Menus Subscribe Search

Tracking Invasive Species from Riverside to Pandora

• October 04, 2010 • 2:28 PM

Plant physiologist Jodie Holt’s study and management of weeds has earned her kudos in Hollywood and in academe.

While you may have been distracted by the whir of Navi flyers or distraught by a translucent plotline or even nauseated by your 3-D glasses, chances are if you saw James Cameron’s Avatar last year, you spent very little time focused on its plant life.

Yet there is one unnamed Pandora player whose contributions, touted recently by the theatrical run of Avatar‘s special edition release, whose entire 15 minutes of Hollywood acclaim came because of those fronds.

A professor of plant physiology and former chair of the department of botany and plant sciences at the University of California, Riverside, Jodie Holt was asked to be a botanical consultant for Avatar. In 2007, she directed actress Sigourney Weaver on how a botanist dressed, acted and approached plants, and later engaged in a series of advisory communications with Avatar‘s set designer on botany equipment for the film.

In the fall of 2008, Holt was asked to create a number of Wikipedia-like entries for the film’s suite of video game products. “The plants were surprisingly credible,” Holt remarked, following that statement with some academic grains of salt. “[But] I’m really proud that a 14-year-old playing a video game will [learn something] about plant life.”

Still, there’s more to Holt than the sensorial feast she helped to create for Avatar. Holt has made great strides in the study of weedy and invasive plant species.

As industrial development moves at a breakneck pace, some plants are inadvertently relocated to sites not used to hosting them. The expansion of these now new species can occur rapidly, with newer plants taking over territory at the expense of their native counterparts. “From the very beginning, the thing I’ve been most interested in is the plants’ interaction with their environment,” said Holt, adding, “Weeds are plants out of place.”

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Tracking Invasive Species from Riverside to Pandora

UC Riverside professor of plant physiology Jodie Holt.

[/class] In the first part of her career, Holt focused on weed growth in agriculture, coauthoring the book, Ecology of Weeds and Invasive Plants: Relationship to Agriculture and Natural Resource Management.

This book discussed weed and invasive plant development, as well as ecologically sound weeding of exotic species.

Holt’s research has since evolved to study invasive species in wild areas where commercial weeding practices are not viable. The challenge in eliminating invasive species from these environments comes not only in classifying invasive species, as some exotic plants have been around for generations, but also in extracting weeds without harming endangered plants and animals.

“You can’t just grab a spray in the wildlands,” Holt said. “It becomes a matter of elimination with plows and bush rakes.”

Much of Holt’s current work surrounds invasive species in riparian environments: studying conditions that establish growth, repress growth and prevent reinvasion. Holt is particularly interested in the giant reed or arundo, an Asian native that flourishes along the western coast of the United States.

“As with all the sciences,” Holt said, the study of invasive species often lacks the money to manage invaders in remote areas or to pay for research staff — “especially when the work is not important to the masses.”

But getting word to the masses, she believes, is important for scientists. “You have to learn how to be approachable. There used to be a real divide between researchers in their lab coats and glasses to now. [Scientists now] all have branches that deal with outreach. It’s an essential function in science today.”

For her part, Holt has woven education and outreach into her study. A fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Weed Science Society of America, she has served as an associate editor of the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management, and she was honored in the 2008-09 academic year with UCR’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Earlier this month, the San Diego Botanic Gardens presented her with the Paul Ecke Jr. Award of Excellence.

This award was established by the San Diego Botanic Garden in 2002 and recognizes exceptional achievements by an individual or group for contributions made in education, conservation, creation of preservation of public spaces and preservation or re-creation of historically significant plantings and structures.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Jessica Hilo
Jessica Hilo is a fellow with Miller-McCune magazine. Her work has been featured in the Santa Barbara Independent, San Francisco Classical Voice, and Canadian webzine Uncharted Sounds. In 2009, Jessica served as a social media commentator at the National Summit for Arts Journalism and a guest panelist at the MIC Journalism Seminar in Los Angeles. She has a Master of Arts degree in Specialized Journalism from the University of Southern California.

More From Jessica Hilo

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 15 • 4:00 PM

The Average Prisoner Is Visited Only Twice While Incarcerated

And black prisoners receive even fewer visitors.


September 15 • 2:00 PM

Gambling With America’s Health

The public health costs of legal gambling.


September 15 • 12:23 PM

The Scent of a Conservative

We are attracted to the body odor of others with similar political beliefs, according to new research.


September 15 • 12:00 PM

2014: A Pretty Average Election

Don’t get too worked up over this year’s congressional mid-terms.


September 15 • 10:00 AM

Online Harassment of Women Isn’t Just a Gamer Problem

By blaming specific subcultures, we ignore a much larger and more troubling social pathology.


September 15 • 8:00 AM

Atheists Seen as a Threat to Moral Values

New research attempts to pinpoint why non-believers are widely disliked and distrusted.


September 15 • 6:12 AM

To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.


September 15 • 6:00 AM

Interview With a Drug Dealer

What happens when the illicit product you’ve made your living off of finally becomes legal?


September 15 • 4:00 AM

A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal With Its Impulses

The ability to delay gratification has been held up as the one character trait to rule them all—the key to academic success, financial security, and social well-being. But willpower isn’t the answer. The new, emotional science of self-regulation.



September 15 • 2:04 AM

No Innovation Without Migration: Do Places Make People?

We know that people make places, but does it also work the other way?


September 12 • 4:00 PM

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Plastic Bags

California wants you to pay for your plastic bags. (FYI: That’s not an infringement on your constitutional rights.)


September 12 • 2:00 PM

Should We Trust the Hearts of White People?

On the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, revisiting a clip of James Baldwin on the Dick Cavett Show.


September 12 • 12:00 PM

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you’d be if the government didn’t interfere with your life, but that’s not what the research shows.


September 12 • 10:00 AM

Whispering in the Town Square: Can Twitter Provide an Escape From All Its Noise?

Twitter has created its own buzzing, digital agora, but when users want to speak amongst themselves, they tend to leave for another platform. It’s a social network that helps you find people to talk to—but barely lets you do any talking.


September 12 • 9:03 AM

How Ancient DNA Is Rewriting Human History

We thought we knew how we’d been shaped by evolution. We were wrong.


September 12 • 8:02 AM

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.


September 12 • 8:00 AM

I Walked Through the Financial Crisis

Why are former Wall Street employees guiding tourists around the Financial District? Paul Hiebert signed himself up and tried to find out.


September 12 • 7:05 AM

Scams, Scams, Everywhere


September 12 • 6:17 AM

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.


September 12 • 4:00 AM

Comfort Food Is a Myth

New research finds that, contrary to our beliefs, such foods don’t have any special ability to improve our moods.



September 11 • 4:00 PM

Reading the Camouflage Uniforms in Ferguson: ‘You Are Now Enemy Combatants’

Why are police officers wearing green or desert camouflage in a suburban environment?


September 11 • 2:00 PM

Wage Theft: How Two States Are Fighting Against Companies That Categorize Employees as Independent Contractors

New York and Illinois have passed hard-nosed laws and taken an aggressive tack toward misclassification.


September 11 • 11:03 AM

Yes, I’m a Good Person. But Did You Hear About Her?

A new study tracks how people experience moral issues in everyday life.


Follow us


To Protect Against Meltdowns, Banks Must Map Financial Interconnections

A new model suggests looking beyond balance sheets, studying the network of investment as well.

Big Government, Happy Citizens?

You may like to talk about how much happier you'd be if the government didn't interfere with your life, but that's not what the research shows.

Give Yourself a Present for the Future

Psychologists discover that we underestimate the value of looking back.

In Soccer as in Art, Motifs Matter

A new study suggests a way to quantitatively measure a team’s style through its pass flow. It may become another metric used to evaluate potential recruits.

Searching for Everyday Morality

Experimenters use text messages to study morality beyond the lab.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.