William & Mary

Biology Students Earn Scholarships from Garden Club of America

Caitlin Cyrus received a Garden Club of America Scholarship to support her graduate thesis examining the plant diversity of the College Woods.Biology graduate student Caitlin Cyrus has been awarded a summer scholarship in field botany from the Garden Club of America (GCA).  Established in 2003 as a national competition, the scholarship is awarded to an undergraduate or graduate student in the U.S. whose research is compatible with the GCA mission to restore, improve, and protect the environment through education and action in the field of conservation.

“The main goal of the GCA scholarship is to increase the number of botany scholars, as well as to improve and protect the quality of the environment through conservation and education,” notes Caitlin, who works with her biology advisor and College Conservator Dr. Martha Case. “My research over the summer will fall perfectly into those two categories.”

For her summer research, Caitlin will be examining the floristic diversity of the College Woods, a task first completed almost 45 years ago and then updated by Virginia Crouch in the late 1980s.  Altogether, over 670 species of plants have been documented within the College Woods.  Review of the 1000 specimens from those prior collections now housed in the campus herbarium will indicate the exact locations of where these plants once grew. The environment in and around the College Woods has changed considerably in 40 years (think of short-term pulses like hurricanes and long-term presses like climate change and deer browsing), so Caitlin will have an opportunity to determine the impact those changes have had on plant diversity.

Currently, Caitlin is a teaching assistant for BIOL304 Integrative Biology: Plants, and she has contact with undergraduate students four days a week in the classroom.  This is a good thing because Caitlin is recruiting students to assist with her research this summer. “I am particularly concerned with connecting people to plants and the surrounding environment. The nature of the research project will provide insight into the protection of native plants that provide the genetic foundation for cultivation.” 

While assisting on Caitlin’s project, the undergraduate students working with her will receive an invaluable education in native plant identification and conservation.  The realm of plant identification and classification can be crazy, with temporal changes in species names, regional variation in common names, and outright shifts in family designations, so Caitlin and her student assistants will have their work cut out for them!

Not to be outdone, two undergraduate students working with Dr. Harmony Dalgleish received $2000 GCA Scholarships for Summer Environmental Study:  Melissa Hey ’15 and Reilly Henson ’15.  Both students will be working on the ecology of milkweed plants.  Melissa is studying how density affects milkweed defensive traits (chemistry, latex production, and physical defenses) in a greenhouse experiment.  Reilly's study is field-based and examines how patch density affects pollinator importance, behavior and effectiveness.  Congratulations to all our budding botanists!