Why Plants Matter:

"Transforming Your Understanding of Plants™"

Welcome To Our Botanic Gardens:

For as long as humans have been creating gardens, gardens have most always begun with one person's vision. That is likely as true of the garden in your backyard as it is true of the grandest gardens in the world. While no one person can be deemed responsible for the actual creation and continued existence of a garden, its' initial envisionment can most often be attributed to one person.

That is true of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Our Gardens are the result of the work and contributions of many people, but the vision for that Garden is attributable to one individual. The individual is not important, but the vision of that individual is - and that is what I hope this "Directors Corner" will be all about.

I believe, if you know the why and wherefore of a garden, you are that much more likely to appreciate and support that garden. Public botanic gardens, such as The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, also oftentimes evolve from one individual's financial support, yet those public gardens end up requiring the financial support of many to survive.

Public botanic gardens serve many purposes but their primary purpose is increasing humanities understanding and awareness of plants: - their beauty; their value to humans and other living creatures for economic, medicinal, food, clothing, shelter, et. al.; as well as for conservation and scientific research. As the 21st Century advances, perhaps a botanic gardens greatest contribution will become that of increasing the public's understanding of the function of plants in of our biosphere - or put more simply, the living parts of our planet, for 'without plants there is no life.'

So over time, as founding visionary of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, I will be sharing my thoughts with you in this section of kkbg.org. I hope by sharing my thoughts about our Garden and it's mission you will better understand not only our Garden but all gardens throughout our world, conceived by humans or mother nature.

March 11, 2011Joe C. Harris, Jr.,Executive Director,Key Largo, Florida
© 2011 - 2020

For further reading:

BGCI: The Role of Botanic Gardens

The History and Functions of Botanic Gardens, Arthur W. Hill, M.A., F.L.S., Assistant Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

kkbg.org - Germinating an idea . . . .

Almost every botanic garden has a nursery where they grow plants from seeds collected by their botanists, or botanists from other botanic gardens - a healthy collaboration. In the last century, collection, cultivation and conservation of plants became a major mission of botanic gardens around the world. The result has been many magnificent botanic gardens with incredible collections of rare and unusual plants - living museums for all to see and enjoy. This remains a major mission of many of the worlds botanic gardens today.

Here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai we do not have the opportunity to germinate and cultivate plants; our space for plants is too limited and our access to botanists restricted by a lack of funding. However, we believe we're doing some of the most important germination work of the 21st Century - because we're germinating an idea, a vital new way of exposing our visitors to the important role plants play in our biosphere, through our TYUP.™

Founded on the principal that we would educate our visitors about the value of plants, we started an ethnobotanic tour aimed at exposing our visitors to all that plants do for people. We quickly came to realize how little our visitors knew how important a role plants play in our daily lives.

Our [botanic] vision, "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants," is based on the premise that until humans understand the true value of plants in their lives, they will continue to look at plants as landscape decoration, as elements of design and beauty, when they should primarily look at plants as our partners in life's evolution here on earth. While climate change, or as we at kkbg.org prefer, climate evolution, has become a widely accepted reality, it remains a struggle to find people who accept the scientific fact that 'without plants there is no life' on earth. Here at kkbg.org we believe teaching that reality is the role of botanic gardens in the 21st Century and have thus coined the term, "TYUP; transforming your understanding of plants."

There's lots of science behind our TYUP™ and we're indebted to all those whose research and writings have led us to our concept of "TYUP, Transforming Your Understanding of Plants." We owe the idea of our TYUP™ to scientists, artists, architects and writers including, Francis Hallé, Matthew Hall, Daniel Chamovitz, James Wandersee and Rene Cleary, Michael Pollan, Daniel Nocerra, Stefano Mancuso, Stefano Boeri, Patrick Blanc, Henry Moore, and Henri Bergson, to name but a few. Our small garden serves as an experimentation and demonstration site for our concept - a concept that involves everyone who would, or could, go to a botanic garden.

It is accepted philosophical theory that when people understand something they are more likely to accept, perhaps even love, it that much more. A "TYUP'd" person is more likely to have transformed their view of the plants, and thus, in fact, the entire biosphere around them. By transforming a person's view of plants we transform their view of our biosphere; altering the way they look at and understand everything in our world.

Our TYUP™ is based upon a 21st Century Scientific view of the world: consider the terms, "phylogenetic," "eukaryota," and "biomorphic."* Once a person understands these things, it's likely their worldview will evolve from an anthropomorphic to a biomorphic view., which is a prerequisite for their accepting the changes needed if we are to successfully overcome the man-made ecological threats facing us today. The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort are the laboratory for this hypothesis - and we're demonstrating that "TYUP™" does alter one's Linnaean view of the world around them. Every day, with both children and adults, here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort we are evolving and modernizing people's understanding of our biosphere. For "environmentalism," to be a success, people need to think biomorphically rather than anthromomorphically.

But one Garden is not enough. History demonstrates how humanity's understanding changes over the years. That change, oftentimes sparked by one simple idea, does not occur until many players have enhanced that single vision. Thus, it is our hope that before the decade is over, every botanic garden in the world is "TYUP-ing" each and every one of their visitors. In doing so, botanic gardens might just help save our biosphere from destroying the only habitat in which we humans can survive.

* more on these terms in future commentaries here in my Director's Corner.

December 6, 2014Joe C. Harris, Jr.,Executive Director,Key Largo, Florida
© 2011 - 2020

Please continue exploring this topic by reading this commentary by our resident botanist, Emily Magnaghi: http://thebotanicgardensatkonakai.blogspot.fr/2014/12/the-importance-of-our-transforming-your.html

CLIMATE CHANGE - COP 20 & COP 21, Lima, Peru (2014) and Paris, France (2015)

World leaders met in Peru in 2014 and then again in Paris in 2015 to discuss global warming, climate change or, as we prefer to say, global climate evolution. Science acknowledges that climate evolution is now affected by more than nature; humankind is playing a major role in climate evolution. Both conferences were significant, and the Paris 2015 conference was decisive with the USA leading the charge. If Congress does not get in the way our nation's leadership could prove to be a signifiant turning point in the way governments manage climate threats.

But world leaders cannot legislate what humanity needs to do to make sure that as the climate evolves, we the people, evolve and survive with it. Human survival is up to each and every one of us. We need to change our ways if we are to survive natures on-going evolution. We need to comprehend what we've done and what we now need to do! Botanic Gardens can help each of us understand both the why and the what, for Plants Matter, and plants are the business of botanic gardens!

Some of us still need reminding that Plants are the essence of life on earth and that plants are our pathway to reconciling our differences with nature. At the close of the COP20, attendees were treated to this important 3 minute video, produced by Lyn Davis Lear and directed by Louie Schwartzberg: 3 minutes for you to consider what you need to do next:

Here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, we're working to show our visitors Why Plants Matter. Please visit us the next time you are in Key Largo - reserve a space on our 90 minute guided TYUP™ tour and help change our world, our only biosphere, for the better - one person at a time.

December 12, 2014Joe C. Harris, Jr.,Executive Director,Key Largo, Florida
© 2011 - 2020


Since opening our Garden in 2011, I find myself asking that question every day. Why did I do this? Why am I still doing this? Why am I sacrificing my time, energy, money and more, to try the impossible? The answer is still somewhat elusive, but an answer has slowly become apparent.

It was in 2014, when here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, we first began using the term TYUP™ that I comprehended part of the "why." TYUP™ is my invented acronym for "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants."

After 6+ years of struggling to "invent" our botanic gardens, I first realized I had been completely transformed by my growing understanding of "Why Plants Matter." Yet it was only just the other day, while reading an op-ed piece written by author and entomology professor Douglas Tallamy, that my "why" became clear to me. In that New York Times op-ed, Professor Tallamy writes: "Plants are as close to biological miracles as a scientist could dare admit. ...you might think we gardeners would value plants for what they do. Instead, we value them for what they look like."

Boing! Suddenly it became clear that over the last 6 years I have come to value plants for 'what they do!' And, my evolving understanding of what plants do has had a profound effect on how I view our world and how and why we fit into it. I have come to value nature, our planet's biodiversity, and all the incredible things that are here for us, over all the incredible things we have made for ourselves.

Now, I'm not suggesting that electricity, engines, agriculture or medicine are not incredible and not to be appreciated. [All those things depend on plants for their source material.] It's just that I now understand the potential price we might be paying— the wonder and beauty we might be sacrificing — for our wonderful agricultural, industrial and technological advances. I've come to understand we must balance nature and our biosphere with our creations; we must not let our creations supersede the incredible magnificence that was here on planet earth before we arrived.

Furthermore, I've come to believe that through gardens and understanding plants we will find our key to understanding our part in nature. That understanding has changed my perspective about almost everything. I realize we cannot, and should not, stop what we humans call "progress." But, I also know through a better understanding of plants we can better manage our progress and not misuse nature to build upon "progress" in any of our endeavors. By understanding plants we will work harder to incorporate and preserve nature into our progress.

Last year I also encountered the term "plant blindness™" for the first time. I was enthralled, because what had become so apparent to Professor's Wandersee, Schussler and Clary, through their research, was a revelation to me. So, understanding "plant blindness™" furthered my understanding of "why" am I building this garden. Now I can explain why the gardens and the mission we have created here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort is so very important and I've come to realize we are a gem of a little garden with a diamond of a mission!

Today I am also a better citizen of nature. I am far from perfect and aware I will not become perfect, nor will our Garden. But, by understanding what plants do for us — actually for all living things — I have come to a clearer understanding of the fact that we need nature but nature does not need us. Furthermore, the world needs The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort and the world needs our "TYUP™!"

I am now respectful of everything living. I now do my best not to waste or overuse whatever resources I need to live my life — all because over the past 6+ years, as Executive Director of a fledgling botanic garden that some say is laughable, I have been "TYUP'd - transformed by my understanding of plants!"

And, that is why The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort exists. That's why our Gardens want to TYUP™ everyone; why I want every botanic garden in the world to offer a TYUP™ tour such as ours — a tour that will "Transform Your Understanding of Plants."

March 20, 2015Joe C. Harris, Jr.,Executive Director,Key Largo, Florida
© 2011 - 2020




Plants have been around, surviving and adapting to environmental events, for some 4 billion years. So, perhaps one should conclude that Plants are both smart and experienced! Science makes it clear that: 'without plants there simply is no life!' Those are just two of the many reasons plants matter! Consider the possibility that plants are even more important than energy, politics, peace or whatever. By understanding the value of plants, all the other issues facing us today become clearer, more understandable and manageable.

While we need plants, we've mostly ignored plants and mostly ignored what we might learn from them. That's one reason why in September of 2014 UNESCO held a world conference on plants and botany.* Speaking at that conference, then BGCI Chairman, Dr. Stephen Blackmore, cited chemist's James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis making the point that: "Without plants we cannot overcome any of our global challenges, [while] with plants we can achieve a ... sustainable and equitable future."

As an individual, and as Executive Director of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai, I believe teaching "Why Plants Matter" to each and every botanic garden visitor, and to each and every person worldwide, is THE KEY to our future.

Plants produce and store energy yet, unlike we humans, plants create only biodegradable waste. Plants have figured out how to do all this, efficiently! To survive this century, we need to learn to do the same. Rather than simply using plants as a energy source, we need to learn from plants.

Learning from plants is just one more reason "Why Plants Matter." Proffering this belief is the reason The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai was born. Our mission of Education-Transformation-Restoration has been at the core of our public TYUP™ and our UKFC in-school environmental education program since 2011.

In getting to know the botanic world over these last 5 years, it's become clear to me that botanic gardens do a fantastic job with plant collection, conservation and restoration. However, in my view, most botanic gardens are not truly confronting our future. Only by Transforming Your Understanding of Plants™ will botanic gardens fulfill their 21st Century responsibility to humankind and all other life here on earth.

Botanic Gardens primarily appeal to people who see beauty in plants, but even many of those people cannot truly tell you "Why Plants Matter." Botanic gardens attract less than 10% of their potential visitors, by not appealing to the rest of us. Yes, of recent, botanic gardens have employed fashion shows, art exhibits, wine and food festivals and more to attract people to their gates - and it has worked in bringing more people into the gardens. By TYUP™(ing) those very visitors, more and more people would come to understand "Why Plants Matter." And those people will tell others ,who will then also visit botanic gardens, and tell even more people who would come to botanic gardens. In this one simple way, botanic gardens can help humanity overcome "plant blindness," a problem that most of us don't even realize is a serious disorder causing many of our environmental problems.

By focusing on the future, explaining to old and new visitors alike, "Why Plants Matter," botanic gardens would make a huge difference in humankind's understanding of and thriving in the 21st Century. Once people learn that plants are much more than pretty green things with flowers decorating people yards, nurseries and flower shops, they will come to understand "Why Plants Matter." So, botanic gardens can help us confront our future by offering their own TYUP™. This is why this, the 21st Century, as UNESCO has suggested, is the century of the botanist!

And, by better understanding the role plants play in our biosphere, more individuals in other disciplines, such as technology, engineering, physics and chemistry would focus on studying plants for what they can teach us about producing, storing and recycling energy, unlocking important keys to our future.

Visit the About 21st Century Botany and the Increase Your Knowledge sections of our website to grow your knowledge; you'll be surprised how much fun it is learning "Why Plants Matter." Coming soon, watch for our new "12 Points" TYUP™ section on this website, so you too can carry the message about "Why Plants Matter" to friends and family. Do it for yourself; do it your family; do it for your friends and do it for our future.

March 10, 2016Joe C. Harris, Jr.,Executive Director,Key Largo, Florida
© 2011 - 2020

*visit our 21st Century Botany Books page to read a summary and full details of that very important BGCI worldwide conference. Scroll through the page until you come to "Botanists of the 21st Century." Click on the .pdf and link for the full report.

The link to "plant blindness" is this: http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/53/10/926.full