Guest blogger Georgia Hann ’18 is a return-to-college botany major with a strong interest in native plants, farming, and composting. She has an academic background in Environmental and Conservation Biology and a wide variety of interests that include but extend beyond languages; holistic health and nutrition; and the literary, visual, and performing arts.
When I first got to college, I had no idea how I was ever going to feel comfortable choosing a major. I had so many interests, and there were so many fascinating classes being offered. Fortunately, I came to realize that my academic path is only one facet of my life. I am passionate about plants and majoring in botany. I am being educated in ways that directly enhance my efforts to build a career involving flora. A delightful bonus to choosing to pursue this path at Connecticut College is that I still have the opportunity to explore and enjoy many other topics that interest me across a spectrum of academic disciplines.
I have always been curious about Latin, but never found the opportunity to study it in high school. When I saw that there was a Botanical Latin FLAC section being offered for the Plant Systematics and Taxonomy of the Local Flora class I took last fall, I jumped on the opportunity to register for it. “FLAC” stands for Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum, and these optional one-credit courses are to be taken in tandem with another course that may or may not be directly related to language-study. In this case, Classics Professor Nina Papapthanasopoulou collaborated with Botany Professor Chad Jones to offer the Botanical Latin FLAC section to complement his Plant Systematics and Taxonomy course. In the plant taxonomy class, which turned out to be one of my favorite classes to date, we spent hours outside on field trips to the Connecticut College Arboretum and other local nature preserves learning how to identify plants that grow in Southeastern Connecticut.
The summer before my plant taxonomy class, I interned at the Arboretum as assistant curator of the Native Plant Collection (one of the managed areas belonging to the 770-acre expanse of land that the school stewards). Arboretum Curator Mary Villa and I worked closely together measuring and mapping woody plants outside in the collection, and updating their tags and records. It was a tremendous opportunity to become more familiar with many local species and definitely whetted my appetite to learn more scientific names and practice my field-identification skills. The plant taxonomy class provided a perfect opportunity to do just that, and as part of the process we were required to identify the flora by their binomial nomenclature; these are formal, internationally-accepted names that are primarily Latin in origin with some occasional Greek. Learning to address species this way is fun and exciting, and serves to enhance my relationship with both the plants and with language.
Take for instance the scientific name for Virginia Creeper, a common vine seen growing throughout Connecticut: Parthenocissus quinquefolia. “Parthenos” means virgin (the plant can develop fruits without fertilization), “cissus” means ivy (the plant grows as a vine), and “quinquefolia” means five-leafed (each leaf has five leaflets). How much more intuitive could a name be? And of course the title is also shrouded in mythological intrigue, as the name “Parthenos” is associated with multiple Greek figures across a variety of legends, including that of the maiden daughter of Apollo and Chrysothemis who, upon her untimely death, was placed in the sky as the constellation Virgo. How beautiful and meaningful these “scientific” names become when explored through the lens of myth, meaning, and creative description. And not only do these special titles inspire me to more deeply honor both the flora and the language I use to describe it, but they also really help with field identification! When I know the plant name and better understand why its name is so, it can help me to link the two together when I am out in the field (like if I see a vine with five leaflets per leaf!).
As I walk through the lush greenness of this campus and beyond, thankfully graced with the presence of many friends in the form of flora, I forever feel in dialogue with the root-bearing creatures that graciously share it with me. I am glad to know them by more than one name, and although I know that learning one’s name is only the beginning of coming to understand any creature or thing, it is a beautiful first step that excites me for the journey to come.