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Plant science major finds fertile environment to put down roots

While growing up in Mishawaka, Indiana, Baylee Riester helped her mom plant all kinds of flowers and vegetables. Riester was curious about how plants worked. Even the basic functions of plants fascinated her.

“It was crazy to see plants grow and watch them grow flowers and leaves. This caused me to like plants and I wanted to take the opportunity in college to learn more about them,” Riester said.

Riester, now a sophomore, said it was a botany course that convinced her to major in plant science. She said the course was very hands-on and helped her understand what it was about plants that she loved so much.
Baylee Riester looking through plants Baylee Riester, a sophomore plant science major from Mishawaka, Indiana, looks at all the plants while she works in the greenhouse. Riester loves plants and learning how they work. Photo by Maranda Elswick.

“You learn every part of the plant,” Riester said. “That is when I knew I was sticking with botany.”

Today, Riester is learning more about the science behind plants than she did in the garden. This includes studying the structures of plants and the processes taking place inside the plant such as photosynthesis. She talked about her experience studying cross-sections of plants in a lab course, and she smiled while describing it.

“It’s really cool to be able to look at a plant in front of you and then look at it under a microscope,” she said. “It lets you see what is happening inside, and that is something that I enjoy.”

Riester also enjoys understanding how all the parts work together to allow the plant to grow and educating other people about plants. She pointed to the little hairs growing on the stem. Riester said these hairs are trichomes. She explained the importance of trichomes and their different functions, such as protecting the plant and reducing water loss. Riester is just as fascinated with plants now in her lab as she was when she was a kid in the garden. Her fascination is something that she loves to share with others.

“I love learning about the different cells and the different kinds of plants, and I love being able to share information about plants with other people,” Riester said.

One of Riester’s favorite things about being a plant science major is connecting with other students who like learning about plants. She appreciates being in a community of like-minded people who are as obsessed with plants as she is. When she changed her major to plant science, faculty and staff in Botany and Plant Pathology made a point to welcome her and introduce her to other people in the department.

“I remember them announcing that they had a new botany student in my classes,” Riester said.

This made plant science an environment that Riester was able to flourish in as a student as well as a place where she could grow friendships with other students.

“I met Kelly Sammons, who is my best friend,” Riester said. “We are both plant science majors, so we take the same classes and study together, so now I have my person at Purdue.”

The community of plant lovers also has fun with plants outside of class. Riester is a member of the Botany Club, which allows Riester to learn about plants with her friends.

“We made little terrariums, and the club allows us to be very hands-on,” Riester said. “It’s a very stress-relieving experience, and you get to meet more people within the major, so you have more friends.”

Another great opportunity Riester said she has enjoyed is the research she will be able to do with Yun Zhou, assistant professor of botany and plant pathology. She is looking forward to working in his lab the summer before her senior year to learn more about plants.

“I am super excited to learn more about the lab and start working,” Riester said. “Research is something that I want to continue doing so I am looking forward to learning more about how plants work.”

Riester is thankful for the opportunities that Purdue has given her to align her passion with a major and find her fit in plant science.

“I am motivated to work harder because I am in a major that I want to be in. It helps when you care about what you are doing,” Riester said.

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Maranda Elswick is a student writer majoring in agricultural communication in Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication.

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