Patricia Hulse is the Director of the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden at The New York Botanical Garden.
Visitors are enjoying a virtual ethnobotanical tour of plants indigenous to Africa when they step inside the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden’s Discovery Center this month. Family Programs Coordinator Arvolyn Hill has developed an innovative set of hands-on activities that celebrate Black History Month by exploring the important connections African Americans have with plants that we use in our everyday lives.
“I really wanted to highlight the unknown stories and influence of the African diaspora on the plant world,” said Hill. “I majored in pan-African studies and I went to herbalism school after that. So it was bringing two things I love together. To develop the program, I started doing lots of research, talking to herbalists, reading about plants native to Africa. The challenge was teaching about black history without it feeling too much like a lecture, making sure that it’s hands-on and focused on sensory learning. We wanted the activities to be engaging for the visitors and also teach them something new about black people in the plant world.”
Through these activities and rich conversations about plants, history and identity unfold. Connections among family members to their Caribbean and African cultures are especially deep at the seed investigation station. Children glue seeds like okra, tamarind, and coffee to a map of Africa to learn how these plants traveled with the diaspora on slave ships to the Americas. Kids crack open tamarind pods and dig the seeds from the fleshy fruit to glue them onto their maps, and many children are excited to discover the plant parts used in the tamarind paste or candy they eat at home.
Another activity helps children discover Adire, the traditional Nigerian fabric dyeing techniques of the Yoruba. Each child then tie-dyes their own small pouch using indigo. Children also learn more about African medicinal uses of plants through the story of the freed slave Cesar. Cesar was renowned throughout colonial South Carolina as a traditional African healer. Children follow Cesar’s recipe to soothe bug bites using oil and dried plantain leaves (Plantago major) to craft their own herbal remedy to use at home. Children can also design their own zine inspired by the plant bulletins of George Washington Carver, and be inspired to adopt a tree by the story of Nobel Peace Prize-winner and conservationist Wangari Mathai.
Our teen Explainers are enjoying sharing these new and engaging experiences with visitors. They have been seeing families coming back on subsequent visits to do the activities again or spend time reading in our library corner. Children’s Garden staff have curated a selection of new and engaging children’s literature about scientists, environmentalists, and other amazing African American heroes as well as stories that feature African American characters engaged with plants, science, and nature. Stop by the Discovery Center on weekday afternoons and all day on weekends, including our Monday opening this President’s Day, to join us in celebrating Black History Month: Rooted in Plants through March 1.