Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Importance of Our "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants™", or TYUP, Tour

Here at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, we provide a garden tour to visitors as a way to experience the Gardens. This is not simply a standard garden tour showing off our collections, but an educational tour describing how important plants are to our lives from centuries past to the present day and into the future.

Leading visitors through the Gardens on our tour provides a way for me to share my knowledge and love of plants. Not only do I get to talk to people about plants (one of my favorite topics!) but it also provides a welcome break from the office and a chance to be rejuvenated outdoors, which is part of our mission: Education - Restoration - Transformation. Nearly everyone comes to the Gardens with some connection to plants, usually with experience growing houseplants or gardening, and I try to build on that existing appreciation. For those who join the tour with no previous experience with plants, I can really start to open their eyes. I stress the importance of plants to our lives, our environment, and the future of both. By sharing information on human uses of plants over the centuries (ethnobotany), current uses of plants in technological applications, and how plants are more like humans than we realize, I hope to transform our visitors’ understanding of plants. This is the essence of the visitor experience at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Instead of seeing plants as simply a green backdrop or landscaping tool I hope they will be seen as our vital green lifeline. 

I also hope to change the perception that we (humans) are masters of our domain and here to rule the world, taking whatever we want from the plentiful bounty of nature. We know that the reserves of nature are not limitless and we are running into shortages of many fundamental components for our survival: fresh water, fish, arable land, to name a few. We are part of the biosphere and all organisms are interdependent on each other for survival. Certain endangered species may disagree with me if they could talk. They may consider humans to be the biggest threat to their survival, the biggest weed on the planet, and I tend to agree with them. However, looking at it from a different point of view, I realize that many species rely on us. Domesticated animals, hybrid plants, heirloom variety vegetables and flowers are all organisms we have created through centuries of genetic engineering. Would these organisms persist if we were not here to tend them? Also, we have introduced so many  biological "weeds" to different environments (think Brazilian pepper trees and kudzu vine, sprawling urban development, Ambrosia beetles, etc. ), we must work to eliminate these threats and save the endangered species and habitats they threaten. Although it is self-serving to promote saving the environment for the sole benefit of our species and disregarding the rest of the species on the planet, it is a useful approach it it will teach people how important ecological health is.

Plants are essential to our existence and in order to preserve and protect them and the ecosystems they build and support, we need to see them for their true value and worth. Short of having a fully functioning farm to showcase our agricultural systems and the food we rely on for survival, or an entire watershed with oxygen (O2) production, carbon (CO2) sequestration, and water and nutrient cycling highlighted, or a trip into the atmosphere to see the full extent of the oceans and the large amount of Obeing produced by marine algae (estimated at over 70% of Oproduction for the planet), I work with our 21st century collection at the Gardens to educate on a more intimate scale.

Many times, the tour is too short to convey all the information I want to share. Vistors have so many great questions, as well. There are many stories about the plants in our Gardens that cannot be covered due to time constraints so I suggest to visitors that they learn more about them from our website, www.kkbg.org. Our website is full of information, videos, photos of the plants in bloom, and will keep you occupied, entertained, and engrossed for quite a while. It is a great way to experience part of the Gardens at home and a way we are able to reach a broader, global audience. We frequently update our featured videos and articles in the 21st Century Botany section and a new feature of a virtual garden tour is in the works for 2015, so stay tuned. Of course, there is nothing quite like our TYUP so the next time you are in Key Largo or planning a vacation to the Florida Keys, please come in for a tour and experience it for yourself.

Emily B. Magnaghi, M.S.
Associate Director