Jim Affolter is the Director of Research at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and a Professor in the University of Georgia Department of Horticulture. His primary research interests are medicinal plants and plant conservation. After receiving his undergraduate degree from Williams College, he spent two years as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow retracing the South American portion of Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and studying the Darwin archives at Cambridge University in England. This exposure to the floras of temperate and tropical South America stimulated his interest in botany and biogeography. Affolter received his Ph.D. in plant systematics from the University of Michigan, completing a worldwide monograph of the plant genus Lilaeopsis, a project which required additional fieldwork and plant collecting in South America, Australia, and New Zealand. He has spent the last 30 years working in university botanical gardens, first as the Curator of the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, and as Director of Cornell Plantations (the botanical garden, arboretum, and natural areas of Cornell University), before joining the University of Georgia faculty in 1993.
Affolter developed an interest in medicinal plants and their role in traditional medicine during a six-week trip to China in 1986. Today he teaches a popular undergraduate course on “Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants” at the University of Georgia which explores tensions between traditional and modern medicine as well as providing a practical introduction to culinary and medicinal plants from around the world. He looks forward to his Spring 2016 Semester at Sea course, “Plants, People, and Culture,” as an unparalleled opportunity for students to explore the culinary and medicinal use of plants firsthand, in countries where exotic spices abound and practices such as traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine are part of everyday life.
Botanical gardens are leaders in plant conservation efforts worldwide, and Affolter has collaborated with gardens on several continents to promote the sustainable use of native plants and the protection of endangered species, including long-term projects in Argentina and Costa Rica. He teaches a course on “Conserving Native Plants” at the University of Georgia, is the founding Chair of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, and serves as the President of the Board of Directors of the US branch of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a worldwide network of more than 700 gardens. The countries to be visited during the Spring 2016 voyage include some of the most spectacular and threatened floras on earth, and provide an opportunity to visit world-class botanical gardens dedicated to their display and protection. Many of Affolter’s graduate students have gone on to careers in public gardens and plant conservation.