I received my M.S. in Botany in 1994 from the University of Tennessee with a research project focusing on the effects of various management treatments on the Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis (Beadle) Small). The University of Tennessee no longer offers degrees in botany, having discontinued the department in 2005. Within botany my area of specialization is plant ecology, which deals with the relationships between plants and their ecosystems. I am also interested in taxonomy, conservation, and the relationships between plants and human cultures. Given this subset of my interests, some of my friends have wondered just what anthropology has to offer.
Among botanists, there has been a fear that their discipline was slipping away since at least the 1960s (Eshbaugh and Wilson 1969). With shifts in university administrative structures toward unified biology departments and the rise of DNA-based classification schemes, this fear has in many cases become a reality. Where universities do have botanists as faculty, some botanists feel that there has been a shift from "real" botany--collecting herbarium specimens, measuring trees, working out population demographics--toward laboratory botany. The split between botanists is a subject for a longer essay, but for my purposes here it is enough to say that the parts of botany that interest me the most are today covered as well by anthropology as by most biology departments. The ecology of plants is so interwoven with human activities that the thought of studying plants in "pristine" or "wilderness" conditions seems unreasonable. Anthropology, with its focus on classification, also covers plant taxonomy from Linnaean, cladistic, and folk perspectives. And, plant conservation is best viewed as a socio-political activity grounded in biology. Anthropology also encompasses many of my other interests; other wayward botanists may look to geography, evolutionary biology, forestry, horticulture, and so on.
Eshbaugh, W. H., and T. K. Wilson. 1969. Departments of Botany, Passé? Bioscience 19:1072-1074.