From Plant Press, Vol. 19, No. 2, April 2016.
Continuing what I hope is a temporary transition, or detail in government speak, from field and herbarium botanist to manager, I find myself occasionally reflecting on what I learned earlier in my career, which I now realize with nostalgia and regret involved considerably more time outdoors than it does now. When I catch myself daydreaming I am surprised that I do not spend as much of my reverie thinking about science per se but rather more esoteric things related to science, especially those things that one tends not to write down. Scientific ideas and insights sooner or later get folded into published articles and books, and some of the knowledge I have gained about certain plants is best conveyed via annotations on specimens. Impressions of fellow botanists or insights into how one manages to overcome obstacles while traveling and in the field tend, however, to be conveyed in conversation. More often than not these glimpses into the secret life of Botanists are only shared among our fraternity and only after pouring a libation or two.
A few of the lessons I have learned can be distilled as maxims or aphorisms for the field botanist. I have struggled to grasp the distinction between these two words: both maxims and aphorisms generally are considered to be short pithy statements conveying some general truth. Examples of the former are well-known and include such famous maxims as Poor Richard’s “a penny saved is a penny earned” (actually “a penny saved is two pence clear”). The definition of aphorism scarcely differs except that a secondary dictionary definition suggests that unlike a maxim an aphorism can also be a concise statement of a scientific principle, especially by an ancient classical author. Interestingly, Botany has a long tradition of aphorisms.