Botany 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.

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, plant communities, and ecosystems through survey, inventory, monitoring, assessment and modeling. KU Botany research generally is focused on three major themes: phylogenetics floristics, and environmental change.

For phylogenetic studies, a major research focus, 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.

Research Highlights

  • During the past 10 years, KU Botany scientists have carried out field studies in 18 states in the U.S.
  • Average more than 8 peer-reviewed, major publications in press or published annually, as well as numerous technical reports and minor publications.
  • Research is funded mainly by competitive research grants from federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and from private gifts through the KU Endowment Association.
  • During the past 50 years, KU Botany scientists have accessioned an average of 3,400 specimens annually in support of their research. 

Blowout Beardtongue

Assessing the monophyly of Pensemon sect. Coerulei and P. haydenii, including assessing intra- and interpopulational morphological variation in the species.

blowout beardtongue plants in foreground with silver purplish tall blooms against a landscape with sand in the front and vast green grasslands

Flora of North America Project

Drawing on floristic, systematic and ecological research conducted by KU botanists, the McGregor Herbarium plays an important role in the production of the 30-volume Flora of North America.


Farm Pond Conversion

Nearly 100 farm ponds in northeastern Kansas were part of a study to evaluate potential conversion to wetlands, to provide increased ecological services and watershed functions.

Estimated wetland conversion suitability index (with Perry Lake at the bottom) for 1134 pond drainage basins within the Delaware River Basin showing high (31, mostly northeast river basin), medium (76, mostly southern and northwestern river basin), and low suitability (597, throughout river basin). Pond drainage basins with no opportunity for conversion are concentrated in the western half of the river basin.

Lichen Flora of the Great Plains

Work on the project has generated approximately 30,000 specimens from throughout the Great Plains and afforded us a basic understanding of the lichen diversity of the region.

Close up of lichen sample showing gray growth and whiter edges over brown background


Herbarium and field studies of more than 30,000 specimens of Penstemon (Plantaginaceae) were used to produce the first comprehensive descriptions and keys for the 239 species in the U.S. and Canada. Continuing studies examine existing cytological data and morphological analyses.

Penstemon thompsoniae

Specimen Digitization

Digitization of the more than 450,000 specimens in the KU Botany collection is ongoing. Currently, nearly 350,000 records are served to the research community through global biodiversity data portals.

Pressed, preserved plant specimen from the collection with a bar code on the paper and plant details.


The genus Tolpis (Asteraceae-sunflower family) in the Macaronesian islands is being used as a system for studying evolution and diversification on oceanic islands.