Friday, January 30, 2009

Feb. 25 - Plants without Borders workshop

When: Wednesday, Feb 25, 2009 - 7 pm
Where: St. John's United Methodist Church
, 4760 Pine Tree Drive., Miami Beach FL 33140
TIX: Free
Phone: 305-613-2325



Speakers, STEVE WOODMANSEE AND CAROL HOFFMAN-GUZMAN, will talk about how native plants are an important part of our cultural histories.

PLANTS WITHOUT BORDERS is all about native plants
and how they can build bridges between different cultures!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PLANTS WITHOUT BORDERS - building bridges through plants

WELCOME TO "PLANTS WITHOUT BORDERS" - A new project about native plants & how they can build bridges between different cultures! I am Carol Hoffman-Guzman, your guide. This project is one of the many great programs at the Arts at St. Johns.

Sometimes it is a little difficult to find commonalities among us Miami people -- we come from Atlanta, or Mexico, or Georgia, or Denver, or Colombia, Cuba, or Haiti. But, one thing we DO have in common, throughout the Caribbean and the Americas, is a similarity in plants.

Plants are world travelers. They don’t pay much attention to political borders, to language differences, to oceans and seas. Long before humans lived in our region, plants were taking cross-country and oceanic trips to other areas. And even today, they quietly float and fly past border guards and tall border fences.

Plants and gardens can also tell stories about you, your grandparents and your heritage. So, let me introduce you to Plants without Borders.

The project has three goals:
1. To showcase native plants and gardens, throughout Florida and the Caribbean.
2. To introduce you to some interesting people with stories and a love for native plants.

3. To encourage cross-cultural conversations through native plants.

In this website, we will introduce you to some human friends and some plant friends that have more in common that you might imagine. Some of the plants are rather common, even weeds, and others might be a little obscure.

We invite you to comment and participate in these writings. Online you can tell about some plants that you like and about plants that tell stories from your culture and heritage. To comment, go to the bottom of the correct posting, and click on the brown word "comments," right after my name.

Or contact me, Carol, for more information at or 305-613-2325.

Monday, December 29, 2008


We want to introduce you to the many people and organizations who are contributing time, thoughts, space, and ideas to “Plants without Borders” project.

As part of this project, in fall 2008 we will begin a series of workshops, followed by interactive group discussions about plants and culture.

The workshops will be opportunities for people like you to bring samples, photos and stories about their favorite plants and their culture. The location of these panels will be announced this fall. In order to reach people of different cultures, we want to take these workshops into several neighborhoods (please let us know of possible locations in your area).

Scholars who will be speaking at the workshops and/or the panel discussion will include: Geoffrey Philp, Steven Woodmansee, Kiki Mutis, Sheila Kelly, Reggie Whitehead, Adrian Castro, and Carol Hoffman-Guzman.

Geoffrey Philp, originally from Jamaica, often includes rich descriptions of native plants in his poetry. Geoffrey teaches English at Miami Dade College and is the chairperson of the College Prep Department at the North Campus. He is author of the children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, a novel, Benjamin, My Son, a collection of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien, and five poetry collections, including Exodus and Other Poems, Florida Bound, hurricane center, and xango music. Read more at See below his poem, Naseberry Berth.

Kiki Mutis, born in Colombia, South America, believes that plants can heal divisions between people and cultures. Kiki is the Director of the Community Science Workshop at Citizens for a Better South Florida, Inc., a non-profit environmental education organization in Miami. See Kiki has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a M.S. degree in Environmental Science. Her workshops include one for at-risk-youth. Kiki organizes events including a nature trip where naturalists guide homeless and migrant farm-worker children through the trails of the Everglades National Park. Kiki worked as a Natural Resource Volunteer in Bolivia from 1999- 2001.

Steven Woodmansee will be teaching several workshops and speaking at our panel discussions. He owns his own consulting business, Pro Native Consulting See the posting on August 20 for more info about Steve. (See next blog for more on Steve.)

Reggie Whitehead is a renowned fern specialist, a native Miamian, and a talented actor/singer. Although his formal education is in Communications (journalism and public relations), Reggie has spent the past 25 years studying ferns and other plants from throughout the Americas and Southeast Asia. His fern forays have taken him to Ecuador, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Trinidad, Mexico, Java, Thailand, Borneo, Malaysia, Singapore and Sumatra. In Sumatra, he discovered a new and distinctive fern species that was subsequently named in his honor, Microsorum whiteheadii (Smith & Hoshizaki). He serves on the Board of Trustees of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami.

Adrian Castro, Cuban-Dominican-American, is a poet, performance artist, and a state-licensed herbalist. In his work, he speaks about melting pot of cultures in the Caribbean, the migratory experience from Africa to the Caribbean to North America, and also the clash of cultures. Adrian knows and uses plants from both Cuban and African origins. His latest book Wise Fish has many verses speaking on native plants. Click here for more info.

Sheila Kelly is a Master Gardener and a Registered Horticultural Therapist. For years, Sheila has been involved in plants -- on the board of the Miami Beach Garden Conservancy, active in Urban Environment League, and bringing plants into senior citizen facilities as a way of revitalizing people’s lives. Sheila is also the director of the PROFESSIONAL TOUR GUIDE ASSOCIATION OF FLORIDA.

Project Director, Dr. Carol Hoffman-Guzman, has an undergraduate degree in anthropology from Cornell University, graduate work in archaeology/sociology at Columbia, and a Ph.D. from Florida International University in sociology, with an emphasis in race and ethnicity. Carol, viewing her mission as “applied anthropology,” has initiated an arts-related nonprofit, Arts at St. Johns, which explores and promotes the social value of arts.


Naseberry Berth, by Geoffrey Philp

Under a web of boughs, thick
as the lines in my father's ledger,

naseberries, brown and globular,
hung like burnished moons

over a green firmament;
late blossoms spired summer sky,

nectar drunk bees through a canopy
of leaves, tender as the hairs

on my sister's nape, crashed
into glass jalousies, the wide-

ning gap between the maid's quarters
and kitchen. Below veined arms

of the trunk, firm as my mother's
Adventist faith, tendrils dived deep

into dark humus, burrowed through stone,
shattered rock to sand, small

headstones for earthworms,
rooted in the shadow of our yard.

NOTE: Naseberry (Manilkara zapota) is called sapodilla in Mexico, níspero in Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Venezuela; nípero in Cuba and Dominican Republic; dilly in the Bahamas; naseberry in the most of the West Indies; and sapoti in Brazil.

The Arts at St. Johns has many wonderful arts and culture events. If you would like to receive occasional emails about upcoming events and opportunities, just click here to subscribe to our email list.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Claire Tomlin is a strong supporter of our Plants Without Borders project. As a Master Gardener and the Founding Executive Director of Miami Beach Garden Conservancy, Claire has long been actively involved with plants, gardens, and garden clubs.
(Note from Carol: When Claire first started gardening, she didn't really think about using native plants. She just loved plants! See if you can guess which plants below are native to the southeast U.S. or Florida!)

Claire’s motivation for gardening? “Plants have always been a part of my life,” she says, ever since she was a little girl growing up on Chestnut Street in Hapeville, Georgia. There is where Claire developed her relationship with the earth, with “Gawgie” (her grandmother) and Grandaddy. Gawgie helped her make hollyhock dolls, and Grandaddy had a vegetable garden with many plants, including Jerusalem artichokes.

Her other grandmother, Mammie, had a special shell garden with an oval fish pond, and a lily pond with lilies shipped all the way from Winter Haven. Mammie had Mimosa trees and a pansy bed, and the wisteria grew up the wall of her house.

And what is it about Garden Clubs . . . ? Claire replies: “ALL MY CLOSEST FRIENDS ARE CONNECTED TO THE GARDEN CLUB. We enjoy the company of one another. Everyone has their own story, our own personalities. We tolerate differences. These are people whom I love and adore.”

Flowers are part of the culture in Georgia. Claire’s family always had cut flowers on the dining room table. With two huge camellia bushes growing like wildfire, the women in the family wore them every day as corsages. Fig bushes and banana plants grew in the backyard, and unless there was an occasional freeze, the family ate fresh figs (the banana plants were never in the ground long enough to produce). They had a mint bed that prospered right under the water spigot. Claire slept in the bedroom next to the weeping willow -- so close to the house that the roots sometimes clogged up the pipes.

Sometimes Claire's father sent her up the pecan tree so she could shake it until the nuts would fall. Similarly, Claire would put an umbrella under the blueberry bushes and shake the bushes until the berries fell into it. Come November, her father dug up the plants and put them in their cellar, including those poor banana plants.

Coming to Miami was a big surprise to Claire. No freezes, and finally she could grow bananas, and coconuts. And the great variety of palm trees. “Before coming to Miami, a palm tree was a palm tree was a palm tree.” In Florida, things grew so readily. The ficus plant that languished indoors in Georgia became a pest in South Florida.

But one of best part of plants in Miami, says Claire, are the garden clubs, “Garden clubs have people with a common interest; they serve, and they build friendships.”

Monday, September 8, 2008


Meet Steve Woodmansee, who will be teaching some of our workshops at Plants Without Borders.

If you google the Internet looking for a photo of Steve Woodmansee, you get 50-plus photos, without ever seeing his face. Instead, you see photos of Steve’s hand -- holding a yellow leaf-munching bug, a Pineland heliotrope flower, a pink katydid, or a cutting from a Rabbitbell plant. You may also see another 40 photos, where Steve is hidden behind the camera, recording the plant life of Florida.

I first met Steve when he was teaching a workshop on “Lawn Weeds…and Other Great Plants” at a meeting of the Florida Native Plant Society. Steve has extensively identified and inventoried hundreds of rare and unusual plants of Florida, but he also has an appreciation of the most common plants – i.e., weeds, weeds that you might encounter in your backyard, on the medians of city streets, along railroad tracts, even between the cracks of sidewalks. If I took Steve to South Beach, he would probably ignore a sighting of Gloria Estefan and instead would marvel at the small flowers peeking through the rubbish in a vacant lot.

While many gardeners and botanical gardens focus on the orchid or the bromeliad, Steve helps people see the beauty in the commonplace. Once a month, he coordinates the Dade County Native Plant Workshop at the Deering Estate in South Miami (the third Tuesday of each month).

Steve was born and raised in South Florida and received his B.S. in biology from the University of Miami. His professional work has included being a Naturalist for Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department, the Deering Estate, and the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center. He worked as a research assistant at Fairchild Tropical Garden, and for over eleven years he was the Senior Biologist at The Institute for Regional Conservation in Miami. At IRC, he managed several projects including the floristic inventories of conservation areas in Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. He contributed to a number of botanical discoveries, including a significant new population of an endemic cactus in Biscayne National Park.

From 2002 -2008, Steve was an active board member with the Dade Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, and was president during that term for more than three years. Steve has returned to the parent organization (Florida Native Plant Society) and is serving a term as vice president for finance of the Florida Native Plant Society.

Steve also is knowledgeable about the many human uses of native plants, not only in Florida, but in other areas of the circum-Caribbean region. Additionally, he can tell you about the plants that were used by the indigenous tribes of Florida, such as the Timucuans, Jaegans, Tequestas, and Calusa, and the resultant plant growth that often occurs around shell mound sites.

What I find refreshing is Steve’s ability to see the uniqueness of the simplest things in nature. He recently commented to me, “I just walked along 5 or so miles of the railroad tracks near my home. Ever since I was a young lad, I have always wanted to walk those RR tracks. Many native plants persist along these corridors. I saw many disturbed natural areas, and they contained an amazing assortment of indigenous plants and wildlife.”

Today Steve has his own consulting and Native Plant Nursery business, Pro Native Consulting, where he provides technical assistance on plant identification, botanical research and design, floristic and rare plant inventory, plant horticulture, seed collection studies, and restoration design to businesses and agencies including Martin County, St. Lucie County, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami Dade College, The Institute for Regional Conservation, University of Florida, and Silent Native Nursery (info:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Introducing the Pokeweed!!

From your host, Carol Hoffman-Guzman: Of all the plants in our garden, one damn pokeweed was the prettiest plant. And the healthiest.

My husband Roberto and I must have planted about a gazillion different plants, all purchased & trucked in -- trip-by-trip -- in our battered green F150. All the way from Miami to the Lake Okeechobee area, where we have a modest one acre of sandy, bone-dry Big Cypress prairieland.

Within the first month, a freeze shriveled the tropical plants, then a humongous drought started hammering away at the remaining plants. "
Well, what died this time?” was our first thought as we pulled up to the front porch each week.

But that damn pokeweed just grew and grew - with wonderfully luxuriant leaves, an inverted triangle of foliage, all geometrically balanced, with bright red-purple stems and finally the hordes of blue-black berries pendulously hanging in great quantity.

Strangely, pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) was left out of most books I have on Florida native plants, perhaps because of its all-too-commonness, its weedy character.

I love weeds. I had forgotten how much I truly love weeds. It probably started when I learned that you can eat dandelions and even make wine out of them. Then I began experimenting with weeds as dyes for yarns. I discovered that little weeds are great salad greens.

I also began to identify with weeds on a spiritual level. Natural things that are not glamorous or elitist. Not high church, but church of the common folk.

And "common" really describes pokeweed. Pokeweed is an herbaceous perennial that can grow up to 9 feet tall and has a stem and taproot that can become 6 inches in diameter. The word “poke” comes from the Algonquian Indian word "pakon" or "puccoon," meaning a dye or stain. The plant, though native to Florida and most areas of the United States, can be a pest and is considered invasive. The taproot, seeds and other parts are poisonous.

As food: Pokeweed berries are used for jams and pie, after the seeds are strained out. The young leaves can be cooked eaten like spinach. Several companies even used to sell cans of cooked pokeweed. There are many medicinal uses claimed for the plants (for more info, see Daniel Austin's book "Florida Ethnobotany," or online USF's Atlas of Vascular Plants or IRC Plant List).

Pokeweed and other related species occur in many places in the Americas. D. Austin has an extensive list of its occurrences in the U.S. (pg.507-508): chou-gras (fat cabbage) in Cajun Louisiana; many names and uses among Native Americans (Creek, Cherokee, Mikasuki, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Biloxi). Pokeweed pollen is found among pre-Colombian Glades sites, such as Fort Center in the Okeechobee Basin (William H. Sears, 127).

Similar species are found in Belize, Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Colombia - just to mention a few countries (see note below). Usually these plants are used both medicinally and as a cooked green, such as spinach or collards.

What a plant!! The lowly Pokeweed, one form or another, pops up throughout much of the Americas. And it is just one of many native plants that is widely spread, irregardless of borders.

The Pokeweed has a few interesting relatives, including the Petiveria alliacea (see information below), better known in Latin American as anamú, one of the strongest herbs in the healer's basket (over 60 reputed uses). So read on for a visit with "Plants without Borders" and meet Dr. Anamú from the Dominican Republic.

NOTE: Phytolacca iconsandra
, is found in Belize (
called calaloo and wild calabash), and among the Zapotec of Oaxaca of Mexico. P. iconsandra is called Choyllo-choyllo in Bolivia, Bledo carbnero in Cuba, Moco de pavo in the Dominican Republic, Juan de Vargas in Puerto Rico, Jaboncillo in Costa Rica (the list goes on - see Nomenclature Polyglotte des plantes haïtiennes et tropicales, 1971, or A Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Woody Plants of Northwest South America, 1995 ). Another related species, Phytolacca rivinoides is found in Belize (coch-otón) and Jamaica (jocato) (Herbal Plants of Jamaica, 51). In Suriname, P. rivinoides is called Gogomago and Blakawiwirie.

The Arts at St. Johns has many wonderful arts and culture events. If you would like to receive occasional emails about upcoming events and opportunities, just
click here to subscribe to our email list.

Monday, August 18, 2008

ANAMÚ or Guinea Henweed - a healing plant that travels the Caribbean

Meet a powerful medicinal herb - Anamú (in Spanish) & Guinea henweed (in English). Both Pokeweed and Anamú are in the Phytolaccaceae family.

Roberto Guzmán, from the Dominican Republic, tells this story about Anamú: In Santo Domingo in the era of Trujillo, there lived a man who was known throughout the city as Dr. Anamú. He was dressed all in black, notwithstanding the impracticalities of his dress in the tropical heat. He always wore a black bowler and carried a black doctor’s briefcase. He never forgot his necktie.

By foot Dr. Anamú traversed the streets of Santo Domingo and visited the Clinica Internacional, where he approached patients in the waiting room and, for every ill, he prescribed the “anamú.”

He was called Dr. Anamú because he always recommended this native herb for all pains and sicknesses. He was one of the many colorful personages of the times. And today anamú is one of the ingredients in the Dominican Mamajuana liqueur.

In Cuba, herbalists take the whole plant and use it to treat cancer and diabetes, and as an anti-inflammatory and abortive. Anamú also grows throughout South and Central Florida; however, I found it listed only in some of the data bases and books on Florida native plants.

Steve Woodmansee, Pro Native Consulting, has spotted the plant in many areas in Florida and states that anamú had great significance Pre-Columbian groups and was grown and used by the Timucuans, Jaegans, Tequestas, and Calusas (more recently the Miccosukees and Seminoles). Steve states that anamú is fairly restricted to archaeological sites and is an excellent indicator of human habitation. He says that he has never seen it in a natural area that wasn't adjacent to indigenous activity. Steve warns that the herb is very strong and should be used with caution.

Petiveria alliacea has been widely used to treat a large range of medical conditions including: venereal diseases, as an antiseptic, for arthritis, pain, cancer, womb inflammation, diuretic, decoagulant, cold, snake bite, flu, cods, hysteria, paralysis, fever, rabies, to treat arrow poison in Brazil and as a bat and insect repellent and as an abortifacient.

From the
Tropical Plant Database: In the Amazon rainforest, anamú is used as part of an herbal bath against witchcraft by the Indians and local jungle herbal healers called curanderos. The Ka'apor Indians call it mikur-ka'a (which means opossum herb) and use it for both medicine and magic. The Caribs in Guatemala crush the root and inhale it for sinusitis, and the Ese'Ejas Indians in the Peruvian Amazon prepare a leaf infusion for colds and flu.

The Garifuna indigenous people in Nicaragua also employ a leaf infusion or decoction for colds, coughs, and aches and pains, as well as for magic rituals. The root is thought to be more powerful than the leaves. It is considered a pain reliever and is often used in the rainforest in topical remedies for the skin. Other indigenous Indian groups beat the leaves into a paste and use it externally for headache, rheumatic pain, and other types of pain. This same jungle remedy is also used as an insecticide.

Petiveria alliacea is called tipi in Brazil, apacin in Guatemala, mucura in Peru, and guine in many other parts of Latin America. In the French-speaking countries, it is called feuilles ave, herbe aux poules, and petevere a odeur ail, and, in Trinidad, mapiurite and gully root. Other names include apacina, apazote de zorro, aposin, ave, aveterinaryte, calauchin, chasser vermine, congo root, douvant-douvant, emeruaiuma, garlic weed, guine, guinea, guinea hen leaf, gully root, hierba de las gallinitas, huevo de gato, kojo root, kuan, kudjuruk, lemtewei, lemuru, mal pouri, mapurit, mapurite, mucura-caa, mucura, mucuracáa, ocano, payche, pipi, tipi, verbena hedionda, verveine puante, zorrillo (see
Tropical Plant Database).

Friday, August 15, 2008


The Arts at St. Johns has received a special grant from
Dade County Foundation for the Plants Without Borders program
The PLANTS WITHOUT BORDERS project is one of the many projects of the Arts at St. Johns, see