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What Does a Forensic Botanist Do?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

A forensic botanist looks at plant materials relevant to a crime scene in order to glean any useful information from those materials. The plant matter involved and the way in which the materials are used differs depending on the case, but commonly facts about the plants are used to create a logical argument that links a person to a crime. The botanist's job usually involves identifying plant materials and explaining to relevant parties any relevant facts about the plants, such as where they are typically grown. Depending on the case, a forensic botanist might work with any number of different types of plants or plant materials.

Forensic botany relies on the most recent and up-to-date botanical science available to provide information about a crime. A botanist of this type strives for accuracy, because the results of findings in forensic botany can lead to arrests or jail time. The actual work of the botanist depends on what information and materials are available, as well as what questions the botanist has been asked.

A flower, like those studied by botanists.
A flower, like those studied by botanists.

In most cases, a forensic botanist has a degree in botany without any special forensic training, though special internships and additional courses do exist. This is because most forensic botanists work as consultants and are called on by the people investigating the crime for a limited engagement. Botanists are often highly specific in their studies, meaning that one case might require one type of forensic botanist but would not be served by another. There are some devoted forensic botanists, but these professionals often work for companies that do consulting only for crime scenes.

A plant growing.
A plant growing.

The type of information a forensic botanist might be asked to provide also differs depending on the case. Sometimes, forensic botanists might help identify where a body has been or what types of plants were nearby when the crime occurred. In other cases, the botanist might look at the wood that was used to construct a weapon. Trying to construct the strongest case possible often requires seeking the expertise of a professional who works specifically with the material in question, such as pollen or leaves.

A plant.
A plant.

When a forensic botanist is called to the stand, it is important that he or she represents his or her honest opinion of the case. This can be difficult given the pressure from different parties. When providing testimony, the botanist's only job is to answer questions to the best of his or her ability. Some experience working with courts can be helpful in this regard, but most legal teams attempt to prepare botanists fully before any trial.

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      By: alfastudiofoto
      A flower, like those studied by botanists.
    • A plant growing.
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      A plant growing.
    • A plant.
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      A plant.
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      Forensic botanists gather plant materials from crime scenes.
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