Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Kuching, Sarawak --the City of Cats

We arrived in the Malaysia and have been staying in Kuching, Sarawak (in Borneo) for over a week now. (I will mercifully omit the details of the 33 hour plane journey!!!)  Kuching is the "City of Cats" and means "cat" in  Malay.   There are plenty of cats patrolling urban areas, keeping their turf free from small annoying prey -- many cats having naturally bobbed and crooked tails. I've noticed the popular, cherubic face of Hello Kitty adorning lots of clothes and personal articles around here too.   But I digress!
Kuching, City of Cats

This blog isn't about cats, but about exploring and discovering the plants in this area, as well as the people and cultures which also make this part of the world so interesting. Sarawak is a wonderful combination of different peoples, religions and customs -- the Iban indigenous people form about 30% of the population in Sarawak, with nearly the same percentage of Chinese-Malaysians, followed by Malay Muslims (ca. 20%)  and others. In fact, Kuching is gearing up to celebrate the Chinese New Year on February 19th -- the Year of the Goat.

Red and gold lanterns hail the Year of the Goat -- February 19th

 My first few days in Kuching have been spent becoming familiar with the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) where I am hosted. The SBC is well outside of town, located in the rainforest near the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. I got a tour of the impressive, beautiful grounds and facilities and got to meet many of the people involved in the molecular lab, the algae lab, the nurseries and the Traditional Knowledge Program.  The Traditional Knowledge Program (TKP)  is my host within the centre. The TKP is all about making sure that the many indigenous communities found in Bornean Sarawak -- Iban, Bidayuh, Kelabit, Kayan, Kenyah and several others --  are able to preserve and benefit from their plants and plant knowledge.
In SBC nursery with Linda and Hanos

From a botanist's perspective, it is definitely overwhelming to come in contact with so many plants you've never seen before --- and so many plant families you've never even heard of. If there was a word balloon that constantly floats around the head of a visiting botanist, I'm sure it would read: " What is THIS?  What is THIS/ What is THIS?"    I'll post  again -- soon, I hope!

What is THIS?  (King Fern or angiopteris evecta)
Hard to tell that I am standing next to a FERN!!!!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


This spring I'm going to Malaysia on a Fulbright Scholarship. I'll be there for about six months, visiting several institutions including the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre near Kuching (on Borneo) and also the Forestry Research Centre in Sandakan (in Sabah). Later I'll also be spending time at the Rimba Ilmu at the University of Malaysia and at the world-renowned Forestry Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) in Kuala Lumpur.

I'm going as a kind of participant/observer to get a hands-on experience of tropical botany and herbarium management, doing a little bit of everything from field collecting to joining ethno-botanical field-trips to good old herbarium-based plant taxonomy scopework. I'll also be offering a couple of short courses (including one on the flora of the southwestern US, based on my studies and work in Arizona).

Why Malaysia? This tropical southeastern nation has some of the oldest and most species-rich rainforests on earth and has recently shown a real interest in environmental management and eco-tourism. If you are interested in plants, check in here every so often to check out what's new!