Tropical plants provide unique examples of biological processes and they also hold important keys to future discoveries in medicine, nutrition, agriculture, forestry, and resource management. Understanding of these plants lays the groundwork for their preservation. It is through the process of learning that connections are forged between human beings and their environment.
NTBG’s Education Program is multifaceted and multileveled, reaching out to wide audiences. Underlying each of the components of the Education Program is a commitment to promote public understanding of tropical plants and their ecosystems, as well as traditional knowledge and practices.
An important aspect of NTBG’s commitment to education is training future botanists, ethnobotanists, and horticulturists. College- and university-level horticultural interns participate in a 10-12 week work-study program for students intending to pursue careers in horticulture, botany, conservation, and other related fields. Many past graduates of NTBG’s horticulture programs now have leadership positions in all of these areas. An ethnobotany course for graduate-level students explores the role of plants in indigenous societies and provides training in practical techniques for ethnobotanical research.
Responding to an acknowledged need to improve the quality of science teaching in the classroom, innovative courses have been established that are specifically designed for school science teachers and college professors. The course for science teachers provides instruction in tropical biology and helps them to develop approaches to be used in their classrooms to stimulate their students’ interest in science and promote learning. College professors as well benefit from new approaches to enliven their introductory biology courses for undergraduates. Given examples of how plants can be used to illustrate concepts of form and function, evolution, and conservation, they develop innovative teaching modules to be shared and implemented in their classrooms.
Closest to home, NTBG education programs for Hawaii’s schoolchildren endeavor to promote interest in science through an appreciation of the plants that surround them and the importance of these plants to their cultural heritage. The programs are designed to interface with the established school curriculum standards. The Junior Restoration Team program introduces conservation education to middle and high school students. Through their hands-on participation in restoration projects, students develop a compelling understanding of the threats posed to endemic plants and their habitats while promoting environmental stewardship. The hope is that in addition to the contribution these students make, some of them will be inspired to pursue careers in horticulture or conservation.
NTBG education programs also reach out to professionals working in fields in which knowledge of tropical botany can equip them with tools that will enhance their ability to practice their profession. Environmental journalists in all media are provided with a deep background in tropical ecology that augments their understanding of science and environmental issues, enabling them to report on these issues with greater accuracy. Physicians and other medical professionals increasingly treat patients who use herbal remedies. NTBG imparts understanding of the herbal products their patients may be using in conjunction with other medical treatments, which allows healthcare providers to be vigilant for potentially harmful interactions.
Public lectures and workshops allow us to reach a large cross-section of the local community, as well as visitors to the area. Lectures are usually focused on a single topic, such as a research discovery or the flora of a particular tropical region. Speakers include Garden staff and visiting scientists. Hands-on workshops teach participants a particular skill or art -- from pruning to traditional weaving with plant materials.
Tours of NTBG’s gardens offer another opportunity to reach out with information on tropical plants and their threatened state. While providing an enjoyable experience in a beautiful setting is always a distinct objective, education forms the basis of our public tour offerings. Interpretive materials facilitate individual understanding of plants, ecosystems, and cultural or modern uses, with the outcome being a deeper appreciation for plant life overall.