Middle school students and teachers of the World Language Academy, Gainesville, GA visited the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden during fall 2016 and 2018 to learn about plants of cultural importance in Latin America.
LACSI associate director and LAEG Manager Paul Duncan demonstrates the “Cornus test” to middle school students visiting the garden. The elastic veins of Cornus (dogwood) tree species leaves, allowing one to separate portions of the leaves while they stay attached, is a fun tool to identify species of this genus. This is Cornus excelsa, a highland Chiapas species used by the Maya for tool handles and fence posts. The leaves are used medicinally to treat head lice.
A neat, flowering clump of Tagetes lucida grows next to the central Island at the LAEG. Also known as Mexican tarragon or pericón in Spanish, the crushed leaves have a pleasant odor of anise/black licorice. The plant was used by the Mexica (Aztecs) in a ritual incense known as Yauhtli and today is a popular medicinal plant in Mexico/Central America, commonly used as a tea to relieve digestive ailments.
There are numerous species of Salvia growing in the LAEG. Here, a Jackson County middle school student holds her harvest of Salvia elegans (pineapple sage) flowers picked from the plants behind her. Edible and sweet, these flowers make nice garnishes in salads, desserts, and drinks. Found in the pine-oak forested mountains of southern Mexico and Guatemala, the crushed leaves of this Salvia smell of pineapple. The plant is used in traditional medicine to relieve stress/anxiety, lower blood pressure, and treat indigestion.
Not your typical morning glory. This is Ipomoea carnea, aka Mexican bush morning glory. The plant can reach 6-8 feet in height and flowers from late summer through first freeze. Cultivated throughout tropical Latin America as an ornamental and for its ethnobotanical utility, the plant’s hollow stems have been used in Brazil for tobacco pipes. This seed of this plant also has a history of traditional uses for divination.
Here, a cloudless sulphur butterfly probes the nectar-rich flowers of Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii. Known as both Mexican flame and hummingbird bush, the plant is frequented by butterflies and hummingbirds throughout the summer and fall. Native to south-central Texas into adjacent northern Mexico, the plant is a reliably drought-tolerant perennial mostly grown as an ornamental.
Monarch butterly probing for nectar on a Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) bloom.
A Gulf fritillary butterfly feasts on nectar from a Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican Sunflower) bloom in the LAEG. Native to Mexico and Central America, in North Georgia this plant grows as an annual. Both Tithonia rotundifolia and T. diversifolia have been studies for their antimicrobial activity against bacterial and fungal species.
Salvia leucantha in full autumn bloom. Called Cordón de Jesús in Mexico, a flower infusion of the plant is sometimes used to treat Susto or Espanto, an illness associated with physical symptoms when the soul leaves the body.
A common and beneficial garden spider, this is a Green Lynx Spider resting on a Tithonia bloom.
Ipomoea carnea or Mexican Bush Morning Glory
LACSI associate director and LAEG Manager Paul Duncan speaking to visitors during one of the LAEG many educational activities.
In full bloom throughout the late summer and fall, this is Poliomentha longiflora or Mexican oregano. Native to arid portions of northern Mexico, it is primarily a culinary herb or for teas. Llike many plants in the Lamiaceae (mint) family, it is antimicrobial and loaded with antioxidants.
A 4-foot high clump of Piper auritum (hoja santa) grows along the LAEG central Island. Like Tagetes lucida adjoining it, hoja santa leaves have a fragrant scent of anise when crushed. In Mexican lore the name hoja santa, or sacred leaf, comes from a belief that the Virgin Mary using the plant to dry the washed diapers of baby Jesus. The leaf is used in Mexico and Central America for inflammation and stomach pains and the plant is commonly used in cooking, adding flavor to tamales and mole verde.
A Mexican Yucca species thrives on the LAE Garden hill slope.
Yucca schotii ranges from Northern Mexico (Sonora and Chihuahua) to the deserts of the Southwestern United States. This tree-forming yucca has traditionally been used for centuries by indigenous groups for fiber to make rope, sandals and cloth. Saponin-containing leaves are said to contain anti-inflammatory properties.
A newly planted Yucca on the LAE Garden hill slope sits next to a Cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia imbricate).
This herbaceous perennial growing in the LAEG during the summer months is non other than Stevia rebaudiana, better known as simply Stevia. While relatively new as a sugar substitute throughout the developed world, the Guaraní people off Paraguay and Brazil have used it for centuries to sweeten drinks, particularly yerba mate tea. As the image suggests, bees are attracted to the plant’s nectar-rich flowers.
Growing 20’ or more in height during a typical growing season, a Musa basjoo (Japanese fiber banana) looms over the LAEG greenhouse in fall 2018. As its common name suggests, the plant was used in Asia to produce textiles but it is native to China. Bananas are in the LAEG because of their historical and current importance commercially throughout the Americas.
A Dhalia variety in flower at the UGA LAE Garden. The Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico.
This is Tagetes lucida, a shrubby, perennial marigold from Mexico and Central America. The anise-scented leaves are used in Mesoamerica to brew a tea said to calm the stomach and kill intestinal parasites. Bundles of flowers from the plant are also placed each year on Day of the Dead alters.
With a range extending from southern North American to northern South America, Capsicum annuum, known as the common chili pepper or chile (among dozens of common names in Spanish), there have been thousands of cultivars developed over more than five thousand years. In addition to its many culinary uses, the chile pepper is an important medicinal plant. Capsaicin and related capsaicinoid compounds are secondary metabolites used extensively in analgesics to relieve muscle and joint pain. Several varieties of hot chili peppers are grown annually in the LAEG.
A hummingbird moth sipping nectar from Cestrum parqui (willow-leaved jessamine) in the LAEG. During the summer and fall the plant’s yellow flowers fills the garden with a heavy jasmine scent. The plant is native to Chile and Argentina. It has been used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years to lower fever and as an anti-inflammatory.
A leaf-footed bug surveys its surrounding while resting on a Brugmansia x candida (angel trumpet) leaf in the shade of its enormous flowers. Brugmansia species have long been used medicinally by indigenous peoples throughout their native Andean range in South America. While the plant is used topically for muscle pain and healers have used it in divination thanks to its psychoactive compounds, all parts of the plant are highly toxic like many other plants in the nightshade family.
A Spring view of the LAEG from the pedestrian footbridge.
Truly one of the most beautiful perennial flowering plants in the LAEG, the Dahlia is so revered in Mexico it is the national flower and not surprisingly was a prized ornamental among the Mexica (Aztecs). Growing from fleshy tubers, the Dahlia is predominantly found in Mexico but species range as far south as Colombia. The flower petals are said to be edible and a sugar extracted from the tubers was used prior to the discovery of insulin. There are now over 50,000 cultivated varieties.
A wheel bug resting on a leaf in the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden, Fall 2015. Often more than an inch in length, wheel bugs (Arilus cristatus) are fairly common, beneficial assassin bugs that prey on garden pest insects. Their presence indicates a healthy, pesticide-free ecosystem. When encountered please don’t try to handle them, their bite can be more painful than a bee sting.
A native of the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, Polymnia maculata is a wild sunflower, successional species often found in areas where the native pine-oak and evergreen cloud forest associations are cut back for timber or cultivation. They typically grow up to 12 feet in height and flower from late summer through first freeze at the LAEG.
A newly emerged monarch butterfly dries its wings on the stem of a Cylindropuntia imbricata or Cane Cholla. As the common name implies, this cactus from the deserts of northern Mexico (Durango, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí), that can grow 10 feet or more in height, is sometimes used to fashion walking sticks or canes. The cholla fruit is used medicinally to treat diabetes and coughs. The fruit is also used in dye production. A large cholla cactus is found on the LAEG hill slope adjoining the Baldwin Hall rear parking lot.
With a range extending from southern North American to northern South America, Capsicum annuum, known as the common chili pepper or chile (among dozens of common names in Spanish), there have been thousands of cultivars developed over more than five thousands years. In addition to its many culinary uses, the chile pepper is an important medicinal plant. Capsaicin and related capsaicinoid compounds are secondary metabolites used extensively in analgesics to relieve muscle and joint pain. Several varieties of hot chili peppers are grown annually in the LAEG.
A Gulf Fritillary butterfly feasts on nectar from a Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican Sunflower) bloom in the LAEG. In North Georgia this plant grows as an annual.
There are numerous Latin American Salvia species growing in the LAEG. Here, a Cloudless Sulphur butterfly probes a Salvia elegans (Pineapple Sage) flower for nectar. Found in the pine-oak forested mountains of southern Mexico and Guatemala, the crushed leaves of this Salvia smell of pineapple. Both the flowers and leaves are edible and in traditional medicine the plant is used to treat anxiety and lower blood pressure.
Salvia guaranitica, sometimes called Brazilian sage, is also common to Paraguay and Argentina. This Salvia is a traditional medicinal plant used by the Guarani Indians of Brazil and is said to have sedative properties.
Tobacco/Tomato Horn Worm Caterpillar, a 4 inch long tomato leaf eating machine that sniffed out and defoliated one of our tomatillo plants.
Mexican Milkweed or Blood-flower (Asclepias currisavica) is the favored food source for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. By mid-September in Athens, Georgia, the plants are covered with Monarch caterpillars. By late fall those same caterpillars are Monarch butterflies migrating to Michoacán, Mexico.
Datura metel in flower. Closely related to the larger Brugmansias (angel trumpets), and Datura inoxia, the white-flowered Datura also found in the garden, Datura metel is likely originally from India, though widely planted throughout the New World Tropics for its medicinal and narcotic properties.