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Couple shares passion for province’s plant life with online audience
Art school didn’t go so well for Susan Meades, yet she couldn’t be happier.
She was in her second year when her advisor asked to view her portfolio.
“I showed him my illustrations, and he said, ‘Well, illustration is a prostitution of art. We don’t do illustration here, so either change your major or become an abstract artist.’
“I had a botany course at the time where I had to draw in the lab a lot, and I loved it.
“So, I said, ‘Fine, I’ll change my major.’ And that’s basically how I became a botanist, and I just fell in love with plants and all of the intricacies – the different variations, and how they adapt to the environment.”
She ended up at the University of Connecticut pursuing a PhD in plant taxonomy, and that’s where she fell in love again – this time, with Bill Meades, who was completing a PhD in plant ecology.
Bill grew up in St. John’s, Susan in New Jersey.
She recalls not knowing where Newfoundland was when she first met Bill, but when she came to visit him in 1977 she fell in love again – this time, with the province. They moved to Newfoundland in 1978.
The couple shares a passion for plant life, and now they’re sharing their knowledge of Newfoundland and Labrador flora with the website Flora of Newfoundland and Labrador, accessible at newfoundland-labradorflora.ca.
The website includes descriptions, photographs and illustrations of the province’s plant species, as well as key features to help laypeople identify plant species.
“I look at it as a free way for everyone who’s interested to learn more about the plants in the province. Botany is something that’s going to be affected by climate change, and if people don’t know how to identify what’s being affected, it’s not going to help.”
Together, the couple has extensive knowledge to share with the public. Bill worked as a researcher and director with the Canadian Forest Service as well as director of forest ecology at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre. Susan continues to work as a field botanist for various consulting firms. She’s also a founding member and past president of the Wildflower Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, she wrote the Natural Regions of Newfoundland and Labrador (1990), and lobbied for the establishment of Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve.
The couple runs the website using their own funds, but they will soon be selling a printed guide, the proceeds of which will support maintaining and adding information to the site.
Susan said another reason they created the website is because there’s a decline in the number of botanists who can identify plants – that’s because many people are specializing in specific types of plants rather than generalizing.
“This is a way to get (people) – especially students – interested in learning more about the plants in the province.”