Look around.... green, in every direction.
Plants are everywhere.
They allow our existence.
We eat them, we wear them, we build our homes from them. I'm sitting on a piece of one now. We fill our lives with so many plant products. And now we are begining to fuel our vehicles with them.
Their presence on Earth these many millions of years created an atmosphere that allows us to breathe. And plants are our greatest hope for scrubbing the elevated carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that is upsetting global balances.
So often, plants are simply the green blur in our peripheral vision as we speed through our daily lives. We sooo take them for granted. Our lives and the lives of so many other species depend on plant health and diversity.
Plus, they are spectacularly gorgeous.
We chose the name Plant Sciences in 2002 because it is simple and speaks to the broad spectrum of work we do in plant agriculture, biology, landscape design/architecture and environmental sciences.
A more descriptive -- but a bit unwieldy -- name for our department would be Applied & Fundamental Plant Sciences, Arts & Technology, Horticulture & Agronomy, and Turf & Landscape Design.
One way to get a sense of who we are is to view even a very partial list of the plants we investigate and teach in any given year: cotton, poplar, tomato, grapes, herbs, switchgrass, pumpkins, soybean, diesel tree, dieffenbachia, corn, alfalfa, sorghum, peaches, apples, ornamental grasses, tobacco, brocolli, palmer amaranth....
Dozens of turfgrass genera, species and varieties. Hundreds of agronomic row-crop varieties. Hundreds of ornamental annual and perennial flower species. Hundreds of modern and heirloom vegetables. Hundreds of native herbaceous and woody plants. Hundreds of weedy and invasive species.
Its fun to witness interactions at seminars, faculty meetings, student discussions:
A landscape architect and agronomic weed scientist discussing approaches for controlling unwanted plants that have volunteered onto our tool sheds new green roof.
A landscape architect connecting with a turfgrass stress physiologist to scheme about environmentally friendly golf course design.
A vegetable horticulturist teaming up with a bean breeder to develop an exceptionally good-tasting edemame for the US market.
A rice functional genomicist and horticultural entomologist planning an investigation of volatile compounds arising from dogwood leaves that may attract predators of dogwood insect pests. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
A monocot genetics expert teaming with a public horticulturist on a planting of biofuel plants in the UT Gardens.
A plant geneticist strategizing with an ornamental horticulturist about how to encourage root symbioses to help increase the ability of a fern to pull toxic heavy metals from soil.
This is just a smattering. As one who reviews the many and exciting accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students, I see many dozens of such examples every year. And we have as many partnerships beyond the department as within: with industry, government agencies, and other units at UT and many other universities throughout the country and the worrld.
This diversity of knowledge across plant-minded scientists and educators has helped in building strong, interdisciplinary investigative, academic and outreach programs.
All of our programs relate to agricultural security and landscape stewardship. Like horticulture and agronomy departments across the USA, economic and environmental sustainability are a key focus for our programs.