Dr Darach Lupton talks to Smart Futures about his career as the senior botanist at Oman Botanic Gardens.
Oman, an Arab country about twice the size of Ireland, lies on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Dr Lupton, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, is helping to train a team of Omani staff and is leading trips into the Omani wilderness to collect seeds and cuttings for the new gardens.
I was working as a botanist in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin, when I saw a job advertised on the Botanic Gardens Conservation International website. I emailed the director with a cover letter and CV and within a week I got offered the job.
What are the plans for these botanic gardens?
It will be about 430 hectares [compared to 50 hectares in Glasnevin] and will display plants native to Oman. We will build enormous biomes to recreate the habitats in different parts of the country such as the temporary cloud forests of the southern Dhofar region and the high northern mountains. Oman is not all Arabian desert then? Most plant diversity is in Dhofar. It’s on the fringe of the Indian monsoon and the entire area becomes green very quickly in June. The mountains in the north have juniper and olive woodlands at high altitude, and almond, pomegranate and other fruit trees on the agricultural terraces.
What are the some challenges you face?
We’ve found a lot of the common plants, but now we must try to find rarer species. It can be challenging work in the intense summer temperatures, which can touch 50 degrees Celsius. It’s also a challenge to grow plants that have never been collected before.
What counts as success?
We went on a field trip a few weeks ago with a target list of 10 species to collect. We took cuttings and sent them 10 hours back to Muscat [Oman’s capital] in freezer boxes. We ended up with half a dozen boxes, but also two species never found before.
How did you get interested in botany?
I didn’t do botany after school. I travelled and worked in places like Holland. While there, I worked in a massive greenhouse for cut flowers and got interested in growing techniques. When I came home I studied horticulture in Glasnevin before realising I was more interested in the science.I enrolled in science in Trinity as an undergrad and went on to complete a PhD in the botany department there. I also gained some botanic garden experience from Jordan in 2008.
Are there jobs for botanists?
I gave a lecture in Trinity’s botany department last October. It was great to go back and let them know about the opportunities available. My experience is that there are plenty of employment opportunities in botany. More so outside Ireland right now, in places like Australia and Canada, which also offer huge potential.