12 Jul 2016

Diary of a Science Work Experience Student

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

I’m Jenn and this week I have been doing work experience at the Garden. I was really excited to experience the variety of work that goes on behind the scenes here. I have a general interest in botany, but my particular love is bryophytes. Coming here has highlighted how much there still is to learn in other areas of botany. My week here has been very varied, changing from doing flower surveys to butterfly keeping, but all of it hugely enjoyable. The flower surveys are being used to collect data on the flowering species in the garden; this is then used with the data from DNA barcoding the honey collected by the bees. This is part of the Garden’s Saving Pollinators project.


I arrived Monday morning and jumped straight into flower surveys. This came as a huge shock to me, the mass of information about plants that I didn’t know. It was no longer a matter of knowing it was a daisy or a buttercup, but of knowing the plant family and the Latin name. Although I was hugely confused by what was going on, I set about trying to learn the main flowering plant families. Learning so much about plant families such as Asteraceae and Rosaceae was a steep but fun learning curve.


Tuesday was more flower surveys, by now I could identify a few (very basic) flowers and their families myself. Following two researchers around on the flower surveys was massively informative, I learnt a lot from following them and getting to see what they were doing. By now I can just about use the keys in the wild flower identification guide book, which is so much harder than it looks. The rest of Tuesday’s flower surveys were rained off, so I gave myself a crash course in flower anatomy and families using the many books in their library.


I followed and helped one of the horticulturists in the brand new butterfly house, Plas Pilipala, set up in the Tropical House.

My job today was to help stick 480 butterfly pupae on to sticks and then place them into the emergence cage. This was much harder than it sounds.

Now what I didn’t know about this job was that not only was the stick round, so that it rolled away easily, but the developing butterflies all wriggle inside their pupae. I had just prepared a stick with glue dots to stick the pupae on to, having just lined up 12 out of the 13 pupae on the stick, I turned round to get the 13th, upon looking back I saw that one pupa had wriggled so much that the entire stick had rolled away, knocking all the other pupae off. It is fair to say this job took a lot of patience. Being in the tropical house I got to see all of the other butterflies: my favourite are the blue morphos. These are beautiful big, blue butterflies and their pupae are just as stunning. The chrysalises are like green grapes and jewels combined, as beautiful as they are, they are very heavy and this makes getting them to stay on the sticks with glue even harder. My favourite butterfly, but least favourite pupa.


Today it wasn’t raining, so I went to help collect samples of honey from the bees here. This involved dressing up in the rather silly looking bee suits and puffing smoke into the hives to make the bees docile. Luckily I’m not afraid of bees, so it was really interesting to get to see into the hives and how samples are collected. The weather cleared up, so I went with Tim, a research student here, to finish surveying an area. This area was not particularly hard, but certain families like Apiaceae are really hard to identify because to my untrained eye, they all look identical.


The weather was a bit nicer today, so I went with Tim to survey Woods of the World. This is a really large area of the Garden, and will eventually be a forest that has trees from many parts of the world, as the name suggests! The area at the moment resembles a meadow rather than a forest, but come back in twenty years and it’ll be quite different.

The identification of plants is becoming a lot easier for me, but I have developed a severe dislike of Galium (also known as stickyweed). There are many different species of Galium, but to me they all appear the same and are very hard to identify. After this I then went to check on the butterfly emergence cage, many more butterflies are emerging today. It’s really nice to see all the butterflies flying around and behaving as they would in the wild. I believe there are over 20 species of butterfly in Plas Pilipala, so there is plenty to see in there. I spent some more time in the Tropical House (now Plas Pilipala) looking at another favourite of mine, Bromeliads. These are air plants and grow on trees mainly in tropical areas, to me these are one of the most interesting family of plants. This is my last day here at the Garden, and will be very sad to leave.

I’ve really enjoyed my time at the Garden and the week has passed far too quickly. Getting to see behind the scenes of how the Garden is run is really interesting and the opportunity to learn so much about plants here has really spark my interest to continue learning botany. I wish I could stay longer here, but hopefully I will return soon to visit the Garden. Following this I am going to go to Sixth form to study for the first year of my A-levels where I will be studying all sciences and maths. Eventually I hope to continue this interest in botany and study biology at university. It’s been a great inspiration working here and confirmed for me that this is what I want to do.