Somersaulting botanist: GVSU plant expert creates video mini-lectures mixed with acrobatics, pop culture and a folksy vibe

Tim Evans recording a video.
Tim Evans recording a video.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts
Tim Evans records a video.
Tim Evans records a video.
Image credit - Amanda Pitts

Tim Evans wants you to see the wonders of the natural world through his botany-trained eyes.

Even if that means wrapping a necktie around his head and doing a somersault to get your attention.

The professor of biology, who has entertained creating short botany videos for awhile, found an unexpected window to do so when the research projects he had planned for his sabbatical were nixed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So he ventured into both natural and urban settings near his home — he reminds viewers in one video to seek natural treasures even in their own yard — and observed social distancing measures while recording.

One idea was presenting three ways plants can attack a person, but Evans was struggling with how best to present the material. As he got to thinking about how he has been on the business end of these vegetative weapons, he thought, "I've gotten poked. They've drawn first blood."

Aha. And that is how Evans ended up on a video about plants depicting a Rambo-like character.

The three-part series, "Dangerous Botany," covers thorns (modified branches), spines (modified leaves, such as on cacti) and prickles (modified epidermal cell; the outer layer of the plant is the epidermis).

"You think we're out there tiptoeing through the tulips, traipsing through the trees and thinking deep plant thoughts all the time, well I've got to tell you there's more to it than that," Evans said in his opening video on thorns.

The light-heartedness is woven throughout, and along the way viewers also get a succinct lesson on that day's subject, complete with scientific designations and common ways of thinking about the information.

Evans has also produced videos on other plants, such as one on daffodils and an explanation that the name of its trumpet-like structure, the part that makes a daffodil a daffodil, shares a name with a pervasive term these days: corona.

"Part of my thinking is I want viewers to learn something. I’m a teacher and that should be part of what I'm doing," Evans said. "I love plants. I love being out there and surrounded by them and I want people to see the same cool things that I see."

Watch all of the videos here.


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