2.1.6. Ethnobotanical themes


Ethnobotany the study of human use of plants has always been of interest and is becoming a major theme of many botanic gardens around the world. The use of Australian plants by people, both in Australia and elsewhere, is an interesting study and, when carefully interpreted, makes a fascinating topic for visitors to botanic gardens.

In recognition of the increasing interest in preserving Aboriginal knowledge of plants and their uses, a self-guiding Aboriginal plants trail was established in 1974, passing through the lower part of the Gardens in Canberra. Plants were collected, propagated and planted especially for this trail. Interpretive signs were placed near plants that are known to have been used by Aboriginal people for food, medicine, tools or shelter. The trail was later revitalised, and information about the plant species displayed and the ways in which they were used was sought from representatives of the local Aboriginal community. A trail dealing specifically with Aboriginal use of plants was also planned for the Jervis Bay site but it was not established. This is now to be developed as an interpretive theme along existing trails.

A display of Australian species that have become weeds overseas was established in Canberra. Seeds of these species were obtained from the countries in which the plants had become weeds.

Management prescriptions


The objective is to develop further interpretive displays of plants of ethnobotanical interest.


A wide range of plants of ethnobotanical interest is already in cultivation at the Gardens and considerable scope exists for the provision of additional educational and interpretive material about the importance of these plants in human development. Aspects of ethnobotany identified for further attention are the use of native plants by early settlers, medicinal plants, and plants of current economic significance, such as plants used for timber, fodder, fibre and oils. Further research will be undertaken to identify species that can be grown successfully at the Gardens and efforts will be made to bring into cultivation those species not yet represented.

Better liaison with and greater involvement of Aboriginal people in ethnobotanical projects will be encouraged.