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New Ethnobotany Garden to be developed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens will showcase plants used in Southeast Asian cultures

18 Apr 2016

18 April 2016 - The National Parks Board (NParks) today announced plans for the development of an approximately 1 hectare Ethnobotany Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This new themed garden will allow visitors to learn about plants used by indigenous cultures of Southeast Asia, including Singapore. The Ethnobotany Garden, the first of its kind in Singapore, will enhance visitor experience by providing insights into the various uses of plants in the region, and strengthen the Gardens’ position as a world-class botanic garden.


Development of the Ethnobotany Garden will complement the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ UNESCO World Heritage status, supporting its Outstanding Universal Value by showcasing its unrivalled collections of economic, medicinal and ethnobotanical plants, the largest such collection in Southeast Asia. This new garden feature will also enhance the Gardens’ role as an educational provider, which is in line with UNESCO’s mission.


The Ethnobotany Garden will be set up in the Bukit Timah Core and located at an area historically known as the Economic Garden. This section of the Gardens was traditionally used for experimenting with plants with potential commercial uses, many of which were first derived from traditional uses.


Showcase of plants used by indigenous cultures of Southeast Asia

The over 150-year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens, our nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, has a rich tradition in the research and conservation of plants. One significant aspect of this work is the study of how plants are used by indigenous societies, which is known as ethnobotany. The Gardens has made invaluable contributions to this body of knowledge, through publications such as A Dictionary of Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, written by its former director and botanist, Henry Burkill. The Ethnobotany Garden will thus continue the Gardens’ legacy in sharing with visitors the knowledge of the various uses of plants.


With the Ethnobotany Garden, the public will not only have the opportunity to find out more about traditional and commercial uses of plants native to Southeast Asia, but also gain a better understanding of the Gardens’ important historical role in the introduction and promotion of many plants of economic value to the region. In addition, visitors will be able to learn about how early settlers made use of plants in their local culture and daily life. For example, sago starch, which is used to make bubble tea pearls today, was a staple food for many indigenous cultures of Southeast Asia and Oceania before the introduction of rice.


NParks will also offer a range of educational programmes and learning journeys related to ethnobotany. These include workshops and guided tours to enhance the immersive experience and to provide insights into how indigenous Southeast Asian cultures made use of the various plants in the region.


When completed, the public can explore the four zones of the Garden where plants will be categorised according to their traditional uses – craft and construction, domestic (cooking, clothing and other everyday uses), medicinal, and spiritual purposes. One of the prominent collections in the garden will include different types of bamboos used for the making of tools and in construction. 


In addition, a stream lined with important ethnobotanical species growing in their natural habitat will be a focal point of the Garden. It will showcase useful plants that are not usually cultivated. Aquatic species including the Water Mimosa (Neptunia oleracea), and Akar Paku (Stenochlaena palustris) will be grown at the water’s edge. Both plants are eaten as vegetables by communities in Southeast Asia. Tree species such as the Teruntum Bunga Puteh (Lumnitzera racemosa) and Teruntum Merah (Lumnitzera littorea), which produce attractive white and red flowers respectively and are sought after for marine construction works, will also be grown around the stream.


Immersive experience for visitors

The Ethnobotany Garden aims to provide visitors with an immersive experience through hands-on activities and tactile displays. The Garden will have four shelters with displays of traditional handicraft made from plants which will also serve as resting points for visitors. The designs are inspired by Southeast Asian architecture and will feature the use of materials such as attap thatch and woven bamboo slats. The shelters will also serve as activity spaces for related programmes.


Interpretative signs will be installed around the Garden to provide visitors with more information on the plant species such as their special characteristics and uses.


NParks has called for the tender for the development of the Ethnobotany Garden today. Interested companies are required to submit their proposals by 18 May 2016. The appointed firm will be announced in Q3 2016.


The development, which will be sensitively carried out, will commence in Q3 2016 and is expected to take about a year. The Garden is scheduled to be completed in late 2017.

Last updated on 16 July 2021

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