Native Plants of Louisiana
Dr. Rick Miller
GBIO 493/593 Special Topics in Biology
Department of Biological Sciences
Southeastern Louisiana University
Hammond, LA 70402
Native Plants of Louisiana is a course to introduce students to flowering plant diversity with the focus being to learn about our exciting local Louisiana flora. The course includes weekly field trips to habitats in our area and another day of short lectures and lab activities. While this is an upper division biology course, I attempt to accommodate people with a wide range of backgrounds. For the field trips we learn the characteristics and names of 25 new plants on each excursion. In the lectures we discuss important plant families to develop a broad understanding of flowering plant diversity. The labs include such activities as learning about the different parts of plants, especially the flowers; learning how to key out plants; the use of herbarium specimens for identification; and examining representative specimens of plant families. Students carry out a project on a specific group of plants of their own interest, take a final lab practical on plant identification, and take a final exam on the characteristics and relationships of plant families. The class meets from 6 June 2007 to 25 July 2004 (8 weeks) on Monday and Wednesday from 7:30am to 10:30. If you are a student at SLU you should register for the course as a 4-credit course (registration is on Monday and Tuesday the 4th and 5th of June respectively). If you are not a student at SLU, but would like to take the course you can take it non-credit for $250.00 registering through the Division of Continuing Education and Special Activities (985 549-2301) at Southeastern Louisiana University. If you have any questions please contact Rick Miller (email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: 985-549-5556).
Weekly field trips:
On each trip we learn approximately 25 new species of plants. For each plant the family and scientific names are presented (common names are introduced, but are highly variable and sometime not very informative). A description drawn in a large part from Radford et al. Flora of the Carolinas is provided for each plant. Also family characteristics are emphasized. Students often take photos of the plants to develop their own collection of images. As we visit more and more sites we develop a cumulative species list until we have learned approximately 150 plant species.
After each field trip we pull herbarium specimens of the plants we saw in the field to develop a collection in the classroom of these plants that can be used for review. These herbarium specimens also are used for the laboratory practical (described below).
Site that may be visited include: Tickfaw State Park, Lake Ramsey longleaf pine savanna, Madisonville marshes, Joyce Wildlife Management Area, Hammond airport field, and others.
The lectures focus on discussing the characteristics of 27 need-to-know plant families. Angiosperms (flowering plants are emphasized). It is difficult to select only 27 families from the amazing diversity that is represented by flowering plants. However, the objective is to help the students develop a broader understanding and a scaffold, if you will, to place the plants observed in the field into the broader context of angiosperm diversity. Throughout the course, a phylogenetic perspective is used where each group of plants is introduced within the context of the overall phylogeny (tree of evolutionary relationships). Luckily, plant systematics have rallied together to produce one of the most well-documented phylogenies for any major group of organisms (the angiosperm phylogeny group).
One of the overwhelming aspects of field botany is learning the terminology for the different morphological features of plants. Botanists seem to love terms. Through a series of lab activities students are introduced to the various features of plants. The emphasis is on floral traits as these are very important in distinguishing major plant groups, families, and recognizing important trends in the evolution of plants. Students also are introduced into using floras and other reference materials to identify plants using dichotomous keys. This is a process that requires considerable patience and in some cases one cannot make a good identification without referring to herbarium specimens. Luckily, Southeastern Louisiana University has an excellent herbarium of the local flora thanks to a tremendous effort by Dr. Glen Montz. This provides an excellent way to verify identifications and introduces students to the traditional taxonomic approaches.
For students taking the course for credit they are required to take a final lab practical, a final lecture exam. In addition, each student carries out a project where they research a particular group of plants. The objective of this learning activity is for students to become familiar with some aspect of a group of closely related species. in other words, most activities of the course cover a few species sampling from the 270,000 species of angiosperms. Therefore, it is good to also think about a well-defined group of plants in more depth. The topics of the project can be systematics, horticulture, evolution, genetics, or essentially any topic in biology that is relevant to a taxa of plants.
Digitized herbarium specimens:
This web site lists plant species observed on class visits to various field sites near Hammond, Louisiana.
For each plant species listed there is a link to an image of a herbarium specimen obtained from the Southeastern Louisiana University Herbarium.
Species list with links to herbarium images
If you detect any problems, such as possible misidentifications, please contact me at:
Special thanks to Dr. Glen Montz for introducing me to the wonderful flora of our region and making enormous contributions to the herbarium.