Ecological Knowledge Growing in Kansas

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The University of Kansas Biological Survey and the Department of Medicinal Chemistry launched a new project a couple of months ago–the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program. Its mission statement is to promote public understanding of the medicinal uses of native Kansas plants, and to provide scientific validation of traditional ecological knowledge.

The project is funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from Heartland Plant Innovations, Inc., a for-profit entity formed to receive support from the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Heartland Plant Innovations hopes to use this work to identify and research natural plants that may be of use for marketable natural remedies, health care, and cosmetics, among other things. With this information available, the granter expects market opportunities for Kansas products, in addition to the creation of related Kansas jobs.

Echinacea is harvested in Kansas and is an excellent cold-fighter.
Photo by Smiteme/Courtesy of Flickr

Led by Barbara Timmermann and Kelly Kindscher at KU, the program is in good hands. Timmermann is the principal investigator of the grant, a University Distinguished Professor, and the chair of medicinal chemistry. She is also the director of the National Institutes of Health-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence. Kindscher is the senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, a faculty member in the KU Department of Environmental Studies, and author of two books on prairie plants. He looks forward to continuing research that will potentially bring the benefits of natural plants, such as yarrow and wild echinacea, to a wider community.

Photo by AndrewBlakePhotography/Courtesy of Flickr

The Native Medicinal Plant Research Program focuses on both botany and chemistry. Thus far, the plan of action is to collect and dry native Kansan plant material, and run tests for their chemical make-ups at the KU Structural Biology Center. The project staff members have also been using satellite images and aerial photography to create an extensive map of the plant populations.

The plant garden is open to the public and located on 1865 E. 1600 Rd. in Lawrence, Kansas; it is only ten minutes from downtown. The garden was dedicated on May 23, 2010; on June 19, 2010, the project staff members hosted an open house and medicinal plant walk. They plan to host similar educational events in the future. At present, they are working to add a show garden and butterfly garden for visitors.

The sunflower is perhaps the most well-known native Kansas plant.
Photo by IngaMun/Courtesy of Flickr

This project is a promising new addition to Kansas, and checking out the garden is a must!

Learn more about the project at its website or on Facebook.

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