I am three weeks into my internship working with the Great Plains Inventory & Monitoring Network and Badlands National Park. It is mind-blowing how differently I look at plants in this very short time. Plants I have seen and walked by every day for 22 years have an entire new look and meaning to me. I have changed how I handle them and where I choose to step and walk. I liked to think that I had an appreciation and understanding towards plants, at least more than my friends, but there are so much more to them that I am learning. The best part is all of this knowledge is coming from only 21 days into my internship.
The stereotypical baseline for knowledge of someone who claims the botanical lifestyle is almost like a pop quiz. “Oh you work with botany? Then what is that plant’s name, scientific name, preferred environment and tell me how you know.” A test, I can confidently say, I would fail. While I would say that learning the names is definitely a goal, it is only a fraction of the ultimate goal of truly understanding plants. There are plenty of books that hold all the information to common names, genus, and species that will always be around as references. The names are only scratching the surface of what botany is.
One of the first steps towards learning botany is changing your mindset and attitude concerning plants. Learning to appreciate the small grasses as much as the great big trees. Taking the time to stop and really look at what is around you. I tried to venture out into vast fields of green and try to spot plants that I knew the names of, all off the top of my head. I very quickly got overwhelmed and frustrated that I could not find a single plant I knew from just walking around. I had to slow down and take a thoughtful look. What I was doing was equivalent to meeting someone new but all I was concerned with is shaking a hand and moving on with my day. Not taking the time and effort to truly commit the information to memory. The biggest change came focusing on an individual. Instead of rushing an introduction, it changed to “Hello Blue Grama, how are you?”, and keeping my attention on a single plant and noting why it is unique. Noticing the leaves, colors, stem, how it stands, and what it is doing. Once I did this, I immediately started noticing other Blue Grama in the area, all doing their own thing. If there was another plant that was similar but seemed different then I would take a look. If it was different it became a natural introduction to a new friend.
Everything that I learned so far excites me for what else is in store for the rest of my internship. I get to work with people who have deep understandings of plants while also spending time outdoors learning about new plants every day, and growing my knowledge of the land and the life that lives there. I also have the task of tracking specific plants and following them along their summer journey. Not only will I be able to keep learning, I also got an opportunity to lead a wildflower program at Badlands National Park. I hope that I will be able to spark a new fascination and mindfulness in plants for the public. At the very least if they leave with a new appreciation of plants, even in the slightest form, I would consider the summer a success.