A forensic botanist studies plant material as it relates to crime scenes. Specifically, forensic botanists use their skills to understand where and when a crime was committed and who committed the crime.
Similar to DNA and fingerprinting, plant material is often unique to certain plant species and ecological areas, thereby allowing a forensic botanist to identify the ecological and molecular restraints of various plan species and narrow down the possibilities surrounding the who, where and when of the crime.
Forensic botany is the scientific study of plants, or the application of plant sciences to criminal investigations. Forensic botany jobs incorporate a number of subdisciplines:
- Palynology (study of pollens)
- Dendrochronology (the study of tree rings)
- Limnology (study of aquatic environments)
- Systematics (classification of plants)
- Ecology (the study of ecosystems)
- Molecular biology
Forensic botany is a complex study, as it includes not only the study of plants, but their seeds, leaves, flowers, spores, wood, fruits, cells, hairs, and glandular hairs, as well. Botanical evidence may even consist of microscopic spores and pollen, making this field of study even more challenging.
Unlike other forensic scientists, like forensic anthropologists or forensic odontologists (dentists), forensic botanists generally do not work with human remains; instead, their role involves making the connection between evidence and crime.
For example, forensic botanists may study pollen at a crime scene and on a suspect, which is easily transferred on one’s clothing, hair and skin, to place them at the scene of a crime. Because even common plants have their own unique combination of pollens at different locations (called pollen signatures), forensic botanists may be able to link a suspect to a specific crime scene.
Botanical evidence may be used to identify clandestine (illegal) graves by examining the changes of disturbed soil and the plants that often begin to grow, and it may be used to establish drowning at a specific location through the identification of specific diatoms and algae that are present in the lungs of the deceased. Forensic botanists may also study broken branches and plant material at the scene of a crime.