Photo by Carlos Pedraza | Heater smiles while showing the boarage stem.

The Campus Collector 

This botany major collects plant specimens for your labs.

by Alana Hackman

Sunday mornings, you’ll find most college students tucked away in their beds catching up on sleep, or maybe packing away their notes for a long day at the library.  Nearly every Sunday morning you can find Heather Davis perusing campus bushes and trees; wielding red Felco pruners, or “snips” as she likes to call them, in one hand and a clump of wrinkly brown paper grocery bags in the other. 

Davis isn’t going on a big grocery trip or planning to do any landscaping, rather she is harvesting plant specimens around campus for botany majors and BOT 350 (Plant Taxonomy) students. Davis is the plant collector for Dr. Oscar Vargas’s Plant Taxonomy class this year. 

“The labs are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday,” said Davis. “So I usually collect Sunday for Monday and Tuesday labs and then I collect Tuesday for Wednesday and Thursday labs. 

With over 120 students enrolled in plant taxonomy this semester, Davis has her hands full nearly every week. On top of being a botany student herself, the Tulsa, Oklahoma native is balancing her two children with the 16 units she’s taking this semester. She made her way to Humboldt county nearly a decade ago in the pursuit of organic farming and decided to start studying for her degree in botany in 2019.

“I was really interested in organic farming and more natural practices, everything in the Midwest is super mono-cropped and sprayed and really gnarly,” said Davis. “A friend was here in Willow Creek working for a farmer and they were like you should come check it out and like, be a part of the community here so we came out here and worked for that farmer for two seasons.”  

Davis’s passion for plant collecting shows. She comes to Science D nearly every Sunday around 9:30 a.m, bringing along her infectious smile and a bright blue stainless steel mug decorated with an artistic owl sticker. There are dried leaves carefully placed in the back of her iPhone case, and she sports a black long sleeve shirt printed with various weeds and flowers as her uniform of choice. 

Davis usually begins her collection process by making her way into the Plant Taxonomy storage room located in room 153 in Science D, to prepare large clear bins with moist paper towels for collection storage. The room has rows of labeled jars filled with dried leaves, stems, and clippings. Some are simple masking tape categories, but there are also some printed skulls and crossbones, warning handlers of the plant’s poisonous properties. 

Davis was inspired by her previous botany professors to pursue this job, Dr. Oscar Vargas and Stefani Brandt. She was especially interested after taking the plant taxonomy lab for herself.

“Both of them are amazing instructors, they were super inspiring, Stephanie especially,” said Davis. “I was like ‘aw I wanna be a part of this but I didn’t realize there was a plant collector until they offered the job up to the students in the class”

Davis isn’t afraid to dive headfirst into her collecting job, she haphazardly snips away different flowers and shrubs surrounding the Natural Resources building and College Creek Marketplace. She climbs trees to collect specific branches and tastes the tart huckleberries around campus before collecting them for storage. Most of her collecting is done on campus, but she sometimes can make her way up to Trinidad for specific specimens.

“I collect all over the place,” said Davis. “Campus mostly cause there’s a lot of really awesome plants already growing here but there’s a few like invasive or cultivars that they need for the lab, so I’ll end up going to the marsh or sometimes random people’s yards around town, a little reconnaissance.”

Davis appreciates this position for allowing her to explore the nooks and crannies on campus and doesn’t seem to mind the business it brings into her already hectic schedule of being a mom and student in STEM.

“I think it’s really cool to walk around campus and see how many plants are here. Before I started the position I was like ‘it’s going to be so hard to find all these plants, like campus is all Rhododendrons,’ said Davis. “Then I started walking around and these plants are everywhere, it’s so cool to be like ‘Oh Hey I didn’t see you before.’” 

Davis also mentioned sharing her love of plants with her children as well.

“My kids get involved, if you come in here you’ll definitely see them walking around with giant plants, said Davis. “They really love it, they’re inspired by science so it’s really fun to bring them in, they can look at the microscopes and see all the jarred plant specimens in the prep room and stuff.”

Davis is the embodiment of finding joy in your career. Her bubbly personality and vast knowledge of native plants, grasses, and even weeds is hard to ignore in any conversation with her. She’s become an expert at balancing work and play in her jam packed schedule.

“It’s definitely a ton of work being a botany major or a stem major in general but it’s so worth it,” said Davis. “I think it’s really cool to see that there’s plant collecting happening, and that there are these really fun jobs that you can do on campus and I’m inspired and love it.”

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