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What is a Botanist?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

A Growing Career Choice

Do you watch with as much wonder as your child when a seed you dropped in the soil sprouts, and its leaves unfurl? If cultivating peonies and harvesting snap peas in your family backyard garden has sparked your interest in plants, you may be a budding botanist.

Job Description

Botanists are plant biologists. They study everything from tiny seeds to towering redwood trees. Their work may involve improving plants that provide food from farms, such as finding ways to make them more pest resistant. They also examine populations of plants to see how pollution, such as acid rain, is affecting them, as well as how their growing range may change due to climate change. They look at the role of drought and erosion on plant life. Some study plants microscopically, looking at ways they may be used in medicine, fuels and fabrics, from cotton to hemp.

Education Requirements

Most jobs in botany require at least a bachelor's degree. Those interested in the field major in botany, plant biology or plant science. Some schools don't offer degrees in those fields, so aspiring botanists may have to major in general biology.

Courses are concentrated in the sciences, from biology to physics. Students might choose to take courses in dendrology (the study of trees) or agricultural plants. Those who are interested in public policy involving plants and the environment also take courses in the social sciences.

Botanists who want to do research or teach generally continue their education in a specialty area of plant life as they earn their master's degree or Ph.D.

About the Industry

Just as the plant world is diverse, the places botanists work is also varied. Some botanists work for the federal government in agencies such as the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. Some state and local government offices also hire botanists.

Other botanists work at arboretums, botanical gardens and greenhouses. Some botanists work in private industry, including pharmaceutical, biotechnology and petrochemical companies.

Salary and Years of Experience

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes botanists in its soil and plant scientist category. The median salary is $69,290 for these professionals. Median salary means that the pay is in the middle of the pay range for this job; half of the workers earned below this level and half above. Those in the lowest-paid 10 percent earn a median of $37,820 per year, while those in the top 10 percent make an annual salary of $114,390.

Salary.com lists the average salary of a botanist as $65,949. Entry-level botanists start at about $57,000, while those with 20 or more years of experience can expect to earn up to $74,711.

Job Growth Trend

In 2016, there were 19,900 soil and plant biologists working in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2026, that number is expected to rise to 21,700, a growth rate of 9 percent, slightly higher than the average for all jobs. As environmental challenges continue to grow, the need for botanists will also rise.