PhD Student, University of Washington
Growing up in the Sydney region of Australia, I got to experience a unique and beautiful flora every time I went bushwalking or camping. I was fascinated by plants from an early age, and loved exploring their diversity even before I knew what the word diversity meant. As a student in high school and later in university, I watched out for opportunities to learn about plants – volunteer work at gardens and parks, student research programs, and other extracurricular activites in addition to formal classes.
I first traveled to the USA as an exchange student, to the University of Washington in Seattle. Seeing and learning about a whole new flora, totally different to what I was used to, was an eye-opening experience which further convinced me that I wanted to devote my career to the study of plant diversity. Upon returning to Sydney I earned a B.Sc. after spending a year doing an undergraduate research thesis: a phylogenetic study of the fascinating Australian native parsnip Trachymene. I later moved back to the USA, to return to the University of Washington as a graduate student.
My research right now focuses on the Lantana-Lippia complex in the Verbena family. These are diverse and beautiful plants which occur mainly in the New World tropics and subtropics. As currently described, Lantana species have fleshy fruits, but the fruits of Lippia and most other genera in the group are dry. By resolving a phylogeny based on molecular data, I’m working on discovering how many times the fleshy fruit has evolved in the Lantana-Lippia complex. I am also interested exploring how the evolution of fleshy fruits has influenced the way that species spread and diversify in this group.
During my studies so far I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many fascinating parts of the world to collect plants. As an undergraduate I visited various parts of outback New South Wales and spent several weeks in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. In the last two years I’ve collected Lantana and Lippia in southern Texas, South Africa, and Peru. My activities at the UW as a teaching assistant and student in the Herbarium involve regular collecting trips around many beautiful areas of Washington state.
Pursuing a childhood interest in botany has taken me all around the world, through a variety of incredible and rewarding experiences. Flowering plants are some of the most beautiful, fascinating and important organisms on the planet, and I feel privileged to be learning and teaching about them.