A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
February 9, 2006 Volume 36 / Number 5


Gifts from the Earth: Ethnobotany

An Exploration of People and Plant Relations

The Museum of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Now July 21, 2006

Anthropology and Natural Science Collaborate for Plants and Humans Exhibit

“Gifts from the Earth: Ethnobotany—An Exploration of People and Plant Relations,” the new exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology, examines human and plant interactions within different cultures. The exhibit runs through July 21 and is open to the public in Langdon 315, Tuesday–Saturday, 11 am to 3 pm.

“The exhibit underscores the inherent value of all plants as energy factories on which all animal life depends,” said Adrienne Scott, museum curator. “Displays tell the stories of human co-evolution with some of the world’s most important plants.”

Students in Professor Stacy Shafer’s two-semester class in anthropology exhibit research, design, and installation are responsible for creating the exhibit from top to bottom, from research topics to constructing the individual displays. Jim Bauml, PhD, senior biologist at the Los Angeles Arboretum, was the guest instructor.

Shafer and her students worked closely with Wes Dempsey, professor emeritus, biological sciences; Kristina Schierenbeck, director of the Biological Sciences Herbarium; and Lawrence Janeway, curator of the herbarium.

From Maidu plant knowledge to the benefits reaped today from the surrounding agricultural landscape, the museum displays the ways humans and plants share the earth. The exhibit contains displays about foods, spices and flavorings, medicines, utilitarian uses of plants, and spiritual uses. In addition to its historical and cultural emphasis, the exhibit addresses the contemporary social, ethical, and legal issues such as genetic engineering, intellectual property rights, conservation, plant exploration, and bioprospecting.

“The exhibition posed new challenges, as the proper care of objects dictates that plants and especially bug-inhabited dirt cannot be used in a museum,” said Schaefer. “As a result, all plants have either been artistically re-created or artificial plants have been used to contribute to the wild growth atmosphere of the exhibit.