Plants for People: Biocultural Collections

Plant-based artifacts in the Missouri Botanical Garden's Biocultural Collection are tangible evidence of the ways that plants and people  interact. They are a valuable resource for understanding humanity’s biocultural heritage, and for the conservation of nature itself. They are also a means of preserving traditional knowledge, documenting livelihoods, and showing the lasting influence of ethnobotany on the diversity of human cultures.

In Spring 2022, we showcased the collections in the talk series Bioculture - Plants and People Interacting. This series is now complete, and recordings of many of the talks are available below:

Bioculture - Plants and People Interacting is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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What Are They?

Biocultural Collections represent the interchange between plants and people.

Objects made from plants or tools used to process plants are biocultural artifacts. They are both biological (especially botanical at the Missouri Botanical Garden) and cultural (revealing something about the art, history or societal traditions of the people who used them).

Historical documents and archival materials are an important part of Biocultural Collections.

Objects in the collections range from plant- based medicines to farming tools. They include household items, textiles, baskets, weapons, clothing, and decorative objects made from plants, and the tools used to make them. 

You will find hundreds of biocultural objects in your own home. 

Where Are They Around the World?

Map of biocultural collections

The Biocultural Collections Network has over 215 member institutions including botanical gardens, herbaria, natural history, anthropology, and cultural history museums, which span the globe.

The network represents a major resource for researching the interaction between people and plants.

What Are They Used For?

Biocultural Collections are used for research in botany, anthropology, history and art.

These collections are also important for education and public exhibits. Using objects and artifacts in Biocultural Collections to understand the history of how people have interacted with plants is an important tool for conservation. We learn how intrinsically linked we are to the natural world. We are reminded of the central role plants have in our lives not only as tools by also for food and medicine. 

These collections are also important for education and public exhibits. 

Do You Have Donations?

If you are willing to donate, let us know what objects/artifacts you have, as well as information about them. We would be happy to show you our new and growing Biocultural Collections.

Artifacts: Do you have objects that have something to do
with plants—either made from plant materials, used in growing, harvesting or processing plants, or documenting information about how people and plants interact? When you are willing to donate these, we would like to talk to you. You can even will them to us, so that you can keep them with you now.

Provenance: is the origin, derivation, source and background of an object, artifact, document, etc., and includes the story of how you acquired it. Provenance is extremely important as it traces the “life history” of an object. Any photographs, documents, or recordings you have about your object or about how it relates to plants, including the plant species, creates a full understanding of its importance to people.

Cultural context: To help us understand the cultural background of each object, include any stories, photos, documents, recordings, etc. This information helps explain the interactions between plants
and people.

General Biocultural Collections support: We are always grateful
for monetary support dedicated to our new and growing Biocultural Collections at the Missouri Botanical Garden. We have many needs for proper storage and curation of these collections.