A Latin American Garden Oasis on the UGA Campus for Outreach, Instruction, and Research
Managed by LACSI since it’s opening in October of 1998, the University of Georgia Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden (LAEG) is a unique, one acre green space behind Baldwin Hall on UGA’s north campus, on the corner of Jackson Street and Baldwin Street. It emphasizes the field of ethnobotany—the study of the relationships that exist between people and plants—through a variety of related disciplines such as anthropology, botany, ecology, geography, horticulture, and pharmacology.
The LAEG began as an interdisciplinary research space developed by emeritus anthropology professors Brent and Elois Ann Berlin, who served as co-directors of the anthropology department’s Laboratories of Ethnobiology. Brent (an ethnobotanist) and Elois Ann (a medical anthropologist) have worked collaboratively with the Maya of Chiapas, Mexico since1960. Their graduate students and the UGA Facilities Management Division also participated in the construction of the LAEG.
The LAEG was initially constructed to research the horticultural requirements of medicinal plants used by the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya of highland Chiapas, Mexico and to focus attention on the need for the conservation of plant biodiversity and traditional Mayan plant knowledge. It has since expanded to include some 150 culturally important plants found throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, serving as a space for research, instruction and community outreach. The LAEG also maintains a small collection of Georgia native trees and shrubs of ethnobotanical importance to the native peoples of the state’s Piedmont region.
UGA faculty representing numerous disciplines, including anthropology landscape architecture, ecology, biology, and horticulture have integrated the LAEG into their undergraduate courses. In addition to serving as an outdoor instructional space for UGA faculty and student use, LACSI encourages use of the Garden for public service and outreach among Athens-area schools and the general public. LACSI has worked with several local elementary schools to help them develop their own small ethnobotanical gardens and has carried out a number of workshops for K-12 teachers, in collaboration with the State Botanical Garden. Such gardens provide students with numerous participatory learning opportunities in the social and life sciences and give teachers an excellent instructional resource for meeting Georgia Performance Standards related to these areas of study.
The LAEG is routinely visited by area schools, international delegations, and community organizations. Many university and community groups also made use of the space to hold concerts, receptions and meetings. Contact LACSI associate director Paul Duncan if your unit or organization is interested in touring the LAEG, using the space for an event, or if you wish to volunteer to assist in maintaining this space.
Through the LAEG, LACSI is uniquely qualified to provide educational programs that benefit the K-12 community and the public at large, exploring the diverse ways in which cultures throughout Latin America benefit from the sustainable use of plants for food, medicine, construction, clothing, dye, and much more. The LAEG initiative provides a vehicle through which UGA faculty with an interest in Latin American ethnobotany can collaborate in the development of programs that focus on research, education, and outreach as it relates to the many important uses of plants in the region.
Using QR Code Technology to Unlock the Secrets of the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden
Dr. James Affolter, professor of horticulture, director of research at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and chair of the LAEG Advisory Board, received a grant from the UGA Office of the Vice President for Instruction to develop scannable coding for plant labels in the LAEG. Once finished in summer 2013, no fewer than 50 of the most ethnobotanically important Latin American plants found in the garden will have these improved labels. With such labeling, visitors will be able to use their smart phones to scan the plant label and see newly created pages that provide additional ethnobotanical information and color images of the plants and their uses.
The LAEG is a member of the Ethnobotanical Sister Garden Network, a group of private, public and community-sponsored ethnobotanical gardens in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. These gardens promote environmental education, preservation of indigenous plant knowledge, and community development while offering academic exchange opportunities for UGA faculty and students. The LAEG is also a registered participant of the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation, sponsored by Botanic Gardens Conservation International.
What we could implement with support:
Ethnobotanical Garden Workshops for K-12 Educators
The LAEG has already collaborated on several occasions to provide workshops for K-12 teachers and administrators interested in developing their own school ethnobotanical gardens. Workshops may include, among other things, elements of garden design and maintenance, plant selection and care, and the development of instructional materials to meet Georgia Performance Standards in the natural and social sciences—always with a focus on plants of cultural importance to the people of Latin America, past and present.
Ethnobotanical Garden Workshops for the General Public
The LAEG is also well placed to develop workshops for the general public, providing instruction in the propagation and maintenance of non-invasive Latin American plant species for the Georgia landscape. Numerous perennial and annual plant species used in Latin America for food, spices, medicine, ornamentals and teas, are well suited for cultivation in North Georgia gardens, though most are not well known or easy to find through the traditional nursery trade.
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For more information about this initiative, opportunities to volunteer at the Garden, free K-12 or general public group tours at the Garden, and renting the Garden for your event, please contact Initiative Coordinator and LACSI Associate Director Paul Duncan.