Home   Botanical selfies   Garden grass games, great squirting cucumbers and more with Dr Julie Hawkins

Garden grass games, great squirting cucumbers and more with Dr Julie Hawkins

Dr M’s new series of botanical “selfies” continues with #3 Julie Hawkins who also admits to a fascination with those squirting cucumbers, read on…

I am… Associate Professor of Plant Systematics and Evolution, University of Reading, admission tutor for MSc Plant Diversity.

I got into botany… thanks to my Granny, who fought a many-faceted campaign to “make me a botanist”. Highlights included sending a group of neighbourhood kids on a grass hunt, with a 5 pence prize for the child with the most different grasses at the end of the day. A spirited discussion on what different meant was inevitable, given the high stakes!

I studied botany… despite the best efforts of my Chemistry teacher, who told me if I applied for a degree in Botany I’d end up measuring leaves, and I was “too bright for that”. So my first degree was in Biophysics, Cell and Molecular Biology, but I side-stepped, and for my MSc and DPhil had the great pleasure of measuring leaves.

I have worked with plants… in Mexico and Central America, South Africa and in my garden and allotment.

My research/interest areas… are rather broad, but phylogeny is almost always at the heart of it all. Phylogeny and classification, phylogeny and ethnobotany, phylogeny and evolution.

The biggest challenge for botany today… Nationally, to become more visible and attractive to younger people (younger than me…).

My favourite plant to eat/use… The squirting cucumber – Ecballium elaterium. Not for eating – it’s poisonous, but to use purely for entertainment…

My botanical superheroine… Can I have two? My great women in Botany are Agnes Arber and Annetta Carter. Arber a philosopher, and Carter an adventurer.

Social media… isn’t my thing.

Watch those squirting cucumbers squirting below…from ca. 2 mins onwards!



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