Friday, 16 December 2016

The details of giant daisies

Today is the end of the Semester, and I'm definitely ready for a break after an extremely busy few months. Lots of great news this year, with two successful grant applications - the NERC project which I've been posting about, and a new Wellcome seed award which will be starting next year, developing further work at Catalhoyuk in Turkey. I have also had my own assignment deadline this week, for the NERC training course that I am going on in January. Everyone in the group has been assigned a plant family, and we had to do a bit of research on the genera and species that are found in Belize, and write a short information sheet on key characteristics. I think the expedition leader took pity on me as one of the participants without a background in botany, and I was assigned the Asteraecae (Compositae), which happen to be one of the easier families to identify. Or at least, it is one I am familiar with - daisies and sunflowers! Some of the terminology was familiar, ringing bells from my undergraduate biogeography modules. Some of it however was completely new - floral formulas and floral diagrams for example, are something that I have never come across before! I'm not sure I've quite got the hang of them yet, but it was actually really nice getting to do a bit of research and writing on something totally new. It reminded me of how much I enjoyed being a student, and one of the reasons I stayed in academia after finishing my degree.

Something else that struck me was how much I have strayed into interdisciplinary research. I have developed an all round knowledge of many areas of archaeology and geoscience, and even chemistry, and one of my key strengths has always been bringing together diverse information. This particular task though reminded me of how useful it is to work with experts on very specific areas. The details of botany and plant anatomy are fascinating, and it is crazy how much I know about plants at the microscale (phytoliths and pollen), yet there is so much I don't know about them at the macroscale. I could tell you easily what dandelion pollen looks like, but I know very little about the anatomy of an actual dandelion. Though I know more this week that I did before! Did you know for example that each individual 'petal' on a dandelion is actually an individual flower? They all cluster together to form a 'head' or capitulum (botanists love terminology even more than archaeologists do).

I can't wait to go to Belize -  as well as learning some new interesting things about plant identification, the field skills will be invaluable in helping to build reference collections of microfossils for my various research projects, and developing further research on phytolith morphology and taphonomy.

Podachaenium eminens - Giant Tree Daisy! (images from Wikimedia Commons)

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