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Site Updates

17 Nov. 2011: Interested in a career in forensic science? Visit Best Forensic Science Schools. Additional details on the Useful Links page of this site, under the GENERAL category.

18 Aug. 2011: Palynology page translated into Belorussian.


This site presents an overview of the developing field of forensic botany, the application of plant science to the resolution of legal questions. The basis of forensic science is The Exchange Principle, now called Contact Traces, first articulated by Edmond Locard in 1910: a criminal always leaves something at the crime scene, or takes something away (Marriner, 1991). Very often, trace botanical evidence can link an object or suspect to the scene of a crime, as well as rule out a suspect or support an alibi. A plant's anatomy and its ecological requirements are in some cases species-specific; correct interpretation of botanical evidence can give vital information about a crime scene or the whereabouts of a suspect or victim (Lane et al., 1990).

The use of botanical evidence in legal investigations is relatively recent. The first botanical testimony to be heard in a North American court concerned the analysis of the wood grain of the ladder used in the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr., and led to the conviction of Bruno Hauptmann for the crime in 1935. Today, forensic botany encompasses numerous subdisciplines of plant science: palynology, anatomy and dendrochronology, limnology, systematics, ecology, and molecular biology. This site briefly reviews the techniques used in these areas and their applications to criminal and civil cases, and includes a selection of relevant literature and links.


wood grain photograph,11kb

Transverse section of spruce, Picea sp. Photo courtesy of John Topham.


palynology | anatomy and dendrochronology | ecology and systematics | molecular biology
limnology | glossary | useful literature | useful links | cited literature and links
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The Forensic Botany site was created in 2002 by Jennifer Van Dommelen as a project in the Web Literacy For the Natural Sciences class at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada. Terms in bold are defined within the body of the text. Highlighted terms and author citations are linked to a glossary and reference list, respectively, which open in new windows. All images have been used with permission. Header banners created by Jennifer Van Dommelen.

Last content update: April 2002
Last editorial/layout update: 17 June 2005

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