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Scott Zona: Botanist Behind the Plant Toolbox

Scott Zona with palms

Scott Zona is a renowned botanist and an award-winning author who is currently working on the latest advancements in the NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. In the past 15 months, Zona has seen two of his books published while managing a team of Extension Master Gardeners℠ volunteers who input data, photos, and proof existing entries in the Plant Toolbox. Behind the scenes, Zona is responsible for making changes and improvements to the Plant Toolbox and training people to use it more effectively.

Zona has a bachelor’s in horticulture and a master’s in botany from the University of Florida. He received his doctorate in botany from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which is now known as the California Botanic Garden, and Claremont Graduate University, California. Zona has explored plants in various regions across the globe, including Florida, California, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the Pacific islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea, and Madagascar. Zona’s interests lie in the diversity and natural history of tropical plants, particularly palms, salvias, and bryophytes, and he has published over 175 articles on these topics and more in various magazines, book chapters, and scholarly journals. Zona is also co-editor of The International Palm Society’s quarterly journal, PALMS, and a Research Collaborator with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium.

Palms of New Guinea
Palms of New Guinea

Palms is one of Zona’s passions, as is evident in the book, Palms of New Guinea, recently published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Zona’s breadth and depth are on display throughout the Plant Toolbox.

What are some of your recent contributions to the Plant Toolbox?

We’re always making improvements to the Plant Toolbox. It gets better every week, and I think of how to get the word out about all the amazing things it can do. We’re currently working on expanding and improving the Design Gallery section of the Plant Toolbox, which shows people how plants look and function in real gardens. Also, we’ve added new search tags that allow people to look for North Carolina native pollinator plants and bird-friendly plants by integrating data from the NC Audubon Society. We are currently working on a project that will allow users to search for bat-friendly plants. 

What’s next for the Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox?

We are working with the Extension IT specialists to upgrade the Plant Toolbox software. We’ll improve searchability, clarify some search terms, and make the interface easier to use. We are excited about offering a better version of the Plant Toolbox. Of course, we’ll finish upgrading the Design Gallery and work on improving the existing entries.

Tell us a little bit about your book, A Gardener’s Guide to Botany.

A Gardener’s Guide to Botany book came out in December 2022, so I had an exciting 2023 promoting the book and seeing its public reception, which has been overwhelmingly positive. The book won an American Horticultural Society award in 2023. Some of the material in the book grew out of a series of posts on social media, where I post about plants on X/Twitter, Instagram, and Bluesky. I see my role on social media as an author and as a way to educate people about plants and their roles in nature and our lives.

A Gardener's Guide to Botany
A Gardener’s Guide to Botany

Do you have any career goals or interests?

I am excited about the next iteration of the Plant Toolbox, and I look forward to proselytizing on its behalf. I look forward to educating gardeners about the plants we can grow in NC and how gardens can help wildlife, improve neighborhoods, and promote well-being.

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