Plant Talk

The Hand Lens Explores Black Botany

Posted in History & People on February 28, 2020, by Matt Newman

An illustration of Edmond Albius

Edmond Albius, by Antoine Roussin, 1863. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NYPL. Albius discovered how to hand-pollinate vanilla orchid flowers, producing vanilla beans.

Throughout Black History Month, The Hand Lens—a home for the many stories told by NYBG’s historic collections in the Steere Herbarium and beyond—has hosted a new series of posts exploring the complex relationship between enslaved Black people, nature, and the colonial environment, and examining the conscious omission of Black knowledge of the natural world.

Coinciding with Black Botany: The Nature of Black Experience, an exhibition of relevant collections in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library that runs through the end of March, Rashad Bell and Nuala Caomhanach (Collection Maintenance Associate and Humanities Mellon Fellow at NYBG, respectively) wrote on such varied topics as how modern museums engage with a history where racism, science, and colonial power were inherently entwined; the place of the cotton plant in the history of slavery and the shaping of America; the complex legacy of George Washington Carver; and other examinations of some of the people, plants, impacts, and experiences that figure in Black botanical history.

As we close out Black History Month with the end of February, visit The Hand Lens to explore these stories for yourself, and see the collections they reference here in the Mertz Library while the exhibition continues through the end of March 2020.

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