Area: Natural History
B.Sc., Botany and Biochemistry, McGill University, 1969
M.Sc., Biology, McGill University, 1974
Ph.D., Plant Systematics, University of Western Ontario, 1983
Timothy A. Dickinson is Senior Curator of Botany at the Museum, and oversees the ROM's Green Plant Herbarium (TRT).
As a child, Tim was intrigued by illustrations in science books of things like pollen tubes and flatworms, and he would look for pollen tubes in the flowers of discarded Easter lilies. In high school, he talked his way into a scientist's lab at a nearby university, where he learned how to section planaria, a flatworm that he collected under rocks in a suburban stream, cultured, and embedded in plastic. Nothing came of his attempt to create giant planaria by treating them with a carcinogen, or by keeping them in a greased bowl, but the planaria did reproduce, and he learned about basic lab methods and microscopy.
In university, Tim enjoyed learning about plants and fungi in small botany classes. After graduation, he found a job in the herpetology department of a university museum cataloguing specimens collected from around the world, many of them by his boss’ graduate students. After he audited a vertebrate evolution course, he decided that he would rather be a graduate student than a curatorial assistant, and returned to the discipline of botany for his field of study.
For his M.Sc. research, Tim studied two plants in which the flower clusters are found on the leaves, instead of being attached to the stems. He found that in the case of Helwingia japonica, the flower cluster arises in the “normal” location, but is then carried up onto the leaf blade as the leaf develops. In Phyllonoma integerrima, however, the flower cluster actually arises just below the tip of the young leaf. This work left him unsatisfied, because it was all done in the lab using specimens primarily collected by others.
Tim’s Ph.D. research on hawthorns gave him a chance to work both in the field and in the lab, and began his career of trying to understand the relationship between hawthorn taxonomy and hawthorn reproductive biology. As a cross-appointed Associate Professor of Botany in the University of Toronto’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tim and his students are documenting hawthorn reproductive behavior and working to develop an appropriate classification.
In addition to his many scientific publications arising from his research endeavours, Tim is also a co-author of The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario, which earned the Canadian Museums Association Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Canadian Museum Publishing” in 2004.
Less than 10% of the planet’s estimated 100 million species have been identified and described.