Abstract Detail

Education and Outreach

Gershberg, Nicholas [1], Callahan, Hilary [2].

When a Plant Ignores a Pandemic: Making a Big Stink On-line.

It is a rare and marvelous occasion when a botanical conservatory acquires an endangered titan arum, the dignified euphemism for the corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum, a member of Araceae. It is even rarer and more marvelous, and an emblem of horticultural excellence, to coax one to bloom. The approximately 10-year-old specimen in Barnard College's Arthur Ross Greenhouse opted to bloom in April through June of 2020, smack in the middle of the New York City epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were determined that our educational outreach would match nature's tendency to persist and even thrive in times of human hardship. We scrambled to emulate much larger and better-resourced botanical institutions who pioneered the use of time-lapse and on-line live-streamed video to make the event accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Unable to throw our doors open to the general public, we found creative ways to share. Via our already-popular @barnardgreenhouse Instagram, we incorporated live streaming plus artistic photography, fashion, poetry, music, history, languages, and an international naming contest to maximize inclusion. In parallel, to engage stakeholders with more scientific sophistication, we developed content and hosted an on-line summer workshop to showcase the interdisciplinarity of plant biology, curating up-to-date investigations of the species' ecophysiology and cell biology, chemical ecology and biochemistry, and even its use in computational neuroscience. We also carefully refined our presentation of standard topics such as tropical biogeography, systematics and taxonomy, ethnobotany, morphology, pollination and reproductive ecology, and conservation biology. We emphasized  the role of the species as "charismatic megaflora" serving as a "canary in the coal mine" to warn against deforestation, climate alteration, overharvesting and other woes. We also highlighted the exploitative colonialist aspects of "discovering" any tropical plant taxa, the underpinning of any species spreading into cultivation in European and American botanical institutions. Lastly, we highlight how collaboration, crowd-sourcing and internet-based publicity foster #plantlove, uplifting and uniting the general public, lay horticulturalists and science communicators with professional educators, researchers and botanical horticulturalists who are increasingly adept at nurturing and sharing this and other superlative species. 

Related Links:
Ross Greenhouse Instagram @barnardgreenhouse

1 - Barnard College, Columbia University, Ross Greenhouse, Biology Department, 3009 Broadway, New York, NY, 10027, USA
2 - Barnard College, Biology Department, 3009 Broadway, New York, NY, 10027, United States

botanical horticulture
Tropical Biology
ex situ conservation
botanical history

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Session: EO1, Education and Outreach II: Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs), COVID
Location: Virtual/Virtual
Date: Tuesday, July 28th, 2020
Time: 1:00 PM
Number: EO1003
Abstract ID:809
Candidate for Awards:None

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