People

Jacob Suissa he/him (PI)



I am an evolutionary biologist focused on how plants are constructed, how they function, and how they have evolved across deep time. To answer these questions I study ferns, one of the oldest and most diverse plant lineages. My work integrates topics ranging from morphology, anatomy, and physiology to character evolution, biogeography, and diversification.


I believe that art and science are one and the same. Plants, with their diversity of shapes, colors, and structures, provide a perfect medium for displaying this integration. In addition to my work as a scholar, I am an avid nature photographer and science communicator, using plants to inspire people to enjoy and appreciate the biotic world. 

Email: jsuissa@utk.edu       CV   

Graduate students

Dusty Prater he/him (MS)

Born and raised in Notchy Creek, Tennessee, my love for the natural world and all life forms was instilled in me from a young age. That love has led me to study biology at Roane State Community College and then Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville as an undergraduate, finishing in Spring 2023. During that time, I became fascinated by plants—specifically ferns—and their dispersal mechanisms. This fascination has led me to pursue a masters degree in the BotanEE lab studying the evolution and ecophysiology of the Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) across it's latitudinal range in North America. When I am not studying ferns, you can find me tutoring students, hanging out with friends, reading a good novel, or volunteering with local nonprofits. 


Email: dprater6@vols.utk.edu  Website link

Undergraduate students

Blake Califf he/him (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) 

Since a young age, I have been fascinated by the natural world. I enjoy studying biology because it proves there is always an answer to questions regarding our planet. I plan to take what I learn as a member of the BotanEE lab and apply it when I eventually pursue a postgraduate degree. When I am not in the lab or out doing fieldwork, I am on the soccer pitch, exploring the city of Knoxville, or cheering on my fellow Vols at sporting events.

Aiyana Renee Hamlin she/her (Renee) (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology / Russian Studies) 

I’ve always been a curious person and the natural world provides an endless amount of things to question. Growing up in Columbia, Tennessee with a grandmother who loves to garden, I’ve always had an interest in plants. That interest grew as I did and ultimately influenced my decision to study Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I am endlessly fascinated by plants (and fungi!). When I am not studying, you can find me crocheting, reading, or planning meetings for the Bee Enthusiasts Club. 

Perhaps You?




Are you interested in understanding how seed-free plants grow, how they have evolved, how they diversified, how they function in different ecosystems? Come join the lab!


If you are interested in joining the lab as a research technician, postdoctoral fellow, graduate student, or artist in residence please reach out. If you would like to learn more how graduate school works, check out this site!

Email: botaneelabutk@gmail.com

Wallace (Botanical guardian)

When Wallace isn't busy eating or playing, he enjoys botanizing in local natural areas. With his dense coat to catch all the hitchhiking fruits and seeds, he is a great companion to the botanical world. Wallace is particularly fond of wood anatomy and is great at determining hardwoods and softwoods.