What Does a Botanist Do?
If you love all things green and growing and you’re fascinated by the science of plants and the world’s ecosystem, a career in botany may be for you. Botanists delve into how our planet’s ecosystem works the way it does – studying everything from small organisms and soil health to large trees that are centuries old.
As a botanist, you can help to restore endangered species, conserve protected areas and plant species, and shape the way we as humans interact sustainably and get food from the crops we eat. You may also be involved in the controlling of invasive plants, giving lectures, or acting in an advisory capacity to organisations or governments with regard to climate change and/or the life cycle of plants.
Whether you are looking to explore botany as a first-time career path, or you’d like to switch careers, this guide will give you all the details you need on how to become a botanist.
What is a botanist?
A botanist specialises in plants, trees and other natural organisms. As a botanist, you’ll study plant and tree anatomy, genetics and physiology, and plant relationships with other creatures, plants and the general environment. Biologists may work in environments such as:
Botanists are heavily involved in conservation efforts and may undertake research work that informs climate change agenda, efforts to restore endangered plant species, or damaged ecosystems. Within botany, you can specialise in a particular area of research, and you may decide to become an expert in one of the many specialisms such as plant biochemistry, genetics, ecology and taxonomy.
Daily tasks of a botanist
Botanists observe and study plants and how they relate to their environment. They spend a lot of time conducting research and studies, including fieldwork, testing, and assessing natural events like natural disasters, and other events that may affect plant life cycles and our ecosystem.
Botanists may be responsible for breeding plants, identifying new breeds of plants, or investigating new diseases and threats to certain species of flora. Botanists need to be passionate about environmental awareness, plant conservation and new research.
They also need to be meticulous when it comes to detail, with strong interpersonal and communication skills, as they spend a lot of time researching and communicating/gathering their findings. Day to day tasks of a botanist may include:
- Studying plants and their biology, processes and environments
- Collecting and testing plant samples, and recording findings
- Testing the effects of pests, weather conditions and pollutants/chemicals on plants
- Assessing plant responses to environmental changes
- Conservation research and raising awareness about climate concerns
- Working with other botanists and researchers on projects and/or fieldwork
- Managing junior researchers
Where do botanists work?
There are a variety of locations that a botanist can work in, depending on their expertise and area of specialism. Some of the locations botanists can work include:
- Research facilities
- Private companies
- Private gardens
- Conservation organisations
They may work at locations like botanical gardens or within conservation areas doing fieldwork, and spend time educating others on plant biology and conservation.
Botanists can also work within research institutions, companies, and universities, where they may spend the majority of their time conducting tests and researching subjects like how to develop new plants and crops, how to improve existing flora, and how to improve farming practices so they are more sustainable.
Some botanists work for forestry commissions, government departments, and national parks to help protect natural environments, prevent deforestation, and save endangered species. For example, they may have a role in developing governmental policies that aim to tackle illegal deforestation.
Another area in which botanists can work is in the private sector for pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, or consulting firms providing expert knowledge or the development of new products or processes regarding plant life.
Specialisms in botany
There are various specialisations in the study of botany depending on which area you are most interested in. These are broken up into the following categories.
Plant anatomy and genetics
This is the study of the various types of tissues that make up plants from an anatomical point of view. Organs of plants, such as the stems, leaves, flowers, and roots are carefully studied, to see how the plant transports nutrients and water through itself, and how photosynthesis occurs.
By studying plant anatomy in this way, scientists can look at how plant biology can improve crop yields and overall plant health, which can aid horticulture. Botanists can also look at how plants vary genetically, studying their chromosomes and variation based on genes.
Plant ecology studies how plants interact with the environment they live in. It covers interactions with other plants, and other animals, and humans. Botanists studying in this area look at chemical and physical factors that can have an impact on how plants grow, pollinate, and compete.
They also study how plants play an important part in our general ecosystem, including providing oxygen, and food for other organisms and animals, and how they cycle nutrients.
This involves studying the science of plant naming and classification, including how plants are categorised, and how some species can interbreed, which helps management and conservation.
Taxonomists carefully use specialised equipment to identify species of plants based on their fruit, flower, and leaf type, cell structures, and DNA. The study of this area of botany is important because it helps us understand how plant life on our planet is so diverse.
Plant physiology involves the study of how plants function – such as how they grow, pollinate, and respond to factors like human interference, weather conditions, temperatures, and different nutrients in the soil.
This area of botany focuses on the relationship between plants and humans. It includes how different cultures around the world use plants for rituals, medicine, food, and so on.
Ethnobotanists take part in fieldwork to study different cultures and people around the world, to better understand how the knowledge and use of plants is passed down through human generations.
Biotechnology involves the study of plant-based processes and products that can aid health, our environment, or agriculture. It involves for example using technology to produce plants that are genetically engineered for a large food crop or to improve nutritional value.
Biotechnology also involves the cleanup of contaminated areas or looking into ways that plants can be used as biofuel.
This area of botany is all about studying plants at a cellular and molecular level, identifying plant diseases and pathogens and their causes, and how to treat them. Botanists in this field may do work involving microscopic inspection and research, and molecular assessment.
They may also work with other professionals to better understand plant diseases and how they affect tissues and cells.
How to become a botanist
To become a botanist, you’ll need some specialist qualifications that showcase your knowledge of plant biology, like the accredited Level 3 Botany Diploma from Oxford Learning College. This will give you a good grounding in vegetative anatomy, plant physiology, plant reproduction and growth, genetics, and evolution. Another option is the Quality Licence Scheme Level 3 Botany Diploma, which can be used to gain entry to a Level 4 Diploma.
As well as a keen interest in all things plants and vegetation, alongside climate and environmental issues, you’ll also need good oral and written English skills, and GCSE/IGCSE qualifications. Upon completion of this course, students can go on to higher education to study at university.
If you’d prefer to study environmental sciences as a whole, the Level 4+5 Accredited Environmental Science Diploma is another option. This internationally-recognised diploma covers a wide range of subjects, including human interaction with nature, and aspects of environmental science on land and at sea. It can help you to pursue a career in environmental sciences, or create a foundation for further education.
Do you need a degree to be a botanist?
If you want to become a professional botanist, it’s likely you’ll need an undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree as a minimum. Some research-related roles in institutions like universities will even require a Master’s degree or a PhD for teaching or academic-related roles.
You’ll also need real-life experience of fieldwork, as this will boost your chances of landing a job. Volunteering, internships and work experience schemes are a great way to gain experience.