If plants could speak they will boast about being part of remedies such as the common aspirin to a leukaemia drug derived from the rosy periwinkle. Over a quarter of western medicines contain plant toxins some deriving from tropical forest species. Forest plants have been the source of the most effective drugs in the history of pharmacology but only two per cent have been screened for their pharmaceutical potential.
The Social Life of Plants, a one day event, as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science (6th to 15th March), will reveal the links between humans and plants. Hands-on activities like basket weaving, growing your own herb garden, exhibitions and films will give members of the public the chance to rediscover the fundamentals of a plant life. Anthropologists and Ethnobotanists will explore how plants affect the lives of individuals around the world, in medicine, food, materials and rituals.
As well as bringing people and plants together, the many entertaining and informative films on show will look at the fascinating and often overlooked facts on plants. One such film, Seeds of Plenty, Seeds of Sorrow, will show the more problematic side of the green revolution and the damage it has done to the social structure and ecologies of developing countries.
Practitioners and researchers of the event hope that the social life of plants will be an inspiration for people of all ages and create a sense of excitement about plants and their place in our lives. We tend to forget the use plants in our everyday life, from our daily hot drink, the colour of the jumper we wear, ingredients in our food to the medicine we take.
2009 is a big year for botany with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Darwin’s observations so many years ago contributed to the groundbreaking understanding of plant biodiversity. This event also compliments, the Royal Anthropological Institute’s educational outreach programme, where 14-19 year old, deal with above issues as part of the national curriculum.