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New Ethnobotany Garden with complementary Centre for Ethnobotany opens at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

29 Jun 2018

First Centre for Ethnobotany in a botanic garden will strengthen the Garden’s role in botanical research


The National Parks Board (NParks) today opened the approximately 1 hectare Ethnobotany Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. This new themed garden is the first in Singapore where visitors can learn about plants used by indigenous cultures of Southeast Asia. The garden includes a Centre for Ethnobotany which complements the outdoor landscape with an interpretive exhibition of artefacts and interactive elements. The Centre will also manage a research programme for ethnobotany[1], strengthening the Gardens’ position as the premier tropical botanical research institute.

The Ethnobotany Garden is in the Gardens’ Bukit Timah Core and located at an area historically known as the Economic Garden. This section of the Gardens was previously a space for experimentation with plants that had potential commercial applications, many of which were first derived from traditional uses.

Development of the Ethnobotany Garden is aligned with 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 enhances the Gardens’ role as an educational provider, which is in line with UNESCO’s mission.

The opening also kick-starts festivities for the annual Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Festival which will return from 30 June to 8 July 2018.

Strengthening the Gardens’ position in tropical botanical research

To kickstart the research programme, researchers from the Singapore Botanic Gardens will collaborate with Nanyang Technological University’s Asian School of the Environment on two locally-based research projects.  The first will be focused on the local Singaporean markets to record the different uses of less familiar vegetables, fruits and spices according to their cultural significance. The information collected from interviews with the stall holders will be used to build a database and the knowledge, shared with the public. This will be done through videos and talks conducted at the Centre for Ethnobotany. The second project will be based on Pulau Ubin.  More details will be released later.

Showcase of plants used by indigenous cultures of Southeast Asia

The Ethnobotany Garden features plants that are native to Southeast Asia which are traditionally used in four areas – living, symbolism, medicinal and craft purposes. This is the largest such collection in Southeast Asia. Various artefacts that reflect the different aspects of indigenous living are also displayed throughout the garden.

The Centre for Ethnobotany within the Ethnobotany Garden further highlights the roles plants have played in shaping the world we know today. The two-storey centre is organised according to three themes – plants shaping the region and beyond; the cornucopia of the botanical world; and, preserving indigenous knowledge. It aims to provide visitors with an immersive experience through interactive displays, artefacts and information panels.

With the Ethnobotany Garden, the public will 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.

Community support key to extending the Gardens’ heritage

Various contributors from the community have helped to enrich the development of the Ethnobotany Garden. These include Ms Aileen Toh from Singapore Sculpture Society who created sculptures depicting indigenous people, with the use of salvaged tree logs from within the Gardens. Another contributor is regular park visitor Ms Serene Koh, who commissioned artist Mr Yip Yew Chong to do a series of four murals.

Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Festival returns from 30 June to 8 July

In conjunction with the opening of the Ethnobotany Garden, the Gardens returns with its annual Heritage Festival, featuring some of the plants used by indigenous cultures of Southeast Asia, including Singapore. Over the next two weekends, activities and programmes will be spread across the Gardens. Highlights of the festival include a carnival with stalls selling plants, games and food, free concerts and movie screenings at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, as well as educational tours around the Gardens. The cafes and restaurants in the Gardens will also be rolling out promotional menus and organising programmes in celebration of the Gardens’ rich heritage, featuring some of the edible plants. For a full list of activities during the Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Festival, please refer to the Annex.

[1] Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious and other uses.


Annex: Activities for Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Festival

Last updated on 09 July 2018

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