During Spring Break, I Took a Class

Mar 21, 2010 Leave a Comment

Spring break from school really is not the same at all when you also work full time.  But the timing actually worked out really well for me last week because instead of normal work, I spent the week taking a plant identification course with some of my co-workers from the other forests in New Mexico and Arizona.  We didn't get out of class until 5pm which would have meant I would have had to rush to get to school on the other side of town by 5:30.  I also got to spend some time with my out of town friends and Matt on St. Patrick's Day, which is normally a class day for me.  So it worked out perfectly.

During the class we looked at A LOT of plants ranging from flowered plants (including composites, dicots and monocots) to grasses and sedges, because those are the hardest for most people to learn and pretty much all we could cover in one week.  

The class involved looking at plant samples with the naked eye, with hand lenses and through microscopes to be able to see the tiniest parts of the plants characteristic in helping to identify what kind they are.  It was not easy and got pretty repetitive at times, but I found myself getting better and better at it every day.  That made me feel good.

To help us identify the plants, we used a 2-volume publication entitled A Flora of New Mexico by Martin and Hutchins.  It is set up as a taxonomic key -- utilizing couplets allowing the reader to choose between different plant characteristics to finally determine the tribe, species, family, and variety of a particular plant.  It's a decent publication but was published sometime in the 80's, I believe, and a lot has changed since then because botanists get bored or something and change plant names all the time.  There are also bad couplets, meaning that if you choose one thing saying a plant may or may not contain a certain trait, there is the potential to go on to the next couplet in which you must describe the trait that the plant may or may not have.  If it doesn't have it, then it turns into a matter of trying out both options to see which fits better, and that's annoying. 

Our teacher was a retired botanist who used to work in the same office as me, along with my boss and his boss, for many years.  He wasn't going to teach it anymore but I think the main boss convinced him to do it because we have had so many new employees during the past couple years (he didn't teach it last year, which would have been my first opportunity to take it).  He really knew his stuff, which was good, but that sometimes made it frustrating for us who don't know anything about plants except for the tiny bits and pieces we've begun to put together during our time in the field.

The hardest part, especially in the beginning, was all the terminology.  Plant taxonomy, like soil taxonomy, is a language in and of itself.  We would constantly be asking each other, "what does that word mean?" as we went through the keys.  Luckily we had a couple good term books, including Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary.  It's nice because it has pictures of the term it's identifying, which makes it a lot easier to see and understand on the actual plant.  I'm seriously considering buying one for myself.

So that's what I was up to last week.  If you're not totally bored, come back tomorrow and I'll show you more of what I learned.  And I'll have pictures as well. It will be spectacular, you'll see.


  • Amanda said:  

    Sounds like you had a great spring break - some work, an exciting course and a bit of St Paddy's fun :)

  • carma said:  

    I love that you really dig what you do (pun intended) - I never found something that I liked enough to major in - or I'd be going back for another degree *sigh*

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