Singapore's first ethnobotany garden opens at Botanic Gardens

Singapore's first ethnobotany garden opens at Botanic Gardens

There's a new attraction at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, with the opening of Singapore's first ethnobotany garden on Saturday (Jun 30). Tan Si Hui reports.

SINGAPORE: There's a new attraction at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, with the opening of Singapore's first ethnobotany garden on Saturday (Jun 30).

Ethnobotany is the study of the relationship between plants and people. 

The new garden, featuring about 300 plant species, showcases how early settlers and the indigenous people of Southeast Asia made use of plants in their culture and daily life.

The garden includes a new Centre for Ethnobotany, housing an exhibition of more than 100 artefacts.

Located within the Bukit Timah Core of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the new garden was built in an area historically known as the "Economic Garden".

In the late 19th century, the area was used for experimental crops after the British recognised Singapore’s potential to trade plant commodities.

Foreign crops such as coffee, sugarcane and cacao were brought into the gardens for testing and trialling in the local climate, before being distributed to the local population.

Ethnobotany Garden 2
The Centre for Ethnobotany. (Photo: Tan Si Hui)

FOUR THEMES: LIVING, SYMBOLISM, MEDICINAL AND CRAFT

The Ethnobotany Garden features plants that are native to Southeast Asia used in four areas - for living, symbolism, medicinal and craft purposes. It is the largest such collection in the region.

In the craft zone, visitors can see how plants have been used for creative and artistic expression by indigenous tribes in the region.

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A craft zone mural depicting how plants were used for building houses and weaving baskets. (Photo: Tan Si Hui)

Fibres of plants in this zone are used as building materials for housing structures and weaving baskets.

Plants used in everyday life are showcased in the living zone, including those such as the Ipoh Tree and sweet potatoes.

Constructing the garden took one-and-a-half years to complete, according to Director (Development) of the Singapore Botanic Gardens Ng Yuin-Mae.

“In today’s context, when we walk into a forest, we see the plants and trees, but we don’t have any relationship with them," said Ms Ng. "A hundred or more years ago when people walked into a forest, it’s like a supermarket, they get their everyday needs inside the forest."

“That’s something we want to bring back - the knowledge, educational and practical value of plants.”

CENTRE FOR ETHNOBOTANY

At the Centre for Ethnobotany, three themes are in focus: How plants have economic significance, how plant materials have been used and the preservation of plants and indigenous knowledge.

Ethnobotany Garden 3
Some of the artefacts on display at the Centre for Ethnobotany. (Photo: Tan Si Hui)

In collaboration with Nanyang Technological University’s Asian School of the Environment, the centre will also manage a research programme for ethnobotany.

The opening of the Ethnobotany Garden is in conjunction with the annual Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Festival.

Activities and programmes will be spread across the gardens and run from Jun 30 to Jul 8, 2018.

Source: CNA/nc/(gs)

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