Environmental sciences alumnus wins international plant ID competition

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February 26, 2018
With as little as a seedling or a plant’s root to look at, a Lakeland College environmental sciences alumnus was able to win an international plant identification competition.
For the second consecutive year, Lakeland alumnus Ryan James placed first in the North American Range Plant Identification Test. Jessica Roberts, also a graduate of Lakeland's environmental sciences diploma program, had the second highest score on the test among the University of Alberta team. The two helped the U of A Range Team place second overall in the competition. James is pictured kneeling in the front with team members and Roberts is standing second from the left.
Ryan James, now a student at the University of Alberta (U of A), scored 95.1 per cent in the North American Range Plant Identification Test to place first in the 2018 competition.
 
The top score earned James his second consecutive win in the competition, which is part of the Society for Range Management’s Annual Meeting and Conference. Held Jan. 30 at the conference in Sparks, Nev., the competition featured 144 university students from throughout Canada, Mexico and the United States.
 
“Everyone in the top ten had really close scores on the test – we were all within five per cent – I just happened to identify one more plant and make one less spelling mistake,” says James, who completed the conservation and restoration ecology and environmental conservation and reclamation majors at Lakeland’s Vermilion campus in 2014.  
 
Competitors had one minute to view a plant sample and then record its scientific name plus origin and longevity.

“There were 100 plants to identify from a set of 200 grasses, shrubs and forbs from North American rangelands,” says James, noting that some seedlings were so tiny a hand lens was needed to see characteristics.
His score helped the U of A Range Team place second in the 25 team competition. The top three individual scores in the competition were averaged to create the team score. Jessica Roberts – a 2013 grad of Lakeland’s wildlife and fisheries conservation major – earned the second best score on the U of A team (88.9 per cent).
 
James credits Lakeland instructor Robin Lagroix-McLean’s teaching ability and “passion for plants” for helping him develop a solid foundation for plant identification.
 
“I remember my first field lab in Robin’s field botany and plant taxonomy class and not knowing what any of the plants were. To come from not knowing any plants to being first in North America is a big accomplishment. Part of it was my hard work (he spent many hours preparing for the competition) and part of it was the foundation I got in Robin’s plant classes. She helped me discover my passion for plants and rangelands,” he says.
 
James is working towards a bachelor of science in environmental and conservation sciences degree at the U of A.
 
Cutline for photo above: For the second consecutive year, Lakeland alumnus Ryan James placed first in the North American Range Plant Identification Test. Jessica Roberts, also a graduate of Lakeland's environmental sciences diploma program, had the second highest score on the test among the University of Alberta team. The two helped the U of A Range Team place second overall in the competition. James is pictured kneeling in the front with team members and Roberts is standing second from the left.
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