By Dan Murphy
As a plant systematist I work in a herbarium as part of a botanic garden (but the views expressed here are mine alone). My research covers the areas of plant identification, taxonomy, systematics, classification and biogeography of flowering plants, using mostly molecular data but also morphology. I have quite broad interests in plants and their uses – including horticulture, gardening and agriculture – which I will write about elsewhere. However, most pertinent for this blog are my specialised interests in several major plant groups, distributed mostly in Australia and neighbouring regions, including Acacia and related legumes; the molecular systematics and identification of grasses; forays into the fascinating Adansonia and Proteaceae (Persoonia); and plant distributions (the science of biogeography) generally.
A big challenge in this research is answering the “when” questions. In many regions plants are regarded as having a “natural” distribution if they were present before (a somewhat arbitrary) cut-off date. However, many plant distributions appear to fall outside this timing, but within human evolutionary history, and others were probably overlooked by early European botanists and may have been moved by recent or ancient human agency (intentionally or inadvertently). We have lists of plants of “uncertain origin” and these are the plants that particularly capture my interest. Looking at known recent plant introductions, it is surprising how quickly these plants may be accepted as having been long established in an area. Within a human generation or so, the plant looks like it has always belonged there. These are our challenges to unravel. In “Trans-plants” I will ponder the timing of evolutionary events and the distribution of plants, and where this research takes me, along with similar research and stories.