Past BUC competitions

Botanical University Challenge and first Student Botany Festival!

Teams from 25 universities and institutions in Britain and Ireland competed in 2023. They were from: Universities of Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Bristol, Cambridge, Dundee, Durham, East Anglia, Edge Hill, Exeter, Galway, Imperial College, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham, Oxford, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Warwick, and also Eden Project Learning and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

There were two rounds of on-line questions in February to find out which teams would be in the semifinals. There are recordings on our YouTube channel.

An unprecedented 9 teams started the quarter-finals, not 8. Why? Well, after 60 multiple-choice questions in Round 1, teams from both University of Bristol and Trinity College, Dublin had the same scores and were in joint 8th place. After a further tie-breaker round of 10 more questions – their scores were still identical! So, both started in the quarterfinals.

After the first half of the quarterfinal, a series of multiple-choice questions, Bristol and Trinity College Dublin still had the same score. So, there was a sudden-death question; What was the botanist Irene Manton FRS famous for working with? Trinity College Dublin knew the correct answer and stayed in the competition.

After the second half of free answer questions, the four teams with the highest scores were the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester Metropolitan and Oxford and The Eden Project. These four teams planned to be in the semifinals in July 2023.

However, to add a further twist, it became clear that prior commitments meant that, very sadly, the team from Manchester Metropolitan University would not be able to take part. The team with the next highest score, Trinity College Dublin, thus had a place in the semifinals.

Then, in July the semifinals and final were held live at University of Nottingham. These can also be watched on our YouTube channel.

The final winners were the team from University of Oxford, who were presented with the Sid Thomas Trophy. All the teams received goodies from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and the Field Studies Council.

We were delighted that several distinguished botanists accepted our invitations to ask the questions. For the first two rounds they were:

Dr Leif Bersweden, a writer, botanist and nature communicator with a face-down, bottom-up approach to watching wildlife. He grew up in rural Wiltshire where he taught himself how to identify the local flora and has championed our wild plants and the joy they bring ever since. Leif is the author of The Orchid Hunter and Where the Wildflowers Grow.

Dr Henry Ford, who worked as a plant population biologist on dandelions and red algae in Bangor and Newcastle Universities before modelling plant growth patterns and developing non-molecular biological databases for Bath University. He has worked as a freelance ecological surveyor (India, Oman, Djibouti, UK) and has managed the Ecological Flora of the British Isles since 1988.

Dr Tiina Sarkinen, South American Biodiversity Researcher at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, quizzed the eight teams in the quarterfinals. Her research is into tropical biomes, especially the taxonomy, ecology and evolution of the plants. She is currently working on the Solanaceace family, and biomes in the Caatinga biogeographic region of northeastern Brazil.

Professor Paul Ashton, Professor of Botany and Head of Biology at Edge Hill University joined her asking the questions. His research interests include restoration ecology, plant identification and ecology of upland calcareous grasslands, as well as bryophyte and sedges.

For the final on 5th July, Dr Amanda Rasmussen agreed to ask some of the questions. She is Assistant Professor in the School of Biosciences at the University of Nottingham. Her research is into adventitious roots including cutting propagation, maize roots and aerial roots on (sub)tropical houseplants. It explores the hormone networks and environmental factors that control adventitious root production and aims to determine the physiological or support roles of these roots.

We were also pleased that Dr Henry Ford was able to step in at short notice to ask more questions, this time in person.

First Student Botany Festival

The first Student Botany Festival, open to all BUC2023 contestants, followed the quiz competition at the  University of Nottingham on Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th July 2023. 

It started with a networking session around posters, exhibits and a plant exchange. The next day there were visits to a botanical field site and the Sutton Bonington campus. These included seeing CT scanners for research on roots and glasshouses. In the afternoon, back at the main campus, there was a careers workshop and keynote lecture by Professor Malcolm Bennett FRS, Professor of Plant Sciences at Nottingham.

Timetable First Student Botany Festival 2023


Round 1 was held on-line on 16 February 2022. Eighteen teams entered: Universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge, Durham, Edge Hill, Edinburgh, NUI Galway, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham Sutton Bonington, Open, Plymouth, Reading, Warwick and York and also Eden Project Learning and RHS Wisley.

After 6 rounds of 10 multiple-choice questions the 8 teams with the highest scores went through to Round 2. You can see a recording on our YouTube channel.

The questions were asked by Professor Emerita Honor Prentice, Lund University, Sweden and Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director and Head of Science at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum.

Round 2 was on 23 February 2022. The 8 teams answered rounds of free-answer questions, with the audience listening as they debated their answers

The questions were asked by Dr Sandy Knapp FRS, Natural History Museum, UK and President of the Linnean Society 2018 – 2022, Dr Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium at Rutgers University USA, and Dr Raj Whitlock, Senior Lecturer, University of Liverpool, UK.

At the end of the contest, the team from the Botanical Society at University of Nottingham Sutton Bonington campus were the overall winners, with Manchester Metropolitan University close runner-up. They received signed copies of The Green Planet, the book that accompanied the latest documentary by Sir David Attenborough about the plants of this planet. All 8 teams were given useful plant identification WildID guides donated by the Field Studies Council. You can see a recording on our YouTube channel of the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.

The contest was supported by the New Phytologist Foundation and the Field Studies Council as well as many people who volunteered their time and botanical knowledge.


BUC2021 was held on-line on one day in February with 15 teams competing. Now that travelling to the contest meant simply getting onto the internet, 15 teams were able to compete, from University of Aberdeen to the Eden Project in Cornwall.

This video shows all the teams.

The questions were asked by Professor Emeritus Alastair Fitter FRS, University of York and Dr Colin Clubbe, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The winning team was from Manchester Metropolitan University, with University of Cambridge in second place.

This video shows more about the contest and the winners. All the competitors were given a T-shirt that used the leaf logo that has now become the symbol of Botanical University Challenge.

What did the teams think of #BUC2021?
Their highlights from the competition were:

Really enjoyed all aspects of questions, was FANTASTIC being in company of such talented botanists and to be reassured the subject area is as vibrant as ever.

Watching the live-stream and sharing it with friends and family so we could answer questions together.

Managing to answer at least one question correctly for the team with my limited knowledge and getting into the semi-finals.

That it was online! Made it feel much less intimidating.

Listening to all the interesting questions and seeing people answer them, as well as the nice atmosphere.

Developing my botanical knowledge, exciting to be part of the quiz, love the t-shirt!

Was just super fun to be part of a plant-centric quiz!

#BUC2016, #BUC2019 and #BUC2020

The first BUC contest was held in 2016 between 5 teams at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. James Wong, broadcaster and ethnobotanist, asked all the questions. The winners were University of Reading. After a 2 year rest, the contest was held at University of Reading in 2019 between 6 teams. This time the winners were University of Reading with University of Liverpool in second place. All the competitors received a T-shirt as a souvenir. The following year, 2020, the contest was held at Ness Botanic Gardens of the University of Liverpool between 7 teams, and again the University of Reading won with University of Liverpool the runners up. The questions were asked by Emeritus Professor Alan McCarthy, University of Liverpool. There were again T-shirts for all the teams.