In Conversation: Jamaican Botanist Keron Campbell
WHAT INSPIRES YOU ABOUT JAMAICA AND ITS BOTANICAL HERITAGE?
What inspires me is the history and uniqueness of Jamaica's botanical heritage, the fact that so many islands exist across the world but this little land of wood and water stands out in so many ways. It stands out with respect to the number of species that are only found here (endemic) as well as being the center of variation and diversity for some of these species. The discoveries associated with Jamaican plants whether native or introduced, has made its mark on western medicine and is still doing so now with more discoveries to come. The Jamaican collections made by Sir Hans Sloane was one of the founding collections of the British Museum. Sloane's experiment with chocolate and milk to make the drink more palatable resulted in where we are now with respect to milk chocolate. There are so many interesting and unique stories about the Jamaican flora.
HOW DID THE LIGNUM VITAE BECOME THE NATIONAL FLOWER?
With respect to the National flower a committee was set up in 1962 which consisted of the President of Jamaica Horticultural Society. A flower show was organized by the JHS and pictures of the actual flowers that were nominated were voted upon and the Lignum Vitae got 80% of the votes with the Kingston Buttercup coming in second out of the total of 14 flowers. The 14 was nominated by different Horticultural Societies and other stakeholders across the island.
AND ACKEE BECOME THE NATIONAL FRUIT OF JAMAICA?
After this was done they again convened the Committee which was now asked to deliberate upon the National Tree, Fruit, and Bird. The national tree was selected unanimously and the Ackee was selected because it was connected with Jamaica although not historically but through songs, needlework, and because it was well-known.
WHAT ARE THE HERBAL DISCOVERIES IN JAMAICA THAT HAVE LARGELY INFLUENCED WESTERN / MODERN MEDICINE?
There have been several ground-breaking discoveries associated with Jamaica that have significantly influenced western medicine. The discovery of Vinblastine and Vincristine (chemotherapy medication) from the Periwinkle plant (notable Jamaican home remedy) is associated with Jamaica because the sample from which the isolates were obtained was collected on the island, and sent overseas where the lab work was conducted. The isolates are used to treat several cancers and have made improvement with respect to treatment and survival rate. Research shows that other prominent Jamaican plants including Guinea Hen Weed, Dandelion, and Ball Moss have also resulted in several isolates which have shown positive outcome in cancer treatments. Marijuana plant is not native to the island, but it produces compounds that were isolated here in Jamaica and used successfully to treat Asthma and Glaucoma.
HAS BLUE MOUNTAINS PLANT LIFE INFLUENCED THE REST OF JAMAICA OR THE ISLANDS IN ANY WAY?
The Blue Mountains plant life on a broad scale greatly impacts the ecosystem. Firstly, the flora helps to remove green house gases from the atmosphere and improves the air quality and overall ecology of the area. Blue Mountains is one of Jamaica's biodiversity hot spots where several species are endemic and found nowhere else on the island. The forest is also integral in providing fresh water which is then treated and distributed to primarily Kingston and St. Andrew. Blue Mountains, internationally known for its coffee, is the highest point on the island.
HOW DID THE PRACTICE OF SORREL HARVESTED AND LARGELY USED AS A HOLIDAY BEVERAGE COME ABOUT?
Sorrel is native to the Old World Tropics and is thought to have been introduced by the English some time after 1655. When the Christmas tradition of brewing sorrel drink actually started is debatable, but it's estimated to have been hundreds of years back. Traditionally sorrel would mature in and around the Christmas period but with advances in plant breeding and engineering, sorrel is now produced throughout the year. It has come quite a far way from the original home made paradigm.
DO YOU BELIEVE JAMAICANS FIND MORE VALUE IN NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE VS WESTERN MEDICINE?
Presently there is a movement working towards more responsible use of western medicine. Patients are researching and asking questions more frequently, where previously one would not ask but rather follow the doctor's instructions. I believe with the availability of information through our advancement in technology has allowed persons to scrutinize more and look at all the options available to them. So yes there is a 'going back to Eden' movement that is afoot where natural remedies are being utilized and trusted more.
"What inspires me is the history and uniqueness of Jamaica's botanical heritage. The fact that so many islands exists across the world but this little land of wood and water stands out in so many ways".
The Spanish Needle
Lovely dainty Spanish needle
With your yellow flower and white,
Dew bedecked and softly sleeping,
Do you think of me to-night?
Shadowed by the spreading mango,
Nodding o'er the rippling stream,
Tell me, dear plant of my childhood,
Do you of the exile dream?
Do you see me by the brook's side
Catching crayfish 'neath the stone,
As you did the day you whispered:
Leave the harmless dears alone?
Do you see me in the meadow
Coming from the woodland spring
With a bamboo on my shoulder
And a pail slung from a string?
Do you see me all expectant
Lying in an orange grove,
While the swee-swees sing above me,
Waiting for my elf-eyed love?
Lovely dainty Spanish needle,
Source to me of sweet delight,
In your far-off sunny southland
Do you dream of me to-night?