Zoey D.

Plant pressing outside of the NKU Herbarium.

The difficult task of saving plants

How one NKU professor could be saving plants from all around the world

July 25, 2019

When NKU professor Dr. Maggie Whitson sees a plant in her way on a trail, she avoids stepping on it. When she sees a bug in her house, she doesn’t squish it. She is gentle with it and takes it outside. She is the director of the John W. Thieret Herbarium, teaches dendrology, microbiology and botany. She works on preserving plant species, and sometimes even animals, to be able to study them in the future for the different benefits that they give us. She invited us to the herbarium so we could check it out.

According to Whitson, the plants she preserves can be kept for decades. Her oldest sample is from the 1800s. She sends and receives samples from all around the world. Shipping samples can be difficult and sometimes dangerous for the plant. According to Whitson, she once had a sample from Iran that was of a very rare plant, but the package dropped out of the truck and the driver accidentally ran over it. To help stop this from happening as often, they have a photo box in which they can take very realistic photos of plants so they can still be studied all around the world.

We asked Whitson about the effect that climate change might have on the plants. She talked about how when the temperatures rise, the plants cannot get used to the warmer temperatures as fast, therefore, they die. People do not realize how important plants are to us.

“When plants die, we die as well,” Whitson said.

Plants provide ingredients for drugs that we cannot synthesize at a lab. Plants create oxygen so that we can breathe as well. Plants can be used to find cures for cancer or a treatment for dementia. If we didn’t have plants, we wouldn’t have a lot of the things we have today.

“We need to start to bring more awareness to the need to preserve plants that are vital to our survival,” Whitson said.

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The difficult task of saving plants