Types of Plant Science Careers
What are the kinds of career paths in plant science? How do I begin a career working with plants?
If you are intrigued by plants, flowers, and crops — how they grow, how plant products can help people, how flowers and trees thrive in a symbiotic relationship with the changing natural environment — careers in plant science can turn your houseplant obsession or natural green thumb into a lifetime of working with plants on a daily basis.
Plants play a role in nearly every aspect of our lives. Humans raise and harvest them for their nutritional and medicinal properties and process and transform them into essentials such as fuel, hygiene products, health remedies, decoration, and more. Professionals in the field of plant science are at the forefront of efforts to improve the quality and availability of the plants and plant products that we use every day in the face of major environmental, societal, and cultural shifts.
From flower farms, nurseries, and greenhouses to high-tech research labs, careers in plant science encapsulate many settings, job descriptions, and advancement opportunities. Learn more about the different roles and fields within plant science.
Work With Plants in the Field or the Lab
Careers in plant science are as varied as the biodiversity on Earth. Studying disciplines of plant science as an undergraduate can lead to job opportunities in academic and commercial settings, propagation, soil analysis, ornamental plant cultivation, crop ecology, and beyond. Plant scientists can progress to more advanced research positions by pursuing further education at the master’s or doctoral level and gaining on-the-job experience.
Becoming an expert in the chemical and cellular makeup of plants and understanding broad scientific and ecological concepts can get you closer to lifelong careers interacting with rare plants, medicinal plants, trees, fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, seeds, soil, and ornamental plants.
Plant science careers offer a fulfilling and vibrant work environment that merges outdoor field work and indoor lab or office work. Picture yourself in a career where you can spend time with plants and other plant lovers, discover a path towards a more environmentally sound planet, combat global food insecurity, educate the next generation of plant scientists, or make a difference in your community.
One career option for plant lovers is horticulture – a field that deals with the growth and health of plants.
Horticulturalists use scientific methods to maintain and improve green spaces such as gardens and parks for private clients, local or federal parks departments, and conservation institutions. Horticulture professionals can work independently or as part of a team in public gardens or greenhouses, farms, vineyards, landscaping companies, land management firms, and more. Learn more about what horticulturists are and what they do.
Careers in horticulture include:
- Park and Garden Administrator
- Horticulture Consultant
- Research Assistant
- Cultivation Associate
- Soil Scientist
- Greenhouse Crop Manager
Horticultural careers fall into two categories that use scientific knowledge to improve plant growth: ornamental horticulture and agricultural horticulture.
- Ornamental horticulture careers include greenhouse, nursery, and commercial laboratory workers in the decorative plant industry; horticulturists who test the health and conditions of flowers and trees on large-scale farms; arborists; and horticultural therapists.
- Agricultural horticulture professionals manage the growth of crops and study them for potential commercial uses, such as replacing plastics with plant-based materials. Jobs include Agronomist, Agricultural Manager, Crop Scientist, Crop Consultant, and Viticultralist.
Bachelor’s degrees in horticulture ensure you master the scientific knowledge to leverage ecological strategies and chemical tools to cultivate healthy and beautiful plants while protecting the environment. Horticultural therapists typically have secondary training in psychology or counseling.
If you want to propagate and grow plants professionally, both ornamental and agricultural and food production horticulture are fulfilling careers combining analytical skills and hands-on fieldwork.
Environmental Conservation and Sustainability
If you’re passionate about bettering the future for all, follow a career path where you can use your love of plants to help mitigate environmentally harmful practices and create sustainable ornamental and agricultural plant production systems.
Conservation-focused plant science careers can include the preservation of endangered plants or landscapes, or involve collecting field samples to conduct laboratory research that will influence public policy or reduce the environmental footprint of a farm or commercial operation.
Working with plants in environmental science and conservation can look like:
- Native plant propagation
- Environmental restoration
- Invasive species control
- Natural resource management
- Plant ecology
- Conservation research
To succeed in careers working with plants, earning a bachelor’s degree in horticulture with an emphasis in environmental sustainability coursework can start you on the path to advanced academic and research careers. Similar fields of study would be soil science, environmental science, or ecology. Bachelor’s programs can open opportunities for entry-level lab positions and prepare students to apply to the master’s and doctoral programs necessary for top research positions.
Botany, also known as botanical science, is a broad discipline of plant science that studies the structure and characteristics of all kinds of plants, beyond those used in food production, medicine, or other commercial use.
The field of botany is concerned with classifying plants and identifying them, from moss, algae, and lichens to aquatic plants and more. Some careers in botany are based on research and the discovery of new vegetation.
Job roles in botany include:
- Botany Educator
- Botanical Illustrator
- Research Technician
Botanists and botanical scientists typically gain a bachelor’s degree in botany, plant science, or a related field, and some pursue graduate degrees in botany to attain roles in higher education and advanced botanical research.
Plant biology is a discipline of botanical science that deals with how plant life functions and interacts with ecosystems.
Studying plant biology introduces scientific processes and methods used to analyze plant samples in biological laboratories, from government agency settings to private industry. Plant biology professionals have expertise in biological traits like the genes and DNA of plants, making them valuable in various plant science career fields.
Plant biology careers include:
- Plant Biologist
- Plant Pathologist
- Plant Breeder/Plant Geneticist
You may design and execute clinical trials in herbicide or pesticide effectiveness, analyze samples for regulatory compliance in food and commercial products, study plant diseases, or contribute to pharmaceutical product development.
Bachelor's degree coursework introduces students to the necessary biological concepts for entry-level plant biology roles. To advance to more senior scientist or management roles, higher degrees are typically needed. Selecting a bachelor’s program with robust laboratory experiences can familiarize students with the technology and research concepts necessary to pursue advanced degree programs and senior plant biologist positions.
Plant Extraction and Natural Products Chemistry
If you’re intrigued by the chemical properties of plants and want to work with plants primarily in laboratory settings, plant product extraction chemistry, or medicinal plant chemistry, is an interdisciplinary field you may appreciate.
Careers in plant chemistry involve the extraction and analysis of plants’ chemical materials. Plant chemists might specialize in toxicology due to their skills in isolating and identifying different plant chemicals and their interactions.
Industries that commonly employ experts in plant chemistry and product extraction include health and wellness supplements, essential oils, brewing and hops, and medical marijuana.
Roles in plant chemistry include:
- Extraction Technician
- Analytical Chemist
- Cultivation Technician
Plant chemistry or chemical extraction degrees at the undergraduate level position students for careers in private chemical laboratories or government agencies analyzing plant chemical products for commercial regulation. Learn more about extraction technicians, a popular entry-level position. Roles such as biochemist may require graduate training and research experience.
Begin a Scientific Career Working With Plants
We hope that this overview of different plant science careers is going to help you craft your unique career merging your love of science and love of plants. Plant science includes some of the more technical ways to work with plants, seeds, and soil daily, making it a rewarding field with many advancement opportunities and a high salary potential.
Whether you’re interested in working in plant chemical research or global conservation, bachelor’s degree programs with specialized in-field and lab training are the ideal first step. For example, York College of Pennsylvania offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Environmental Horticulture and BS in Cannabinoid Chemistry, both providing unrivaled hands-on applications in an exciting area of plant science.
If you like working hands-on in gardens, greenhouses, nurseries, and more, check out our environmental horticulture degree program.
If you seek careers in plant chemistry labs and extracting plant chemicals for analysis, learn more about our cannabinoid chemistry degree program.