If plants could talk, what would they say?

Friday 6 March 2009

If plants could speak they will boast about being part of remedies such as the common aspirin to a leukaemia drug derived from the rosy periwinkle. Over a quarter of western medicines contain plant toxins some deriving from tropical forest species. Forest plants have been the source of the most effective drugs in the history of pharmacology but only two per cent have been screened for their pharmaceutical potential. 

The Social Life of Plants, a one day event, as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Festival of Social Science (6 - 15 March), will reveal the links between humans and plants. Hands-on activities like basket weaving, growing your own herb garden, exhibitions and films will give members of the public the chance to rediscover the fundamentals of a plant life. Anthropologists and Ethnobotanists will explore how plants affect the lives of individuals around the world, in medicine, food, materials and rituals.  

As well as bringing people and plants together, the many entertaining and informative films on show will look at the fascinating and often overlooked facts on plants. One such film, "Seeds of Plenty, Seeds of Sorrow", will show the more problematic side of the green revolution and the damage it has done to the social structure and ecologies of developing countries.

Practitioners and researchers of the event hope that the social life of plants will be an inspiration for people of all ages and create a sense of excitement about plants and their place in our lives. We tend to forget the use plants in our everyday life, from our daily hot drink, the colour of the jumper we wear, ingredients in our food to the medicine we take.

2009 is a big year for botany with the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Darwin's observations so many years ago contributed to the groundbreaking understanding of plant biodiversity. This event also compliments, the Royal Anthropological Institute's educational outreach programme, where 14-19 year old, deal with above issues as part of the national curriculum. 

For further information contact

  • Nafisa Feta, Royal Anthropological Institute
    Telephone: 0207 387 0455

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors

  1. The event will take place on Saturday March 7 11.00 - 16.00 at the Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The event is free and open to all ages, but advance booking is required as spaces are limited. To reserve a place:
  2. The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI) is the world's longest-established scholarly association dedicated to the furtherance of anthropology (the study of humankind) in its broadest and most inclusive sense.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes.
  4. The Festival of Social Science is organised by the Economic and Social Research Council, and runs from March 6 - 15, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. It celebrates some of the very best British social science research, as well as highlighting the ways in which social science makes a difference to everyday lives. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website.