Ethnobotany garden that shows how plants are used in South-east Asia opens at Singapore Botanic Gardens

A rock mural painted by artist Yip Yew Chong at the Singapore Botanic Gardens ' new ethnobotany Garden that was opened on June 30, 2018. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Another rock mural by artist Yip Yew Chong at the new Ethnobotany Garden. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

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.

The interior of the Centre for Ethnobotany, where exhibitions and displays inform visitors about the plants used by the indigenous cultures of South-east Asia. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

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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