Meet Brian Charles, a botanist originally from the West Coast, but now rooted in the Midwest. Brian joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) this year and primarily works to update the Endangered and Threatened plant species records and rankings for Illinois.
He recently answered some questions about his work.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at INHS?
I am originally from California, but my M.S. brought me out to Urbana-Champaign. I am a plant nerd but also love birds, fungi, herps, insects, and pretty much anything else found in nature. I have wanted to work at INHS since I found out about it, and I am happy to be part of a collection of nature nerds working together.
My primary responsibilities are working on updating the Endangered and Threatened plant species records and rankings for Illinois as well as identifying non-listed candidates of conservation concern.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
I camped frequently as a kid and got VERY into birds at a young age, and I originally thought I might become an ornithologist. I subsequently got interested in herps and fungi, but after taking a systematic botany course at U.C. Santa Cruz, plants became my primary obsession. Plants seem to link all of my interests together, and after all, they are (mostly) sessile, which makes them far less frustrating than birds to find.
What tools are indispensable to your fieldwork?
A hand lens for examining plant features, a botanical key, a plant press, double-fronted pants to avoid thorns and nettles, sturdy boots, and a delirious sense of humor.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your career?
“What is this?” followed by a blurry and/or indistinguishable photo of a plant.
What do you wish more people understood about botany?
That it has a rich history rooted in indigenous cultures, and it is not merely just white men going and “discovering” plants new to science.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
Finding a specific niche isn’t always necessary, but in my opinion, immersion of some kind always helps. From there, finding a mentor is critical. My advisor Dr. Jeffrey Matthews helped me hone my interests and encouraged the professional development I needed to be where I am now.