Botanist


As a botanist, you study plants and apply your knowledge to teaching and research in agriculture, horticulture, land use planning, conservation, forestry, and medicine. You study the smallest pollen grains to the largest trees. You play an important role in environmental stewardship, particularly through contributions to conservation, sustainable practices, and remediation. Botanists often choose to specialize in a particular area of plant research, for example pathology, plant physiology, or plant taxonomy.

Laboratory worker holding a plant in a test tube

At a glance

Imagine standing in a bright, sunny glade on a warm summer afternoon. You have been hiking around this park enjoying the sunshine for hours now, and if the weather holds, you will be doing this again tomorrow and the day after that. While you've been enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, you have also kept a close eye on the plants around you, diligently recording what you see. You are a botanist and you have been sent here to begin recording data on plant species that will be included in a report on environmentally sensitive areas. The data you record will become a baseline for species richness that can be used to measure the health of these sensitive areas in the future.

As a botanist, you are used to doing baseline surveys for newly recognized environmentally sensitive areas. You know how important your work will be to long-term protection. You start by recording all plant species present in the area, which is your measure of species richness. You use your field classification guide to identify each species based on taxonomic characteristics. This is probably the hardest part of the job because there can be hundreds of different kinds of plants in a single area. For each kind of plant, you also take note of its relative abundance and distribution. You look at how many plants there are of each species and where they are in relation to one another. This survey and species map will demonstrate what the environmentally sensitive area looks like now so that future conservation efforts can be directed to keeping the area that way.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a botanist:

  • Study plant growth, development, function, distribution, and origin.
  • Study environmental issues such as conservation, re-vegetation, and weed control.
  • Monitor plant populations and distributions.
  • Work in greenhouses cultivating and growing plants.
  • Monitor populations of at-risk species.
  • Conduct surveys of an area's flora, collecting data and specimens, and prepare specimens for herbaria.
  • Investigate the effects of environmental factors such as rainfall, temperature, sunlight, and soil on plant growth, distribution, and abundance.
  • Supervise the work of technicians and technologists and teach students.
  • Review scientific literature and network with specialists worldwide to share knowledge.
  • Work environment

    Botanists work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:

    In the field:

    • Studying plant populations, for example their distribution and abundance
    • Conducting plant inventories
    • Working in greenhouses, museums, or herbaria

    In the office:

    • Entering and analyzing data on the computer, including updating lists
    • Managing databases
    • Preparing reports
    • Responding to information requests from the public

    In the lab:

    • Processing samples and specimens collected in the field

    Where to work

    There are a number of places botanists can find employment.

    They include:

    • Federal and provincial/territorial government departments
    • Conservation authorities
    • Colleges and universities
    • Environmental consulting and biotechnology firms
    • Forestry or agriculture consulting firms

    Education & requirements

    If you are a high school student considering a career as a botanist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Math
    • English

    In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a botanist is a university undergraduate degree.

    If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a botanist, the following programs are most applicable:

    • Botany
    • Biology
    • Conservation Biology
    • Ecology
    • Environmental Science

    Although it is not necessary to become certified in order to work as a botanist, most practitioners choose to apply for professional status, for example Professional Biologist or Registered Professional Forester. The requirements for these designations vary among provinces.

    Salary

    Botanists with a bachelor's degree make an average of $32,000 per year in Canada. With a graduate degree or several years of experience, botanists can make between $55,000 and $68,000 per year.

    Role Model

    Joyce Gould

    It was the complexity of plants that sparked Joyce Gould’s interest in botany, but it wasn’t until she spent a summer in the north as a research assistant for a botany graduate student that her desire to become a botanist was solidified. "I absolutely loved it…I decided I wanted a job where I could combine the field work with the science.” 

    Today, as a botanist for the Province of Alberta, Joyce continues to enjoy this combination of field and scientific work. In an average year, the Ph.D. candidate usually works in the field from June until August. The other 75 percent of the year, she is either at her desk or in her herbarium (plant lab). Her responsibilities range from helping the public identify rare plant species to working with wildlife officials on recovery planning for rare plants. And she knows how vital her work is to the environment: "Plants are an important part of our natural heritage…they are an important part of our biodiversity.”

    Despite a heavy workload, Joyce says the positive aspects of her job far outweigh the negative. The highlight of her work continues to be interacting with the public. "I see this as a way to educate people about the importance of plants and the perplexities that are related to the conservation of plants.” This interaction allows her to do what she is most proud of, which is "opening up the world of plants to people in a general way.”