Botanical Sexism

An article was posted this week on NPR blaming seasonal allergies on botanical sexism, a term coined by Tom Ogren, horticulturalist and author. He attributes America’s love for male trees to ‘exacerbated allergies’. The article claims that urban forestry is biased towards dioecious male trees. It’s an interesting theory, that cleaning up pollen was thought to be an easier and a fix-all for messy fruits. On the flip-side, if all female plants had been planted instead, there would be no fruits OR pollen. Female flowers can’t set fruits without pollen.

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Lightning Talks and an Evening Walk

After working with the Fairchild Challenge and having had a very non-linear path towards science, I saw a unique opportunity to connect high school students with current graduate students. My experience as someone with a desire to pursue a career in science while not necessarily knowing how to go about it prompted me to create and host the Lightning Talks and Evening Walk student workshop. Last week was Fairchild’s second annual event where 30 high school students had the opportunity to hear from six graduate students from FIU and UM about their path to science.

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On writing

As scientists we can’t just present facts and data to decision makers to ensure our science is used properly. We must communicate better and that doesn’t mean just talking louder when we aren’t understood. Peruse the headlines and it’s unquestionable that we aren’t getting our point across. I still find headlines where climate change is questioned! While contemplating and trying to get motivated with my own writing, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading about how to write. As a PhD candidate I can tell you that we are not properly trained in how to write well and diversely. No bestseller lists exist for academic science writing. So, how do we get published? Even more, how can we aspire to be published in an esteemed journal?

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Nichole Tiernan
Who was David Fairchild?

There was a time when many Americans didn’t know what a soybean or a zucchini looked like. Dinner plates were filled with corn, potatoes, cheese, grains and meat—pretty drab. The rainbow of foods that we eat now can be traced back to the self-deemed ‘agricultural explorer’ David Fairchild. David Stone’s book “The Food Explorer” eloquently details the life and travels of Fairchild as he brought many of the plants that are common to our diets today. The book is a colorful and fascinating narrative of the life of a man who lived in an age where Americans were eating purely for subsistence, who traveled the world to bring flavor and spice and diversity into our diets.

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Stories of Science—Haydee Borrero

I met Haydee Borrero when I came to visit Miami in 2014. She asked me if I had ever been to the Everglades and when I said no she said “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 5am”. It was a magical morning. I am happy to call her my friend to this day. This past year we traveled to Cuba together twice since our field sites overlapped. Haydee has had an interesting path is now doing some really cool work as part of her PhD.

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Science Engagement Week

As part of the Botany in Action Fellowship (BIA), I attended Science Engagement Week to augment my science communication skills. This fellowship emphasizes sharing research with the our communities and whole heartedly believes that our science is only as good as we can communicate it. So we convened for a jam-packed weekend with workshops and events tailored to science communication.

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Nichole Tiernan
Hot Off the Press

I am happy to announce that a paper that I have been working on for many years has finally been published in Brittonia this past week! The paper focuses on ten species in the genus Miconia (Melastomataceae), the largest genus in the family. These ten species all occur in the northern Andes in Colombia and Venezuela and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Coastal Cordillera of Venezuela, with one species endemic to Jamaica. This study illustrates the importance of field and herbarium collections. Herbaria document the world’s flora and provide a permanent record of botanical diversity. This is particularly important for endangered and threatened species such as those in the Miconia ulmarioides complex.

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Summer Interns

Two interns were selected from a pool of applicants to work along side me and learn the molecular techniques that have been the basis of my Ph.D. research. They learned how to extract plant DNA from leaves, use PCR to target specific gene regions, Cycle Sequencing to get the DNA sequence of the targeted gene region and were introduced to next-generation sequencing.

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Stories of Science—Tracy Commock

For the last two weeks, we have had a very special visitor at FIU and FTBG, Tracy Commock, Director of the Natural History Museum of Jamaica. I met Tracy, a fellow botanist, in 2014 and she has since become a great colleague and friend. Tracy has been paramount in developing a collaboration between UWI and FIU through an inter-institutional official agreement already in place between these two universities. I took her out for ice cream and we chatted about life as a botanist in Jamaica.

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Parque Nacional Guanahacabibes

I have just returned from a very exciting research trip to Cuba where I made collections in the western part of the country. Parque Nacional Guanahacabibes, located on the western most tip of Cuba in Pinar del Rio province, is very isolated, especially from tourism, and it was here that I saw the densest, most beautiful population of Plumeria that I have ever seen.

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Nichole Tiernan
Being a botanist, Part II

I recently went to a talk given by Drs Doug and Pam Soltis, who are botanists at the University of Florida. They discussed their work on molecular systematics and evolutionary genetics. Their talk was so inspiring that I’d like to talk about how we use DNA molecules and how it all fits into the bigger puzzle of life. The Soltis’s focused specifically on the portion of their work involving the Tree of Life.

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Being a botanist

Most people know that botany is the study of plants, but what does it actually mean to be a botanist? For me, studying plants means inspecting the subtle and sometimes grandiose differences between species. Documenting life on Earth as it is increasingly threatened is imperative in my opinion. If we don’t know what exists in an area, how can we properly implement conservation strategies to preserve Earth’s beautiful biodiversity?

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Everglades National Park

I recently visited Everglades National Park, and was reminded again that it is one of the most serene places I have ever been to. The Everglades is the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem, sometimes called “The River of Grass”, channeling vital water southward, essentially a very slow-moving river. This unique habitat contains endemic plants and animals, species not found anywhere else in the world.

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Nichole Tiernan
New Years Resolution: Conscious Consumerism

I’ve become more aware of my plastic consumption after a recent trash pickup hosted by Debris Free Oceans and decided that this year’s New Year Resolution will be to be more actively conscious of the plastic that I consume. Though I’m spending the holidays in the snow in New York on the Canadian border where I grew up, living in Miami for the last few years, marine debris hits me particularly close to home.

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The Fairchild Challenge Fellowship

I have a unique graduate fellowship through the Education Department at Fairchild where I help run the Fairchild Challenge Program. The Fairchild Challenge is a multidisciplinary science competition that schools participate in across South Florida. Challenges are designed with the goal of reaching a large diversity of students. All challenges ask students to research and observe the natural world around them. We have three citizen science challenges that span all three levels and engage students in real authentic research opportunities which otherwise lack from standard classroom settings.

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"Wonder Leaf"

As a tropical botanist, my research and training has taken me all over the tropics. During a recent fieldwork trip to Haiti I was reminded that even seasoned researchers can be awed by the sheer scope of biodiversity that exists within our tropical rainforests, or in this case lack thereof. Upon first glance, the roadside slopes of Haiti look awfully green, but look again and you’ll notice that it’s all one shade of green: Neem.

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