News & Resources

Courses That Change Your Life: Field Botany (Biol 311)

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Dec 14, 2015

Many students are drawn to the study of biology by their fascination with the lives and behavior of animals. But those who go on to positions of research and management in environmental science and conservation soon learn that everything starts with plants. Plant species and plant communities influence soil structure and nutrient availability, alter site-specific topography and hydrology, and create or alter the specific conditions and availability of resources on which all animal species depend. Thus, modern conservation technologies like Geographic Information Systems (GIS), satellite imagery, and rapid assessment inventories all begin with plant species and plant communities.

Au Sable’s Field Botany at the Great Lakes Campus provides students a unique opportunity and field intensive experience in learning to identify, collect, preserve, classify and ecologically appreciate diverse plant species and communities that distinguish northern Michigan. Taught by Ken Sytsma, one of the world’s leading plant systematists and current President of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Field Botany provides a foundational introduction not only to the scientific study of plant taxonomy, but to the skills needed to identify new plant species, describe plant communities, and employ plant identification as a tool in site assessment and field inventory. As one 2013 student put, Field Botany was an “amazing course! There was so much content and so many learning experiences in the field. One of my favorite classes due to balance of necessary classroom studies and fieldwork (both were extremely enjoyable).”

A scientist and scholar of Ken’s stature could be intimidating, but Ken’s skill as a teacher and his genuine concern for students makes his extensive knowledge and depth of expertise accessible and useful. As one student noted, “Ken does everything well. He is very caring and genuine and helps you understand everything. He is the most knowledgeable botanist, hands down.”   Field Botany at Au Sable Great Lakes combines skilled teaching with the highest levels of scientific expertise, a comprehensive introduction to systematic botany, and the practical skills of plant identification that offer a myriad of (often employable) applications. It has been and continues to be a course that can change a student’s scientific understanding, career options, and perception of the natural world.