Ethnobotany Garden to bloom at Singapore Botanic Gardens

Before rice became a common staple in South-east Asia, the region's indigenous societies relied on starch from sago palms as their staple.

Sago starch was eaten after being mixed with boiling water, or as a pancake after being baked.

While some traditional societies in Indonesia are still known to consume the sago palm today, it is most widely consumed in Singapore these days as bubble tea pearls.

Nuggets of information on how plants like the sago palm are used by indigenous societies in South-east Asia will soon be on display at a new garden to be developed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Called the Ethnobotany Garden, it will look at how plants are used by indigenous societies and also exhibit plants used in South-east Asian cultures, the National Parks Board (NParks) said on Monday.

When completed late next year, the garden will boast of four zones where plants are categorised according to their traditional uses. These could be in craft and construction, or for domestic, medicinal or spiritual purposes.

Spanning approximately 1ha - about the size of 11/4 football fields - the garden will be the first of its kind in Singapore.

It will be built in the Botanic Gardens' Bukit Timah Core, complementing the existing gardens in the area such as the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden and the Trellis Garden.

The new garden's centrepiece will be a stream, lined with important ethnobotanical species, such as the Water Mimosa, which will be grown at the stream's edge. The plant is eaten as a vegetable by communities in the region.

Another prominent feature of the new garden will be four shelters that house displays of traditional handicraft. The shelters' designs are inspired by South-east Asian architecture, and will incorporate the use of traditional materials such as attap thatch and bamboo slats.

These shelters will serve as resting points for visitors, and may also be used as activity spaces.

NParks promises to make visitors' experience at the new garden an engaging one.

"The Ethnobotany Garden aims to provide visitors with an immersive experience through hands-on activities and tactile displays," said an NParks spokesman.

It will also offer a range of educational programmes and learning journeys, which will include workshops and guided tours, to provide insights on how various plants were used by cultures in the region.

NParks has called a tender for the development of the garden, and interested parties are required to submit their proposals by May 18. Work on the garden will start in the third quarter of this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2016, with the headline 'Ethnobotany Garden to bloom at S'pore Botanic Gardens'. Print Edition | Subscribe