Belize Botanic Gardens continues to benefit from the support we received in 2003-2004 from The International Palm Society. Visitors often spend time viewing our Palm Products display and learning about the importance of palms and their conservation for this country and worldwide. We also appreciate the ongoing contact and the periodic visits we have had from members of the Society, which we hope will increase in the future.
Our Gardens continue to thrive, and we have been cited in tour books (e.g. the most recent edition of “The Rough Guide to Belize”) as the best Botanical Garden in all of Central America. But our mission extends far beyond the boundaries of our Gardens, per se. Thus, we remain distressed by the degree to which Belize’s natural plant diversity is threatened, most particularly the unsustainable harvesting of our indigenous Bay Leaf Palm (Sabal mauritiiformis) for decoration and thatching.
Bay Leaf Palm at Belize Botanic Gardens:
A demonstration plot of 1500 bay leaf palms is in the garden for observation by farmers and researchers. Used for thatch roofing, the bay leaf (Sabal mauritiiformis) is popular among Belizean Maya and Mestizo, the increasing population and tourism facilities. As the leaf becomes scarce due to habitat loss and over collection, leaf seekers become less careful about healthy gathering practices. To ensure the health of bay leaf tree populations farming the palm for thatch use is a safer alternative to wild collection. The bay leaf is an ideal sustainable agriculture crop for most areas of Belize, mainly because it is native and is in its natural environment. The bay leaf needs little to no irrigation or pest control and a market for the leaf already exists making it a sound cash crop. So far the bay leaf plot at BBG is doing remarkably well. Information and seeds(seasonal) are available to potential farmers and conservation Organization.
Primary objective: To educate Belizean schoolchildren on the importance and pleasures of botanic diversity and preservation via a holistic field experience that focuses on indigenous Belizean palms, their uses and sustainability.
Primary objective: Direct impact on school children, ages 11-15 and their teachers, plus Indirect impact on family members (i.e. estimate of 2 family members per child, through follow-up homework activities and feedback). We also aim to increase the marketability and number of visitors to Belize Botanic Gardens during and after the project period ends, including tourists to Belize, families with children, government groups (for meetings and conferences) and local organizations and businesses.
At Belize Botanic Gardens, everything we do is in partnership – using our staff, volunteers and resources wherever possible, and practicing what we preach about conservation and eco-friendly practices. We believe we can do much more, however – to bring in and educate more Belizeans and international visitors about the beauty and importance of bio-diversity and sustainable agro-forestry, focusing on three key areas: medicinal plants, orchids and palms.
Thus, our focus is to bring in and educate more local school-children who have never before visited Belize Botanic Gardens and would benefit from the conservation-education we provide; and secondly, to increase the financial sustainability of Belize Botanic Gardens and make it more attractive and user-friendly for other visitors, e.g. government groups, organizations and businesses who seek meeting space for day-long or multi-day meetings and activities.
Children’s Tours at Belize Botanic Gardens:
Each class that comes for a field trip to Belize Botanic Gardens is given a tour according to age group. We have three basic programs for students (Plant Appreciation, Plant Processes and Plant Ecology), all of which incorporate a focus on Sustainable Use of Belizean Palms. In addition to their educational tour, in which they visit different palms from Belize and other parts of the world’s tropics, they undertake a related activity they can take home –i.e. potting a small seedling or making a small craft they can use. In the display area, they are asked about each item in a game-format – e.g. what the palm is called, what it is used for, and how it is endangered or can be grown and maintained in a sustainable way. This approach was first developed under our initial grant from The International Palm Society, but will now be expanded to incorporate more children and highlight palm conservation issues.