Malaysian Botanist Dr. Ruth Kiew Recognized for Plant Exploration By National Tropical Botanical Garden

- Recipient of Award Considered 'Nobel Prize' for Plant Conservation

Warns of the Perils of Vanishing Species and Disappearing Expertise -

Feb 08, 2002, 00:00 ET from The National Tropical Botanical Garden

    MIAMI, Feb. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Tropical Botanical Garden
 (NTBG) today announced the award of the prestigious David Fairchild Medal for
 Plant Exploration to Ruth Kiew, Ph.D., keeper of the herbarium and library at
 the Singapore Botanic Gardens, in recognition of her indefatigable dedication
 to the conservation of endangered species and her remarkable enterprise in
 exploring remote and inaccessible areas of Borneo, Sarawak, and Malaysia.
     "Dr. Kiew has been the first botanist to explore some areas of Malaysia
 that are accessible only by extraordinarily strenuous physical effort," said
 Paul Alan Cox, Ph.D., Director of the NTBG, a congressionally chartered
 research institution in Hawaii and Florida dedicated to tropical plant
 conservation and ethnobotany, the study of how indigenous peoples use plants.
 "Her work exemplifies the three-fold mission of the NTBG, to promote
 conservation, research, and public education about tropical plants."
     "I am extremely honored, and hope that through this public recognition I
 can call attention to how much we need to protect our tropical resources,
 which are disappearing at an alarming rate," said Dr. Kiew, a botanist who
 specializes in begonias and African violets.  According to Dr. Kiew, only
 30 percent of Malaysia's native plants have been identified, while 2 percent
 have already become extinct.  And she warns that this rate could skyrocket in
 the near future because of accelerating agricultural development that causes
 massive clearing of forests.
     Dr. Kiew also expressed concern over waning attention to taxonomy, the
 science of categorizing and naming plants, which is rapidly being supplanted
 by the allure of more "high-tech" molecular biology.  She notes that as
 taxonomists age, and few students enter the field, they may become as extinct
 as the plants they categorize, resulting in the loss of critical knowledge.
     "The scientific name is the key to everything that's known," explained Dr.
 Kiew.  "If you have a plant, but don't know its name, you have no link with
 what has been discovered about it previously, and you cannot put that plant to
 any practical use.  Identification is the fundamental element of the
 scientific information."
     Dr. Kiew, the daughter of two scientists who were also avid gardeners,
 credits much of her success in effectively exploring the wilds of Malaysia to
 befriending native tribes in the region, including some descendents of
 headhunters in Borneo, who commonly serve as her guides. "As soon as you tell
 them what you're looking for, they can help you find it," Dr. Kiew marveled.
 "They really are in tune with the forest."
     In the course of describing more than 100 new plant species, Dr. Kiew has
 traveled extensively for her work in Malaysia, but being named the David
 Fairchild Award winner has prompted her first-ever visit to the United States.
 She hopes to use her trip as a springboard to discuss a particular concern of
 hers -- learning in the computer age.
     "I see more and more children today getting their information on the
 Internet, where they are given facts rather than finding things out for
 themselves," said Dr. Kiew. "I am concerned that people are losing the ability
 to make their own observations and learn from their own senses."
     Dr. Kiew indicated she is particularly interested in seeing how schools
 and other public institutions in the United States engage students in hands-on
 science education projects.
     "Dr. Kiew was chosen for the Fairchild Award because, like the researcher
 for whom it is named, she is an expeditionary scientist who seeks to protect
 the biodiversity of the planet and conserve plants for generations to come,"
 said Dr. Cox.  "She plans to use the $5,000 cash prize to commission paintings
 of the things she appreciates most -- plants."
     About The David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration:
     The award, established in 1998, is named for Dr. David Fairchild, one of
 the greatest and most influential horticulturalists and plant collectors in
 the Unites States.  Dr. Fairchild personally introduced over 2,000 plants
 (tropical fruits; flowering trees, shrubs, and vines; grasses; and palms) to
 the United States from around the world, revolutionizing our diet and
 enriching our agriculture.  The award honors courageous individuals worldwide
 who, at great personal risk and self-sacrifice, take on the race against time
 to discover new plant species before they become extinct.  This award is
 considered to be the "Nobel Prize" for plant conservation.
     About The National Tropical Botanical Garden:
     The National Tropical Botanical Garden is dedicated to the conservation of
 tropical plant diversity, particularly rare and endangered species.  Located
 in the only tropical and sub-tropical regions in the United States, NTBG has
 assembled what is believed to be the largest collection of federally-listed
 endangered plant species anywhere, including the largest collection of native
 Hawaiian flora. See for more information.
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SOURCE The National Tropical Botanical Garden