Upon graduating from the University of Arkansas with a degree in Horticulture, I was lucky enough to be awarded an intern position at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. My experience working with tissue culture, and my enthusiasm for plants of all shapes and sizes are what got me a foot in the door at this wonder institution. I began my internship by assisting the garden staff with maintenance in the desert garden. At the same time, I also was working on initiating various cacti into tissue culture. This may seem like a simple task but it was not. Cacti are very difficult to get established in culture due to the areoles (where the spines emerge) being very pubescent (hairy). This environment provides a wonderful little world for bacteria and fungi to live and thrive. This hair also prevents liquid, such the bleach solution, from penetrating deep into the wooly areoles. This leads to bacteria and fungi being able to escape from sterilization, eventually contaminating your cultures. With much work and the use of novel strategies, we finally managed to initiate select specimens and began producing sterile plant material for propagation and international shipment.
My dedication and ambition to the project, along with my love for the desert garden eventually landed me a full-time position as conservation technician. This position involved the survey, labeling, and mapping of the entire desert garden. I would attack this task by compiling the list of plants in each bed and would persoanlly check to see if what was listed was actually still in that bed or if it had died, or moved, or magically disappeared. I would also add additions of plants that had not been cataloged to the lists in our database. This was a tedious process but in the end, I managed to survey and map most of the beds in the desert garden. Given the fact that it had never been completed before, having a majority of the desert garden cataloged was a major accomplishment.
During my last 2 years at the Huntington, I began to catalog the desert nursery as well, which included the entire potted collection. We would re-pot, propagate and/or trash material as we progressed through the collection pot by pot. Thousands of plants were individually examined during this process. Eventually, the outdoor summer-growing collection was cataloged, along with a majority of the greenhouse space. Again, this had never before been completed and to catalog a majority of the potted collection was another major accomplishment.
Since the Huntington is dedicated to maintaining biodiversity and cataloging as much material from the wild as possible, I was presented with several opportunities for fieldwork. See Fieldwork for more on that topic. In addition to my fieldwork experience, the Huntington has also sent botanists to Asia and South America, in addition to various locations across the USA, such as Tennessee and Arizona. Their dedication to preserving biodiversity provides them with numerous opportunities to explore the world in search of new and exciting discoveries. Botanical gardens are excellent repositories for living and dried (Herbarium specimens) for researchers who may not be able to afford fieldwork, or when fieldwork might not be an option due to various situations (civil unrest, etc). I highly recommend people supporting botanical institutions since they not only help preserve a small sliver of biodiversity but also have the perfect avenue to educate the public on such topics.