October 16, 2007

University Museum to host Botany Quest

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A simple stroll on campus at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to look at plants has potential to lead to a discussion about what killed Abraham Lincoln's mother.

Botany Quest, billed as a "learning adventure," is a free, one-day University Museum program for students 15 years old and older. From 1 p.m. until about 2:30 p.m., participants conduct a field study. From about 2:45 until 4 p.m., they convene in the museum to express in art what they experienced. The program is set for Oct. 20, with Oct. 27 as a rain date.

Media Advisory

Photographers, reporters and camera crews may accompany the group on its field study or at University Museum for indoor activities. Call Bob DeHoet at 618/453-5388 for more information or directions.


But what do plants on campus have to do with Nancy Hanks Lincoln? Karen Frailey, assistant manager of the plant biology greenhouse, conducts the field study segment of the day's adventure. She explained that part of what makes this study of plants so interesting is the stories that go with them. Some plants have a particular smell if cut open, or are attached to a bit of folklore, or, in the case of the white snakeroot, can be deadly under certain conditions.

"The white snakeroot is a plant with little white flowers. It's blooming now, so I'm sure we'll see some," Frailey said. "In the old days, cattle would eat it if they couldn't find anything else in the pasture. It poisoned their milk – it wouldn't make them sick, but it made whoever drank the milk get sick or die. It was called milk poisoning. They didn't know then it was that plant, but that's what killed Abraham Lincoln's mother."

Frailey said learning little tidbits of history or anthropology or biology by taking time to observe the immediate environment is like putting a GIS map inside your head – it is layers of information that apply and enrich other layers.

During the field study, students will stop to sketch what they see. Frailey provides small plant presses for those who want to preserve a little of what they encounter. She said the field study encourages students to notice details in the world around them. Activities such as sketching and pressing foster the willingness not only to notice but also to appreciate those details.

Bob DeHoet, University Museum education director, said the program initially coincided with the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration that featured plants the explorers discovered. Participants of that program wanted more programs about plants, and the museum obliged with Botany Quest.

"There are fascinating plants all around us," DeHoet said. "We are often so caught up in our everyday lives that these plants are invisible to us. When we take a moment to slow down and take a look at the world, 'missing' plants suddenly appear."

DeHoet always encourages anyone even slightly interested in art to participate in University Museum programs. He said the programs are more about appreciating art than creating it – but creating it is a form of appreciating it.

"People who enjoy art may discover that plants provide more diverse opportunities for artistic expression than they thought," he said. "Plant journals, for instance, provide ample opportunity for artistic expression through observation."

The University Museum requires pre-registration for this free program. Maximum enrollment is 15 students. Call 618/453-5388 to register. The program begins at the University Museum in Faner Hall.