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The Hidden Histories of Plant Science

Transcript-The Hidden Histories of Plant Science
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A Black botanist is on a mission to discover the hidden stories of Black plant scientists throughout history. Shawn Abrahams shares how Black people are responsible for vanilla cupcakes, and the microscopes you use in science class! Plus, hear how Shawn started their own journey to becoming a botanist and historian, with the help of Wikipedia.



Photo of Shawn Abrahams

Dr. R. Shawn Abrahams (they/them) is a botanist, evolutionary biologist, and PhD fellow at Yale University. Of course, they study plants, but as you remember from the episode, they are passionate about black botanists throughout history.


Shawn told us about Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old enslaved boy who discovered how to pollinate the vanilla orchid. Here's a video demonstrating that process, giving you a better look at what the orchid looks like:

Albius did all this in the French colony of Réunion. The island now features a statue and memorial dedicated to his life and work.

Photo of Edmond Albias' memorial.

Here's the story of why Edmond Albius' discovery has been remembered, while many others like his may have been lost or forgotten.

Shawn also told us about Dr. Marie Clark Taylor, a professor at Howard University. She looked at how flowers responded to light and introduced the light microscope to the classroom. Here's a photo of her, along with a video that explores her impact on the science world:

Photo of Dr. Marie Clark Taylor


Curious about the documentary that convinced Shawn that plants are cool? Here's the type of film they may have seen, with the one and only David Attenborough!

Learn more about how Shawn discovered their passion for plants in our bonus interview episode, available on Patreon!


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