Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Tour

Sometimes when I tell a guest about the tours I give here at the Gardens, they will say something about how they are not really a "plant person." If you can relate to this, then you, sir/madam, are exactly the type of person I especially want to take on a tour. Don't get me wrong, "plant people" love the tours and I very much enjoy touring people who know their plants, but I especially enjoy the reactions I get from people who know little about them.

Joe, our Gardens' Director, who has only a relatively newfound interest in plants and no formal education in Botany is a great example of this. At one time he couldn't have cared less about plants and probably would have been one to choose to skip the tour during his vacation, but after coming across some ways in which people depend on plants, he became the botanical version of a born-again Christian. One day at work, I remember he excitedly asked me, "Rick! Did you know plants make themselves completely from only water, sunlight, air, and a few ounces of soil and that they are ultimately the source of all our food???" To which I responded, "Yes..." as though he had just asked if I knew that he has two legs and sleeps at night. To him, learning something like this about plants is a sort of revelation, and although I probably felt similarly when I first learned about the same thing, I (as well as other plant people) have known it for so long that it is something I take for granted.

This orchid in our orchid house doesn't even use soil - it produces this incredibly colorful and profuse bloom from just air, water, and sunlight. Veritable alchemy!
Last year saw the development of the introductory ethnobotanical tour here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, which focuses on the way people use and depend upon plants today and throughout history, as well as some of the fascinating morphological and ecological aspects of the diverse range of tropical plants in our collections. Over 250 guests and visitors have taken this introductory tour since its inception last year and the abundance of positive feedback from both "plant people" and "non-plant people" has been extremely encouraging. I've had plenty of people like Joe who have been overwhelmed by fascination and newfound appreciation for plants as well as many a veteran gardener who ended up learning more than a few interesting things, which, as one guest said, "is rare for me these days."

Food made from the underground stem of the coontie plant (Zamia integrifolia) was one of the only things soldiers gassed in World War I could eat shortly afterwards without vomiting.
Motivated by such feedback, I have been developing a second tour for those who have already taken the first and are hungry for more. This tour focuses less on how people use plants and more on the similarities between plants and people, especially when it comes to our senses. Most of the time, we live as if plants aren't much more than rocks, but I hope this tour will lead to an appreciation of just how alive and active plants are as well as the many parallels that can be drawn between plants and people.  The tour also incorporates ways in which we are dependent upon one another on a global scale, in contrast to the more specialized local scales explored in the first tour. The feedback so far from this tour has been just as good as that from the first, and it has in many cases led to some great philosophical questions and discussions along the way, which our guests have had a great time exploring further long after the tour is over.

The tendrils of the skyflower vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) have an observable sense of touch - they coil around any nearby objects they find.
I hope you'll find the time to take a tour with me during your next stay with us here at Kona Kai. You can also take a tour even if you aren't staying with us - call our Front Desk at (305) 852-7200 for details.

Hope to see you soon!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

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