Field of Science

Botany Matters Abroad But Not in USA

Since my last entry I have traveled to Zurich and started working on a research project at the University of Zurich's botanical garden and Institute for Systematic Botany. It is quite refreshing to be working for a few weeks at a place where everyone understands plants.

This is a picture of Helleborus foetidus, the stinking hellebore. You don't plant it because it smells good, but because it makes such a nice early flowering display. This clump is along the walk up the hill to the insitute in the botanical garden.

But what stinks in the USA is that botany has been neglected and pushed aside by a human-centered, biomedical approach to studying biology. It's not that this isn't important, but biomedicine is the tail wagging the biological dog.

So, it's refreshing to go to other countries, virtually any other country than the USA, to find that botany remains a full-fledged component of the biological sciences.

Research money funneled through the NIH does support a considerable amount of very basic biological research. No problem there. And of course the NSF supports basic research, if you are doing something that fits their particular program descriptions. But the problem for plant science is that the money dispersed by the USDA does not support broad enough basic research in the plant sciences. In other words the USDA is more applied than the NIH. So it leaves a lot a plant related research out.

Botany in the USA ends up like poor Oliver asking forlornly for some more. I wonder if botanists in the USA will ever discover that we are the long lost grandchild of rich benefactor who will decide to boost the standing of botany in the USA, or build my university a botanical garden and research institute. Bill? Warren? At least Lady Bird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes showed good sense when they founded the Wildflower Research Institute.

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