Josephine P. & John J. Louis Foundation Microscopy Laboratory

Where plants reveal their secrets

When Chicago Botanic Garden scientists investigate plant anatomy, plant fossils, fungal specimens, and other samples, they use specialized microscopes in the Josephine P. & John J. Louis Foundation Microscopy Laboratory. The lab also houses geographic information system (GIS) equipment to enable them to understand and interpret data revealing plant relationships, patterns, and trends.

PHOTO: MicroscopeHow the Microscopy laboratory Benefits You—and the World

A Garden scientist peering through a fluorescent microscope in a dedicated dark room, measuring the ability of pollen grains to sire seeds, may seem to have little connection to you. But this close examination of fertilization has implications that extend far beyond the walls of this lab. If plants are not reproducing, delicate ecological balances are disturbed, causing a ripple effect that may affect the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the medicines that help you fight illness and disease.

PHOTO: seeds under microscopeThe equipment in this laboratory is used for many types of plant-based science. Whether scientists are investigating ancient plant life by studying fossils with specialized microscopes or assessing trends in natural plant populations using GIS equipment, you and your progeny will benefit from the knowledge they gain…and apply.

Case Studies

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Patrick Herendeen, Ph.D., studies floral evolution and angiosperm wood anatomy through the Cretaceous period in his quest to understand the early diversification of flowering plants. As part of his research, he studies fossil flowers, fruits, and seeds preserved as charcoal or mummified remains using the lab’s specialized microscopes, which are outfitted with digital image capture and analysis systems.

PHOTO: SOSEmily Yates is developing GIS mapping tools for targeted seed banking efforts, using mapping for prioritizing collecting schemes for making restoration collections, and capturing genetic diversity of species across ecoregions. She maps shifts in the geographic distributions of rare plant species because of climate change using GIS and species distribution modeling software.

take action:
What can you do?

PHOTO: seeds

Change your actions:
You can help increase all-important pollination activities by planting flowering native plants in your yard. You can also give native bees a helping hand by installing a homemade nesting block (“bee condo”) in your home landscape.

PHOTO: cleaning seeds

Change your community:
Volunteers with lab backgrounds can help prepare slides at the Garden, and others can help monitor natural plant population trends through such programs as Project BudBurst.

In the Laboratory

Whether scientists are studying individual plant fossil remains or interpreting data revealing trends in plant populations, the Josephine P. & John J. Louis Foundation Microscopy Laboratory provides essential technical support and welcome space for research activities. Scientists have access to new microscopes fitted with digital image capture and analysis systems, a fluorescent microscope, and GIS equipment (the latter of which was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation).

Staff Scientists

Louise Egerton-Warburton, Ph.D.
Soil Ecologist

Patrick S. Herendeen, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
Director of Academic Partnerships

Pati Vitt, Ph.D.
Conservation Scientist, Plant Demography
Manager, Seeds of Success

Emily Yates, M.S.
Seed Bank Coordinator, Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank