Managed by the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute (LACSI) since officially opening in October of 1998, the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden (LAEG) is a unique green space behind Baldwin Hall on UGA’s north campus. The Garden was started as an interdisciplinary initiative developed by emeritus professors Brent and Elois Ann Berlin—co-directors of the Anthropology Department’s Laboratories of Ethnobiology—and their graduate students. Construction of the Garden and its continued maintenance is made possible thanks to the longstanding support provided by the Exposition Foundation, the Katherine John Murphy Foundation, the UGA Facilities Management Division, donors like Iwee Paterson, a Smyrna, GA resident who donated the LAEG greenhouse, and the Buckhead Men’s Garden Club.
The LAEG was initially constructed to research the horticultural requirements of medicinal plants used by the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya of highland Chiapas, Mexico, and to focus attention on the need for the conservation of plant biodiversity and traditional plant knowledge. It has since expanded to include some 150 culturally important plants found throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and serves as a resource for instruction, community outreach, and research.
As its name implies, the LAEG emphasizes the field of ethnobotany—the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous (native) plants. Plants provide food, medicine, shelter, dyes, fibers, oils, resins, gums, soaps, waxes, latex, and tannins. Many native peoples also use plants in ceremonial or spiritual rituals. Researchers from disciplines as varied as anthropology, botany, conservation biology, ecology, geography, horticulture, sociology, and pharmacology work in the field of ethnobotany. To date, UGA faculty from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education, the College of Environment and Design, and the Odum School of Ecology have integrated LAEG tours into undergraduate course curricula.