tasked with surveying and identifying all the different floral species we had growing in the abandoned old-fields soon to be put to cultivation. When I started the job, my new study site held the visual, feel, and smell of any other common field I had ever put my mind to characterize. Yet, as I began to peer deeper into the grassy canopy, some fascinating new members of the community presented themselves with small, colorful flowers and interesting leaf forms. I had never before considered the total biodiversity within a community of this sort, especially one given the common courtesy of being mowed annually to keep its reaches confined to such an out-of-sight region.
While sampling in the field, I had to determine whether or not I had come across a different species to catalog based merely on a quick glance at the plant exterior. Little did I know at that point of the amazing secrets each species holds for the trained eye, from the morphology of its flowers to microscopic hairs on leaves and stems to miniscule lobes present on different leaves. I was coached along by members of our botany faculty, without whom I would never have been able to understand the anatomical concepts and terms vital to my taxonomic analysis. Immediately after learning about the diversity of grass flowers or the compound character of aster inflorescences, I could not help myself but to pull apart every uncut spikelet on the campus quad or to use a hand-lens on each daisy or coneflower in the decorative flower beds. Although I may not have always brought along the master dichotomous key on my analytical escapades, I still found great joy in picking out the near microscopic differences I could see in each species.
After spending countless hours holding grass specimens under the stereoscope and keying-out pressed herb samples, I distinguished at least 37 species within one half-acre plot, most of which I did not even see upon first glance at the field nor know its common name. The biggest takeaway for me from this experience was my new ability to consider the unique members of the whole plant community. I have carried this view into my field botany studies where we look beyond conventional weedy fields into multi-tiered, dynamic ecosystems hosting trees, shrubs, herbs, fungi, and all other life competing and synchronizing with one another. I have discovered the beauty in a name for plants as well as people, and that having the ability to recognize a species in a field of diversity provides a familiarity and appreciation unbeknownst to my prior self. I had never expected that a survey of such a “weedy field” could gift me with a lifelong skill and mindset for appreciating plants as interactive communities and as individual personalities.
Evan Filion is an Environmental Geosciences major at Bucknell University and a participant in Chris Martine's Field Botany class. The students took some time to write up their Plant Love Stories as a reflection of the class. We are sharing their stories. Learn more about the Bucknell Farm here.
Photo credit: Farm fields by Nicholas A. Tonelli on Wikimedia Commons.