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MLA Full: "The Economic Botanical Collection." YouTube, uploaded by thebrainscoop, 29 January 2014,
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APA Full: thebrainscoop. (2014, January 29). The Economic Botanical Collection [Video]. YouTube.
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Stay tuned for The Brain Scoop family band - I'm playing the backup gourd.

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The Brain Scoop is written and hosted by:
Emily Graslie

Special thanks to Christine Niezgoda for showing us around the collection! I can't wait to start our musical band.

Created By:
Hank Green

Directed, Edited, Animated, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda

Production Assistant:
Katie Kirby

Filmed on Location and Supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

Thanks to Andrés García Molero, Tony Chu, Katerina Idrik, and Seth Bergenholtz for translating the captions for this video. You can join our gourd band, too.

So I'm standing here with Chris Niezgoda who is the Collections Manager of Flowering Plants in Botany and we're going on a tour of the Economic Botanical Collection. 

CHRIS: Economic Botany is the use of plants by people. So whether they eat them, whether they use them medicinally, whether they make hats out of them. We have boxes, we have glass jars, we have liquids, so it's a challenge to store them and that's why a lot of museums and institutions don't. 

As you can see when we open these drawers, these are nice, new boxes, because for many years after they were off-exhibit they were just in bottoms of cases, exhibit cases, or in closets. 

EMILY: Oh, wow. 

CHRIS: Kodak boxes, old shoes boxes. Which makes my heart stop because our aim is to preserve everything. 

A box like this costs about $5-10. 

EMILY: Per box?

CHRIS: Per box.

EMILY: for 12,000 artifacts.

CHRIS: Whereas - right. And a box like this costs under a dollar. 

EMILY: You have Valerian Root. 


EMILY: Valerian Root from 1907. 

CHRIS: Yes! This is from 1907. It was used as a stimulant tonic in cases of hysteria, epilepsy, etc., etc. 

Kalaa wood, and this is from Siam-

EMILY: Thailand.

CHRIS: It's said to possess a property of curing snake bites, and is [used] by native jugglers as a snake charm. So you attract the snakes, get bitten by them, and then use it to cure your snake bit, I guess. 

EMILY: Well, now I know, when I'm juggling snakes.. 

CHRIS: We have collections of teas! I mean, how much more botanical can you get? 

EMILY: Tea! Oh! Old tea! Yeah.

CHRIS: This is one of my favorites, just the box. 

EMILY: That's a nice box. 

CHRIS: This one's from Spain, this one's from Paraguay, another from Paraguay... 

EMILY: And these are just spices and herbs and other by-products, and is that parsley?

CHRIS: From Germany. And why we have parsley from Germany, whether someone sent it to us, whether Millspaugh asked for parsley from Germany. 

EMILY: Who knows?

CHRIS: I'm sure every jar has a story. 

EMILY: Yeah. 

CHRIS: Here's a finished product. It's under plastic, but isn't that beautiful. 

EMILY: Wow. Yeah, is that a rug of some sort? 

CHRIS: It's- yeah, it's like a doormat - 

EMILY: Yeah, yeah. 

CHRIS: - and it's made of pine fibers from Georgia. We have a lot of pine material from Georgia. They have lots of pines down there; it's a big pine growing area. 

EMILY: Oh, neat!

CHRIS: Isn't that pretty? 

EMILY: Yeah!

CHRIS: And these are all fibers. And this one came from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, so this is from 1904, so again, something over 100 years old, but in great shape. 

EMILY: Yeah, it looks - it's beautiful. 

CHRIS: A trunk of a date palm. 

EMILY: I was looking for my date palm trunk!

CHRIS: Right, and here we had a Stanley Field expedition. They were in British Guiana, which is now Guyana, and brought back a date palm. 

EMILY: Well, now you know!

CHRIS: 'Cause date palms are very important in the food industry, so... 

EMILY: That makes sense. What is this?

CHRIS: This is the part of the palm that has the flowers initially, and fruits would be attached to it. 

EMILY: Okay. So it naturally looks like this?

CHRIS: Yeah, so it's the - with flowers it's called inflorescence. When you have the fruits attached to it it's called an infructescence. Looks like I could wear it as a hair extension. 

EMILY: Yeah, it's big! 

CHRIS: We have musical instruments. 

EMILY: I've played one of those in music class. 

CHRIS: Oh, really? Okay. Maybe you should come up and play. We can have a concert. 

EMILY: Yeah! Let's have a gourd concert. That'd be fun. 

CHRIS: So these are all part of the same set. Gourds are very important in economic botany. You can see they make canisters out of them. 

EMILY: Hats! I love the hats!

CHRIS: Here are the hats. I love the hats, too. 

EMILY: They're beautiful!

CHRIS: Can you see someone wearing that? 

EMILY: It has flowers that are carved out of plant parts. It's gorgeous! I would wear that. I can't even believe how they make, like, this lace out of the bark, too. 

CHRIS: All these beautiful weaving techniques. Just think, someone trying to get all of that. 

EMILY: Do you know what it's made out of?

CHRIS: Yeah, this the double coconut. 

EMILY: Okay. 

CHRIS: The double coconut is... 

EMILY: Yeah... 

CHRIS: Have you see that? 

EMILY: Yeah, I have. 

CHRIS: We have one. 

This is a model to show you what the inside of a double coconut is, but the double coconut only grows in the Seychelles Islands, off of India. Now they don't allow any exportation of it 'cause it's been lost on some of the islands just because of overuse. And it takes a long time for these things to germinate, but... 

EMILY: Yeah, I mean, that's a huge seed. Is that a seed - considered a seed?

CHRIS: That's the seed. That's the largest seed in the world. 

EMILY: Wow. Really? 

CHRIS: And that's the finished-

EMILY: Do you need a hand?

CHRIS: This is it before it - all the fibers are taken off of it. 

EMILY: Wow. That is huge! 

CHRIS: So this is a pretty big fruit. So you can imagine how big a tree you need to have a fruit this big. 

EMILY: Yeah, that's massive. 

CHRIS: Yeah. 

EMILY: Do you need a hand getting it back up there? 

CHRIS: Probably. 

We have a magic broom. Okay? People have to come up with ways to sweep their houses, and you know, why not use something in nature? This one is from 1912. So, 100 years old. 

EMILY: Wow. 

CHRIS: This is made out of corn husks. It's a little doll. 

EMILY: It's cute! I like how he has a mustache. 

CHRIS: Oh, here's the ukulele. 

EMILY: Oh wow! 

CHRIS: Yeah, remember you were talking about your musical band? Well... Here's the ukulele. 

EMILY: It's beautiful. 

CHRIS: And it's from koa wood, which is used for ukuleles. It's from Hawaii, and it's from 1928. 

EMILY: Oh, it's beautiful. 

And shoes!

CHRIS: And shoes! The shoes, um...

EMILY: Botanical shoes! Wow... 

CHRIS: Botanical shoes. You can imagine.. 

EMILY: Sandals! 

CHRIS: ... sandals that look very much like sandals that are worn today. Let me just take the... 

EMILY: They don't have a lot of arch support, but, you know...

CHRIS: No, but, you know, you're walking around, you need something to protect your feet, and these were from Venezuela. 

EMILY: A palm.

CHRIS: Oh, and these are some of my favorite things, just because they are so beautiful. These are wooden shoe forms. 

EMILY: Oh! Wow!

CHRIS: Look at that. Isn't it gorgeous? They would use forms like this to shape the leather and make shoes. 

Here we have arrows with points made of a legume wood. This is from the New Hebrides, 1906. Yeah, I wouldn't want to be shot by one of these. 


CHRIS: Isn't this beautiful? 

EMILY: Yeah, what is that? 

CHRIS: This is just a resin that they've shaped into a spiral form, you know, similar - you could think of it as a snail or some kind of invertebrate. 

EMILY: Wow, fossil gum... 

CHRIS: Yeah, again, 100 years old. 

EMILY: Wow, it's beautiful. 

CHRIS: This is from north Guinea, in Africa. Isn't that gorgeous? 

EMILY: Yeah, it's beautiful. 

CHRIS: Same type of resin, but now fashioned into -

EMILY: A little sculpture. Wow. 

CHRIS: A little sculpture. From New Zealand. 

EMILY: What can you learn from a resin? 

CHRIS: Well resins are used in paints and varnishes, and decorative objects of fossilized resin - amber jewelry. 

EMILY: So then if you had this collection you'd be able to maybe take some information from it, take a sample, and then be able to... 

CHRIS: See the chemical composition and see why this Trachelobium is different from a hymenea which is different from a resin that would come from, like the Myrtaceae family, see what compositions they have. 

Oh, there are the tools - the rubber tapping tools. So you can see that they would score the tree with this instrument and then there were these little tin cups that they would collect the rubber in. 

EMILY: Oh, okay. 

CHRIS: And here we have the bark. You can see how they scored the bark from the rubber to run, for the sap to run, and then collect it. 

Little bundle of rubber here. There you go. 

EMILY: There you go. There you have it. 

CHRIS: Down here is our - we try to keep all the liquids together. 

EMILY: Yeah, wow.

CHRIS: But this is a great collection. 

EMILY: This is an interesting collection. 

CHRIS: We try - obviously on these - to keep everything in the original containers. They have to remain upright because we don't want it really... 

EMILY: We don't want them leaking! 

CHRIS: ... leaking and we don't want to... 

EMILY: We don't want them to evaporate. 

CHRIS: ... replace the corks or evapora - I mean, it is gonna evaporate 'cause cork is porous, but we try the best way possible to keep them upright so we designed these little trays. 

More things in bigger jars. We have lots of olive oils: 1893, Spain. We've got olives, we want to sell olives. 

EMILY: But you are slowly losing all of the liquid. Is there anything to do to stop that, or what are you gonna do in another hundred years when it's all gone? 

CHRIS: Somebody else's problem in a hundred years. 

EMILY: You'll be retired by then. 

CHRIS: I'll be retired by then, yes, yes. 

EMILY: You can do everything, literally everything that you can possibly think of to preserve these collections and yet you can't stop something from evaporating. 

CHRIS: Right. 

EMILY: So somebody at home should invent a way to prevent these liquids from evaporating. That's your homework.


EMILY: It still has brains on it.