Take a Walk in the Tropics at Flower Show

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URI’s Pharmacy’s Medicinal Garden Show

KINGSTON, R.I.– February 18, 2015– The air is humid and thick. Everything around you is green and lively. Plants hang down all around you and cover your feet. You start to think you’ll need a machete to get out of this spectacular area of tropical plants, but then you take a step out and enter a world of fluorescent lighting and carpeted flooring.


This is the experience you will get starting Thursday, Feb. 19 at the Amazon-themed hut presented by the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy at the Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show. The show runs through Sunday, Feb. 22 at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Hours Thursday through Saturday are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Further information and ticket sales can be found at the show site, The Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show.


What does the world of pharmacy have to do with the Amazon and tropical plants? Plenty, according to the staff and volunteers who oversee the pharmacy college’s Heber Youngken Jr. Medicinal Garden, a vital research and teaching resource at URI.


URI Senior Gardener J. Peter Morgan and his crew of volunteers, including Richard Youngken, the son of the founding dean of URI’s College of Pharmacy, and for whom the garden is named, maintain the garden. Heber Youngken Jr. was a renowned pharmacognosist known around the world for his work with pharmaceutical education and research as well as his position with the American Pharmaceutical Association.


A pharmacognosist has expert knowledge of the active chemical components of medicinal plants, identification of new molecules and the ways in which various cultures use the plants therapeutically.

In preparation for this year’s show, the volunteers have been working long hours this week at the Convention Center. Joan Lausier, former associate dean of the college, leads a group of eight volunteers.


Preparing the exhibit is no easy task. Interim Pharmacy Dean Paul Larrat said, “planning for the display starts several months before the Flower Show, with most of the construction occurring in January.”


Last year URI’s display placed second in the showcase for its design of a “Vintage” theme, which highlighted herbs and plants grown by St. Hidelgard.


This year the team hopes to capture the title with its theme a “hut in the Amazon jungle,” inspired by work of the late Nicole Maxwell, a free-spirited pharmacognosist.


“Some of our tropical medicinal plants are several decades old,” Larrat said. “Usually they ‘live’ in the greenhouse (behind the Mallon Center) or in the College of Pharmacy building. Joan Lausier does quite a bit of research in order to identify themes for the annual display. I think Nicole Maxwell was an interesting choice.”


Maxwell’s unique life experiences led her to an interest in medicinal plants and their healing properties. She spent a significant amount of time in South America where she befriended the local Indians of the upper Amazon jungle. She learned about their use of plants for medicinal purposes. After her work was discredited in the states as a publicity stunt, Maxwell wrote “Witch Doctor’s Apprentice” about her adventure and how the Indians used plants to prevent tooth decay, painlessly extract teeth, dissolve kidney stones, heal burns and cure or prevent scores of other maladies.


This release was written by, Rachel Smith, a graduate assistant for the Marketing and Communications Department.