URI plant enthusiast honored for dedication to wildflowers

Media Contact: Todd McLeish 874-7892

URI plant enthusiast honored
for dedication to wildflowers

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 18, 2002 — Christopher Nerone’s office is filled with an assortment of plants, jars of pond water, reference books and an abundance of enthusiasm. Students run in and out using his office at the University of Rhode Island as a resource room.
Last week, Nerone’s enthusiasm and his ability to get others excited about plants paid dividends. He received the 2002 Rhode Island State Award from the New England Wild Flower Society for his dedication to the preservation of wildflowers. URI’s technical staff assistant said he was surprised to receive the award, especially since he didn’t start out to be a botanist.

Nerone graduated from URI in 1968 with a degree in mathematics. In 1976, he returned to the University to work on a graduate degree.

“I took a summer course, field botany, with the late URI professor Elmer Palmatier. He was so enthusiastic about botany and the plants he was studying. Palmatier liked to look at things and show people what he found,” said the Wakefield resident, who received his masters in botany in 1990. “He inspired me to become a botanist.”

He now shares his own enthusiasm with the constant flow of students running in and out of his office.

“It seems as though there are always a host of academic and nonacademic plant enthusiasts in his office in Ranger Hall talking to Chris about plants,” said URI

biological sciences Professor Keith Killingbeck, who nominated Nerone for the award. “Topics of discussion include the latest find, the latest unknown, the latest invasive species to hit the state, and the latest new plant-rich site to explore.”

A student then entered Nerone’s office with “the latest unknown.” Nerone opened his plant encyclopedias and began searching for the specimen. The easiest way to identify a plant is to have its flower, said Nerone, who then directed the student to Matunuck Beach to find more of the plants in bloom.

“That plant is a rare species in Rhode Island. That student was just looking around and found something he couldn’t identify,” said Nerone, who teaches Introduction to Botany and Field Botany. “All real botanists want to know all the plants in the world.”

“I know one-fourth of the plants in Rhode Island and there are over 2,000 species. Do you know how many there are in Brazil? A gazillion,” he said.

Plants are the basis of our society, he said. It is the only kingdom that can convert sunlight into energy through the process of photosynthesis. Plants use CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to create food, energy and wood.

“How many botanists do you know? Have you ever met any other botanists? There aren’t many of us, and yet plants are so important to our daily routines,” said Nerone.

Nerone took out several jars of pond water and placed drops of it under the microscope.

“Check these out. Look at the formation of the algae. You can see the nucleus, chloroplast and calcium crystals. We don’t know why there are calcium crystals and that’s what makes it so interesting,” said Nerone.

As for the wildflowers, Nerone does not have a favorite. Instead, he wants to preserve them all. “I couldn’t pick out just one flower that I loved the best. I love to look at all of them and make others aware of them,” Nerone said.

“It’s such an interesting job to go out and look at things. I love to see what types of plants are out there. I can spend an entire afternoon studying algae. I can study just one slide of algae and see many different species,” he said. “My job is never boring.”