Research Botany staff engages in specimen-based research using interdisciplinary approaches, field- and lab-based studies, and a range of research tools to examine questions in plant systematics, evolutionary biology, plant biogeography and ecology, conservation biology, and natural resource management.

Asclepias tuberosa

Botany research generally is focused on three major themes: phylogenetics floristics, and environmental change.

Phylogenetic studies are a major theme of much of our research. Evolutionary patterns are reconstructed using molecular data, enzymes, morphology, cytology, palynology, reproductive biology, ecology, and phytogeography.  Building on these studies, we seek to understand the biological and evolutionary processes that give rise to plant diversity.  Processes of particular interest are hybridization, polyploidy, isolation, physiology, pollination biology, and breeding-mating systems.

For more than 50 years, Botany has engaged in floristic research focused on the Great Plains of North America and adjacent physiographic regions.  Established in 1866, the herbarium formally was renamed the Ronald L. McGregor Herbarium in 1990 and dedicated “to the study of the Great Plains flora.”  The specimens and supporting materials housed in the herbarium comprise the largest single collection documenting the floristic diversity of the grassland biome of central North America.

Campsis radicans

By virtue of its central role in the Great Plains Flora Project (1970–1990), the herbarium plays a major role in the ongoing Flora of North America (FNA) Project, the goal of which is to publish the first comprehensive, modern flora for the estimated 20,000 species of vascular plants and bryophytes in North America north of Mexico.  The herbarium is the North Central U.S. Coordination Center for review of manuscripts and one of a half-dozen FNA editorial centers.

It is widely recognized that humans have had and continue to have profound impacts on species, communities, and ecosystems.  Botany researchers help document and interpret these changes by engaging in studies of rare and exotic species, and plant communities, and ecosystems through survey, inventory, monitoring, assessment, and modeling.


Research at a Glance

  • The research programs of Botany scientists have been carried out in Africa, Europe, North America, and South America.
  • During the past 5 years, Botany scientists have carried out field studies in 18 states in the U.S. 
  • We average more than 10 peer-reviewed, major publications in press or published annually, as well as numerous technical reports and minor publications.
  • Our research is funded mainly by competitive research grants from federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and from private gifts through the KU Endowment Association.