Campus & Community

Bringing plants, technology together

3 min read

As an editor at the Herbaria, Tremonte finds plenty of pressing paperwork

Donna Tremonte’s three computers sit inside the small sunlit office she occupies at the Harvard Herbaria. One is a Mac, two are PCs — one with Windows, the other Linux. Tremonte needs all three to monitor the appearance and content of the Herbaria’s databases and Web site.

As the managing editor of the Harvard Papers in Botany and the Herbaria’s Web content manager, Tremonte has a life mired with technology and plants, two contrary things that, somehow, just make sense to her.

“I was always interested in environmental issues. With plants, there are so many interesting ecological interactions to explore,” she says. “I thought it would be a peaceful lifestyle.”

While an undergraduate at Boston University, Tremonte was inspired by a botany professor’s encouragement to further investigate plants. After graduation, she accompanied her mentor on a trip to Africa to research a single plant among its vast diversity. The plant was Welwitschia mirabilis — and Tremonte was immediately enamored. With only two leaves that continuously grow, the leaves eventually split, transforming into something untamed and unusually glamorous.

Last fall, Tremonte flew to Venezuela to collect plants — “I love field research,” she reveals. She stayed at a military facility for 10 days, one of the highlights of her career.

“Every morning we hiked into the Andes and documented the species growing along our routes,” she says. “Just before sunset we made our way out of the forest to record and press the plants in newspaper. We found several new species, and the lush surroundings made it feel like we were in another world.”

Less exotic is Tremonte’s twice-weekly trek to the Extension School, where she’s earning her A.L.M. in Information Technology: Multimedia and Creative Content.

Tremonte’s knowledge of plants — she is quick to identify almost anything — aids her in work at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, where she lives. She’s been a volunteer there since 2002, giving tours and participating in annual festivals such as Lilac Sunday. For three summers she taught an invasive plant course and a botany class for gardeners, but relishes entertaining children taking tours with the joys of plants.

“I like to make it fun for them,” she says. “More sensory activities — touching mosses and leaves — or having them guess how tall a tree is.”

But Tremonte is most active in her own backyard. “I bought a small condo in 2006, and I had a little bit of a rough start,” she says.

“The backyard had these weird orange crop circles of mulch,” she says, laughing. “There were overgrown trees, no grass, and mounds of dirt.”

She leveled the dirt and planted grass, then added an organic garden where she grows heirloom vegetables like eggplant, artichokes, and tomatoes.

“Just don’t ask me what my favorite plant is,” she says with a sigh. “I like them all.”