Learn more about modern plants by analyzing ancient fossils.

What does a Paleobotanist do?

Plants have many uses. They produce oxygen, hold the soil in place, shelter insects, and produce food for animals. Even plants that died long ago can hold clues about how the Earth was formed, and what organisms existed before we arrived. A Paleobotanist looks for and studies these remnants of ancient plants.

Fossils and casts of ancient plants are rarely seen resting on top of the sidewalk, just waiting to be noticed. Instead, they’re often located deep inside caves, at the bottom of the ocean, or in the middle of the desert. Paleobotanists study maps to determine where fossils have been found, and you look for places no one has searched before.

Pulling together an expedition takes money, so, if you’re a Paleobotanist, you write grant requests about the research you’d like to do. You spend hours on these applications, hoping to entice the leaders to choose your work above the work of other applicants.

When your expedition is funded, you travel to the site. Working with extreme care and precision, you look for plants trapped in rocks, or impressions of plants stamped on lava flows or mud. Each specimen is carefully documented.

When you arrive home from your travels, you identify each plant you found and name the new plants you discovered. Then, you spend months writing articles about your studies and what it means to the scientific community. Sometimes, you travel to other cities to give presentations.

Each new discovery adds to your fame, but you tackle the work because you love plants. Unfortunately, since you’re often so far away from home, you can’t grow plants of your own.