Thoughts on the Internship: Latesha Gibson


I completed courses in Plant Form and Systematics, and Plant Physiology which gave me a foundational understanding and keen eye for botanical observation. For my research project Plant Ecophysiology influenced my interest the most by helping me understand a range of physiological specialisations displayed by highly evolved plants as responses to their external environment. That course also helped me narrow my research for specific accredited articles with relevant information.


Learning that the Ricinus communis plant contains a potent water-soluble neurotoxin known as ricin, which is 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide and considered to be the world’s most poisonous plant. I’ve had memories of this plant since childhood and I never knew of its characteristics until it came up in one of our botany lessons.


The project focuses on the national tree of The Bahamas, Guaiacum sanctum. I’m studying the patterns of its leaflet orientation with respect to variable weather conditions. While the plant is known to be nyctinastic (displaying sleep patterns) like many other plants with pinnately compound leaves, I have reported daytime movement of the leaflets and closure of the leaves often when the sun is highest in the sky and extreme temperatures persist. Data will be taken from three fairly young plants at the Preserve, along with weather data and assessed using variables such as temperature, radiant light, humidity and wind speed for interpretations and deduction.


During an early morning walk I noticed that the leaves of the Guaiacum sanctum were closed. The leaves are pinnately compound (meaning they are subdivided into leaflets which are individually attached to the mid vein of the leaf known as the ‘rachis’). This was the first non-leguminous plant I’ve seen that displayed nyctinastic behaviour and I wanted to learn more. There were no academic references of this feature relative to this species, only a social media post about its properties that mentioned this same behaviour displayed during the hottest parts of the day. After a few days of observation I was eager to test this theory to see if there was indeed a relationship between weather conditions and the biophysical properties of the leaves.

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