Rare plant memorial garden to open in February

A garden dedicated to preserving rare Samoan plant species is scheduled to open next year and will be dedicated to the memory of the legendary late botanist Dr. Art Whistler.

The Art Whistler Memorial Garden is being constructed in partnership between the Samoa Conservation Society (S.C.S) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E).

The Art Whistler Memorial Garden will be located at the Vailima Botanical gardens. According to the Vice President of the S.C.S, James Atherton, they are hoping to open the garden to the public in 2021.

Mr. Atherton explained that the garden aims to collect and save Samoa's plant biodiversity.

He said that work began years ago to collect rare plants and foster them at the Botanical Gardens nursery.

But it was the passing of Dr. Whistler that gave the Ministry and the S.C.S. an extra incentive to move forward on the long term project.

S.C.S has managed to receive funds for the development of the Garden and have started a give-a-little online fundraising page that has so far raised NZD$1650.

Mr. Atherton revealed that over 100 rare species not found in many places will be at the memorial garden but it will begin with only 15 or 20 varieties. 

He explained that work should start soon with some stonework, picnic tables and tree labels to be prepared by Penehuro Papalii.

They are planning to redevelop the existing fale at the location, and place information about the plant species for the education of the general public.

"There will be lots of information available and we encourage people to go there, visit, learn about the plants and hopefully people will want to save the native plants because they will realise that they are valuable, they are important and they are only found here," Mr. Atherton said.

Mr. Atherton said Samoa had a responsibility to look after and learn about its endemic plants because they are at risk of being lost from the world.

The Assistant Chief Executive Officer (A.C.E.O) of the M.N.R.E's Division of Environment and Conservation, Seumalo Afele Faiilagi, told the Samoa Observer the project was discussed last year.

The objective is to save Samoan plants on the brink of extinction or which are hardly seen due to several factors affecting their existence such as climate change and extensive land use clearance.

"However, due to limited funding opportunity available at the time the project experienced delays until some funding opportunity was secured from an international partner,” he said.

The Botanic Gardens Conservation International (B.G.C.I, UK) based in London, England has offered to help establish the project. 

The B.G.C.I. is a conservation charity dedicated to plant conservation worldwide. 

Seumalo said that while M.N.R.E and S.C.S were working to develop the project they learned that Dr. Arthur Whistler passed away in April 2020 in Hawai’i as a result of a COVID-19 infection. 

"[We want a] way to honour Dr Arthur Whisler's life and his great contribution to Samoa's development on plant botany," he said.

Dr. Whistler is credited with discovering a great number of forest trees including orchids and non-timber plant species and conducting ethnobotany studies on Samoan plant species.

"In fact, Dr. Arthur Whisler was involved in the rare plant project in its earlier development until he lost his life in April 2020,” Seumalo said.

"Since April 2020, the key partners of the project including Art's wife and families in [New Zealand], Hawai’i including Canada are now working on this rare plant of Samoa project.”

The plan is for the garden to be opened by February next year. Dr. Whistler’s wife pledged USD$10,000 to assist with the development of the project. 

Seumalo explained the project’s timing goals are subject to uncertainty due to COVID-19 restrictions and possible delays.

"Our aim is to have a good number of rare plants from different categories: native rare plants and trees, Samoa native orchids, Samoa non-timber plant species [and] Samoan medicinal rare plants,” he said. 

“So far from our first collection in October this year, we collected more than 1000 rare plants from different categories and are now raised at our Vailima Botanical Garden.”



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