A Q&A with Matthaei-Nichols Associate Curator Mike Kost
Mike will teach a class on herbaceous plants this fall at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability. Fall Flora and Ecosystems will focus on the natural communities and flora of the Great Lakes region, with a strong emphasis on herbaceous plants.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum: Is this a first for U-M? They’ve offered a similar ID class, Woody Plants, for decades.
Mike Kost: In addition to the Woody Plants class, over the years there have been a variety of plant identification courses offered, including Spring Ecosystems and Plants (taught by Melanie Gunn in spring semesters), Boreal Flora (taught by Ed Voss and then Tony Reznicek at the U-M Biological Station in summer semesters), Plant Diversity (taught by Robyn Burnham in spring semesters), and Ethnobotany (taught by Scott Heron in the past and now John Benedict at the Biostation in summer semesters).
MBGNA: How did the class get added to the School of Environment and Sustainability (SEAS)?
MK: It was added as a result of student interest. Eva Roos, a SEAS landscape architecture student, Arb caretaker, and Matthaei-Nichols intern, developed and distributed a survey to SEAS students to gauge interest in an herbaceous plant identification course. The results showed strong student interest in such a course.
MBGNA: Please describe the course.
MK: Fall Flora and Ecosystems will examine the natural communities and flora of the Great Lakes region, with a strong emphasis on herbaceous plants. The course serves as an excellent complement to Woody Plants (EAS 436) and Forest Ecology (EAS 447). Through lectures and labs we will investigate plants as indicators of environmental conditions and the factors that structure the distribution of species and natural communities across the Great Lakes region. Labs will focus on identifying plants and natural communities in the field, learning botanical terminology, using botanical keys, and assessing ecological integrity.
MBGNA: What makes this course an important addition to the class roster?
MK: Plants are indicators of the type of ecosystem/natural community and its condition, and they serve as cornerstones for landscape architecture design. Plants are used (along with soils and hydrology) to determine the presence of wetlands and to delineate their boundaries so that impacts to wetlands can be avoided during development projects. Many plants have high affinity for particular ecosystem types. For example, the prairie fens at Matthaei harbor many plants that are nearly entirely restricted to these natural community types. Learning to identify plants can help natural resource practitioners evaluate the health of ecosystems and assess management needs and monitor management progress.
MBGNA: What sites will you visit, if you know yet at this point?
MK: We will visit a variety of sites in southeast Michigan located within Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Pinckney and Waterloo State Recreation Areas, and other publicly accessible properties. I’m still in the process of selecting sites to visit.
MBGNA: Is there a particular aspect or category in this class you’re excited about teaching?
MK: I am most excited about helping to train the next generation of conservation practitioners. There is a great need for well-trained conservation professionals. Teaching students to identify plants and ecosystems will provide them with fundamental skills for becoming effective advocates for conservation.
Mike Kost formerly served as the lead ecologist and a senior conservation scientist with Michigan Natural Features Inventory at Michigan State University Extension. He has coauthored more than 75 publications, including three books on the natural communities of Michigan. Mike also managed the adult natural history education program for The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. He has also worked as a naturalist for the University of Wisconsin-Extension and as a land steward for the Koenen Land Preserve in Milwaukee. He earned a B.S. in Public and Environmental Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and an M.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.