Mark Spencer

How did our young scientists get interested in the natural world?

Mark Spencer - Botanist

A botanist studies plants.

What made you want to be a botanist?
Mark Spencer, Botanist

Mark Spencer.

I have been fascinated by plants all my life. I really don't remember a time when I seriously considered not studying them!

What advice would you give anyone wanting to be a botanist?

Remember that even common and 'boring' plants such as dandelions have 'secrets' worth investigating, and try not to be put off by the complicated language botanists use.

What subjects at school were you best at?

Daydreaming. My school was not very interested in fostering my enthusiasm for plants so I stared out the window!

What's the best thing about being a botanist?

Discovering something new and just enjoying plants for their beauty.

What's the worst thing about being a botanist?

People ask me for advice on how to do their garden. Botany is not the same as gardening!

What's the most exciting thing you've found, discovered or researched?

Water moulds. They are an amazing group of fungi found in virtually every habitat on the planet. Although not the largest or most attractive organisms, their impact on the world and humanity is huge.

What's your favourite plant?

At the moment, it's the marsh sow-thistle. In the London area it is now found in only one small patch in southeast London. It's in serious need of our help.

What's your favourite thing on display in the Museum?

The historic botany collection display in the Cocoon tour. I look after this beautiful and important collection and it is wonderful that the public can see some of it.

What's your favourite website about botany?

The Botanical Society of the British Isles runs a good one for identifying wildflowers.

What's your favourite book about botany?

Probably The Concise British Flora in Colour by W Keble Martin, the book I used as a child when learning how to identify wildflowers.

Are there any clubs or societies young people can join if they want to take their interest further?

If you are starting out, contact your local Wildlife Trust. They will probably be holding wildflower events for beginners. Also the Wildflower Society and the Botanical Society of the British Isles can help you meet experienced local botanists.

What would you do if you weren't a botanist?

Possibly start up a vegetarian restaurant.

Further info

Plants and fungi

Explore British wildlife

Join in our urban tree survey

Big Seaweed Search

Common poppy

External links

The Wildlife Trusts

The Wild Flower Society

Botanical Society of the British Isles

Glossary - what does that word mean?

Fungi – mushrooms, moulds, yeasts, mildews etc.

Photosynthesis – the way in which green plants use the energy of the sun to make food.

Amphibian – animals, such as frogs, that live part of their life cycle in the water and the other part on land.