You probably were not aware that for many years, scientists have been able to use plants to determine if, when and how a crime was committed. That’s right—plants can be verifiable crime stoppers!
This particular field is called “forensic biology,” the application of biology in law enforcement practices. It has been used to prove a suspect was at a crime scene, to identify illegal products made from endangered species, to investigate airplane bird strikes, to solve crimes by matching evidence at the crime scene in plants to suspects, and to investigate bird collisions with wind turbines.
The use of plants in forensic investigations through the subdiscipline of forensic botany has become increasingly common over the decades, as methods for investigating crimes continue to become more sophisticated. Plants or parts of plants are able to provide significant supporting evidence in solving crimes.
The main reason for this is that plant remains can be found just about everywhere, and they offer multiple sources of evidence, including pieces of wood, seeds, twigs, plant hairs, fibers, pollen, spores and cells. Their morphological diversity allows researchers to identify these plants from the information and evidence gathered, and determine other useful information, such as the season or geographic region in which a crime occurred, whether a body was moved after a homicide, if a body was buried (and for how long), and if a specific suspect was present at a crime scene.
A Practical Example Of Forensic Botany
Let’s take a look at an example of forensic botany in a famous case out of New Zealand in the late 90s.
In 1997, a woman was grabbed, pulled into an alley and sexually assaulted. She could describe the assailant, and a man matching her description was arrested shortly thereafter. The man admitted to being in the area and seeing the woman, and said he had stopped to ask her if she was okay. He claimed she was simply confusing his face with that of the rapist. While there was no DNA evidence available in the case, police noted dirt on his clothes, which he claimed to be from his yard.
The alley in question had flowering wormwood shrubs, which had been broken and flattened during the struggle. After an analysis of the subject’s clothes and an analysis of the soil in the area, both samples were dominated by wormwood. There was no wormwood near the suspect’s home or any other places he had visited, leading investigators to conclude that he must have been the rapist they were seeking.
This is just one example of a way researchers are using plant life and studies to aid in stopping crimes.
Interested in learning more about forensic botany? We can help, contact us today at Soil Advocates.