On March 7th 2009, the RAI in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew hosted an event called The Social Life of Plants at Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory. The event brought together anthropologists and ethnobotanists to demonstrate the (often overlooked) interconnections between the lives of plants and people.  The Social Life of Plants gave participants an opportunity to meet researchers, share their knowledge and experience and explore how plants affect the lives of people around the world in medicine, food, materials and rituals.

The event was a great success with over 600 attendees including children, parents, gardeners, educators, students, social scientists and plenty of other plant enthusiasts! The event was organised by RAI's Education Officer, Nafisa Fera and Film Officer, Susanne Hammacher in collaboration with Professor Monique Simmonds and Dr. Mark Nesbitt from Kew.

The event consisted of the following exhibitions and film screenings:


Basket making Demonstrations

Organisers: Chrstine Brewster (Berkshire) and Mary Butcher (University of Kent)

Participants were able to learn how to make their own baskets and find out the importance of basket weaving in historical and contemporary contexts.



British Medicinal Plants

Organisers: Tom Prescott and Monique Simmonds (Kew)

Participants were able to investigate the properties and uses of medicinal plants at Kew.




Edible Greens from Weeds

Organisers: Gordon Hillman and colleagues

Participants were able to learn about a wide range of edible 'weeds' that grow and in the British countryside and sample a selection of these wild delicacies.



British Home Gardens

Organiser: Simon Platten (University of Kent)

Participants were able to learn about the wide range of plant species that can be found in home gardens and how to increase biodiversity in their backyard.



Plant Cultures

Organisers: Jill Turner (Kew) and Sally Cunningham (Leicester)

This exhibit taught participants about the history and living traditions of 25 plants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Click here to find out more about Plant Cultures.




Garden Africa


Participants learned about nutritious food and medicinal plants that exist in southern Africa.




The Baobab Tree

Organiser: Christine Buchmann (BOKU)

This exhibit demonstrated the importance of this great tree and how it is used for many different purposes by communities in Africa.



The Argan Tree of Morocco

Organiser: Rachel Kaleta (University of Kent)

Participants were able to learn how argan oil is made, its beneficial properties, its importance to communities in Morocco and sample its rich flavour.



Chamomiles in the Basque Country

Organiser: Rocio Alarcon

This exhibit taught participants about the many types of chamomile that exist in the Basque Country and how to tell the difference between the commercialised product and the wild plant.



Traditional Chinese Medicine

Organisers: Christine Leon (Kew) and Debbie Shaw (Medical Toxicology Unit, Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital

Participants were able to learn about a selection of Chinese herbal remedies, their healing qualities and their botanical compositions.



Supporting Forest People

Organiser: Jerome Lewis (UCL)

This exhibition demonstrated how forest people in Cameroon use digital technology based on ethnographic research to help them map their resources and monitor illegal logging.



The Journey from Plant to Food

Organisers: Nafisa Fera and Susanne Hammacher (RAI)

Participants were able to test their knowledge in identifying certain foods, and find out where these foods are produced internationally.



University of Kent at Canterbury

Organisers: current students 

This information stall taught participants about the Ethnnobotany Masters Degree which is offered at Kent in conjunction with Kew. 




Organisers: students from the Textile Conservation Centre

World Textiles and plant fibres- striking textiles and fibres were showcased from Kew's Economic Botany Collection.






Throughout the event there were film screenings running alongside the exhibition stalls.

11:15 The Healing Forest, 40 mins, 1996

12:00 Jungle Pharmacy, 52 mins, 1988

13:00 The Shaman's Apprentice, 54 mins, 2001

14:00 Medicinal Plants in the Hidden Land of Dolpo, 26 mins, 2001

15:00 Serious Rhubarb, 29 mins, 1999

In addition to the exhibitions and the film screenings participants were able to enjoy the wonderful gardens at Kew.

Take a look at our Food and Plants Connecting People through the Ages Exhibition from our exploring the archives series. 




Take a look at our Social Life of Plants photo gallery on Flickr!


Download the Social Life of Plants Poster and Event Programme to find out more about the event.