Of all the classes I took at Auburn University, the Plant Ecology class I took with Dr. Bob Boyd in 2004 was my favorite. The class involved lectures that did provide a basic overview of plant morphology but further examined how plants were adapted to their environments and how they responded to changes in them. There were also weekly labs that taught field sampling and assessment techniques as well as plant identification.
The course was tough. Exams were killer. But it was fun.
While I enjoyed the lectures – Dr. Boyd has a great sense of humor, and although the material was very difficult, he made learning exciting – the labs were my favorite part of the course. Each week, we would head to a different plant community such as a granite outcrop, a field of belly-plants, a dense hardwood forest, or a pine stand undergoing fire management to learn how to collect plant data and identify new plants, or as Dr. Boyd called them, our “friends.”
That semester, I met hundreds of these “friends,” and learned how to identify them by sight. While it did seem like drudgery at the time, many of those names have stuck with me, and it’s now somewhat fun to be driving along the road and recognize plants such as Oenothera speciosa, Tillandsia usneoides, Platanus occidentalis, Fagus grandifolia, and others.
The highlight of the course was a weekend trip to Dauphin Island. A group of students along with Dr. Boyd and his Ph.D student, Mincy Moffett, left Auburn early in the morning and visited several habitats along the way: Black Belt, Bottomland Hardwood Forest, Red Hills, Citronelle Pond before finally seeing the coast of Alabama and the coastal Dunes, Maritime Forests, and Pitcher Plant Bogs. That weekend alone, we were introduced to approximately 100 new species of plants. Furthermore, after spending all day Friday and Saturday seeing new habitats, identifying new plants, and practicing data collection, we had a plant quiz on Sunday morning. I must say that one of my proudest moments as a student was making a 100% percent on that quiz. I worked hard, and it paid off.
The semester concluded with a research project in which I sought to see how long the seeds a riparian species of tree, Platanus occidentalis (America Sycamore), could survive submerged in water and later germinate. It was the culmination of everything I learned and practiced in the course.
I made an “A.”
Since then, Dr. Boyd and I have kept in contact. Not only was he a great professor during the course, but as I remained in Auburn, he was always willing to meet with me and discuss my future endeavors whether my senior thesis, my desire to go to seminary, or my plan to teach science in NYC. Now, every time I visit Auburn, I try to visit with him, even if he only has a minute to spare.
If I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate to take his class again. They were good times that I’ll always remember.