Saturday, April 21, 2012

One Year Anniversary of the Ethnobotanic Tour at Kona Kai

On March 21st of this year, we celebrated both the one-year anniversary of the Gardens and of the first integral ethnobotanic tour I created for Garden visitors, which will hopefully expand to include several more. Because of this milestone, I took time to reflect upon the Tour over the past year and the many visitors I have had the pleasure of spending time with, talking about the ethnobotany of plants in our collections and the general importance of plants in our lives. One theme that really stood out to me is how frequently I would hear something like, "You know, my significant other dragged me along to go on this tour, but I really, really enjoyed this - it wasn't what I expected it to be and I didn't think I'd be learning so much." Some of the most enthusiastic reviews of the Tour have come from those with no real interest in plants or knowledge of them, but these are the people who often think that since they aren't "plant people," this tour isn't for them. I thought, "I've got to try and find a way to convey this is something you'll be really glad you took the time to do, even (and especially) if it's something you don't think you'd enjoy doing." In that spirit, I have written the following note, which we have also decided to post on our websites (Facebook,, and to get the word out. While it is tailored to visitors who are staying overnight in the Gardens in one of our rooms, it is certainly applicable to visitors who come to the Gardens just for the Tour. Staying for a few days/nights in the Gardens does, however, greatly enhance the experience, as you are able to spend more time contemplating the plants you have learned so much about and also benefit from other ways to learn more about the collections, such as the informative display labels and interactive smartphone "app." Enjoy the rest of the post and I hope to see you soon here at the Gardens!

Photo courtesy of Mike Hentz of the Key West Citizen newspaper.
So you’ve finally made it to Kona Kai for a long-anticipated vacation. Flip-flops and sunglasses are in the “ON” position and you’re ready to unwind. Perhaps you are planning on spending your vacation doing as many fun and interesting things at as many places as possible, or spending almost all your time here at Kona Kai, focusing on some serious relaxation.

You might recall Tracey or Denise mentioning something during your check-in about doing a tour of our Botanic Gardens with a guy named Rick who is some sort of ethnocalabalofrotanist (a.k.a. ethnobotanist). This was probably too much for your mind to handle at the moment, as you were probably busy thinking about what kind of delicious seafood you’re going to order; how soon you’ll be able to hop into one of our hammocks; or where you’ll be able to find piƱa colada ingredients and a good bottle of wine.

With all of the great things to do here during your vacation, it’s easy for a “garden tour” to fall by the wayside. However, whether you’re looking to do as much, or as little, as possible during your vacation, I highly recommend giving my tour a try. In over a year, I can honestly say I have had no one indicate to me through words or body language that they regretted taking the time to join me for a tour. I can, however, recall several times in which I have had guests tell me that my tour was the highlight of their vacation activities. Even if it doesn’t end up being THE highlight for you, I’m sure it will end up being something you won’t soon forget.

I want to clarify something when it comes to the “garden tour” here at Kona Kai - it is not a “garden tour.” You’re probably thinking AutoCorrect must have accidentally replaced “confuse” with “clarify” in the previous sentence, but allow me to explain. Yes, the tour does take place in a botanic garden, but the tour involves much more than what most people think of when they hear “garden tour” (i.e. me taking you down all the paths and telling you the names of our plants). While I will certainly mention the names of the plants we talk about, my tour experience involves much more.

My aim during this ethnobotanic tour is to enlighten you, in as entertaining and interactive a fashion as possible, about the crucial and indispensable roles plants have played and will continue to play in our survival and well-being, as well as open your eyes to the hidden wonders of plants to be found throughout our gardens. I guarantee you will learn more things than you’ll be able to remember and that these things will cause you to see plants and your relationship with them in a profound new way. If you’ve had a day or two to walk the grounds before taking the tour, you’ll walk it again and not only see the gardens, but experience them in a completely new and different way. What was once just a collection of passive, nameless green objects sometimes pretty to look at, becomes a space inhabited by living, breathing organisms that have names, stories to tell, fascinating complexity, beauty beyond the apparent and significant value to our daily lives.

So, I challenge you: give my tour a try. Come with an open mind and 90 minutes of your time set aside because, although I'm happy to give an abbreviated tour, I’ve toured enough visitors to know you’ll probably want to stay for the whole thing.

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director