Frank Landis' Blog

Curing the Green Blurs
March 31, 2010, 11:01 pm
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This is turning into a rite of spring. “Curing the Green Blurs” was Mike Mesler’s subtitle for his plant taxonomy class at Humboldt State University. I took that class, and TA’ed it three times, and it’s still one of my favorite classes. Nowdays, I get to do a little green-blur curing in the spring, when I lead a couple of public hikes for the local CNPS chapter. Yes, it’s a bit of a come-down from TA’ing for the great Mike, but it keeps my head in the game.

What is curing the green blurs? It’s simply learning how to identify plants. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, all those plants around you are (wait for it) a green blur. Being able to name them changes the way you look at the world around you. As I tell the people attending my walks, it’s the difference between going to a big party where you don’t know anyone, and going to a party where you have a lot of friends. The more friends you have, the more fun you have, at least in my opinion.

One thing I remember vividly is the last field trip I took in plant taxonomy lab, before the final. We just walked off campus and down the street in Humboldt, past vacant lots. The TA was quizzing us: what’s that? What’s the scientific name? What family? And of course, we were racing along, trying to be the first to get it right. At the end of the walk, the TA turned around and said, “Do you notice anything? Remember, at the beginning of the semester, we took a walk, and you didn’t know any of those plants?” That was an empowering moment. In the course of the semester, you don’t realize how much you’re learning, and that little walk through town was a great way of helping us students realize how much our worlds had changed. Great part was, I got to give about 50 other students that same experience.

I still like doing that.

Mike is a great teacher, but it’s a hard class. Three hours of lab, six hours of lab per week, and most people came in on Fridays or weekends to practice. Oh, and there was a quiz every week. The lab final was six hours long (ID 80 plants on sight, key out 6, including a composite and a grass) Average grade? B, no curve. And almost every biology student at HSU took that class, so we had 80 students (or more) every semester. I still think Mike is a genius, because he got students who had little botany background to do so well.

So Mike, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU! And if you want to learn plants, this is still the best way to do it. In my humble opinion, of course.


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I like the party analogy! I still don’t know enough people (plants).

Comment by stacey

Hi Stacey,

Isn’t that just an excuse for more parties? Of the human or plant sort. Good thing it’s spring!

Comment by Frank Landis

I like this. It’s just like how I feel learning a new language. Before you’re used to the sounds and know a few words, all you get is a sort of “foreignness”. You couldn’t take dictation in that language. But after a while, you see the word breaks and get to know the phonology, and it’s much easier… and yes, a but empowering.

Comment by atsiko

Glad you like it, Atsiko. I appreciate your comment.

Mike’s course was a language course (well, a lexicon course anyway), in that we had to learn >100 new words that semester to describe what we were seeing. I’ve often wondered whether language teachers have something to teach biologists about how to immerse students in that level of information, especially these days, when increasing numbers of students have little practice memorizing before they hit a class like this.

Comment by Frank Landis

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