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Singapore's first ethnobotany garden opens at Botanic Gardens

Tan Si Hui Channel NewsAsia 30 Jun 18;

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.


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.

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.”


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.

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)

Ethnobotany garden that shows how plants are used in South-east Asia opens at Singapore Botanic Gardens
Lester Hio Straits Times 30 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Visitors to the Singapore Botanic Gardens can now check out a new ethnobotany garden, the first of its kind in Singapore which explores how plants are used by indigenous people in South-east Asia.

The $5.8 million garden was opened on Saturday (June 30) after a year and a half of construction.

Housed in a 1-ha space historically known as the economic garden, the new attraction features more than 300 species of plants native to South-east Asia which are traditionally used for medicinal, cultural or craft purposes.

These include the Ketapang, or sea almond tree, with its distinctive almond-flavoured fruit, and the akar fatimah plant, whose leaves are used as extracts in tea to induce childbirth and promote recovery from childbirth.

Ms Ng Yuin-Mae, the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ director of development, said the focus on ethnobotany - the study of how people and cultures use plants - continues to be relevant as visitors can learn about how plants they see around them have been used throughout history, especially within the region,

She added: “Visitors can choose to experience the garden on a sensory level by enjoying the ambience and the plants."

“There are also educational boards scattered throughout for those who want to learn more about the general themes of the garden. Then there signs naming the trees and plants found here too, which they can find out more about on our online flora and fauna database,” she said.

The garden is divided into four zones exploring how plants have been used by people in the region - in daily living, such as through tools or foraging, symbolic and cultural practices, medicinal purposes, and in craftwork and art.

It also houses a new ethnobotany centre where visitors can explore the history of plants which have shaped the economic development of the region, such as rubber, nutmeg and cotton.

More than 120 artefacts from around South-east Asia, which were made from plants, are also on display at the centre. These include textiles and clothing made from plant fibres, or musical instruments and hunting tools made from wood.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who opened the gardens, said it is part of a wider plan to enhance the Singapore Botanic Gardens as a Unesco world heritage site.

"Moving forward, the Singapore Botanic Gardens will continue expanding its role as a world-class institution for tropical plant research and conservation," said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.

The opening of the ethnobotany garden also marks the start of the Botanic Gardens' annual heritage festival, which is now in it third year.

The festival includes activities across the Gardens over the next two weekends, such as free movie screenings, plant sales and educational tours.

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