Rescuing endangered plants – careers in biology

Jonathan Kendon works at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, an organisation that leads the world in plant science and conservation. He talks about his current job and his career in plant science so far.

”Patience, an eye for detail and good dexterity are what you need to do my job”

The fate of some of the world’s rarest plants rests in the hands of Jonathan Kendon, a botanist based at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew’s Conservation Biotechnology Department in Richmond. Along with three colleagues, Kendon runs an intensive care unit for orchids, ferns and other shrubs threatened by deforestation, climate change, over-zealous collectors and volcanic eruptions. They are experts in conserving rare plants through their knowledge of biotechnology – including the long-term cryopreservation (liquid nitrogen storage) of plants that are difficult to preserve through more conventional means.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there are more of these plants in front of us than there are left in the wild,” says Kendon, gesturing at a shelf of 15-month-old Paralophia epiphytica, a Madagascan orchid that is almost extinct in the wild as a result of logging, over-grazing by animals and the deliberate destruction of their habitat to create plantations. Kendon has 300 specimens in his care, which he grew from wild seeds collected in 2006. This orchids will be safely grown on by Kew and other Botanic Gardens around the world, and perhaps eventually re-introduced to the wild.

Read the rest of the interview with Jonathan in the New Scientist ‘dream job’ series.


A-levels: Science A-levels

Study after school / college: BA in Plant Science at the University of Durham (3 years), Masters degree at the University of Sussex (1 year) concentrating on seed banking and tissue culture of carnivorous plants

Work experience: After his Masters degree, Jonathan did four months unpaid work experience at Kew, in the Micropropagation Unit
Find out more

Watch a video exploring the work of the micropropagation team at Kew (1 min)