Virtual Scientist Lecture Series to Highlight Black Botanists from Across the U.S. and Beyond

Holden Forests & Gardens, the 14th largest public garden in the country will partner with the University of New Mexico to foster and demonstrate pathways to careers in botany

(CLEVELAND) September 24, 2020 – Holden Forests & Gardens (HF&G) and the University of New Mexico announce the 2021 Scientist Lecture Series: Growing Black Roots the Black Botanical Legacy a groundbreaking FREE virtual lecture series to inspire others to pursue a career in plants and highlight pathways to diversity and inclusion in botanical sciences.  This free 11-part series will take place online with a new speaker on the second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. ET from October 2020 through August 2021. To register visit This series is open to all.

The series will cover a broad range of botanical disciplines and delve into the historical legacy of formally trained and self-taught Black Botanists. Organizers and contributors seek to shine a light on the Black roots within botany, foster a community of Black Botanists, demonstrate the diversity within this community, and inspire others who may not have considered Botany as a career choice.

“I’m ecstatic about this series, which will be a full year of relishing in the vast diversity of plant connections Black people have cultivated. From historical to novel perspectives, here we’ll be highlighting a wide range of topics in order to inspire you and the next generation of scientists, said Maya L. Allen, botanist at the University of New Mexico.

The Scientist Lecture Series this year was inspired by Black Botanists Week, a Twitter campaign that took place in July 2020, “to promote, encourage, create a safe space for, and find more Black people who love plants.” This campaign went viral, reaching thousands of viewers and attracting Black Botanists from around the globe. The participants received an outpouring of support and requests for collaboration through their newly created #BlackBotanistsWeek Twitter account and website

“It’s an honor to be hosting this incredibly talented group of botanists, and with this year’s lecture series being virtual and free to the public for the first time, we look forward to sharing their expertise far and wide with the hopes of inspiring the next generation to pursue careers in botanical sciences,” said Dr. Juliana Medeiros, plant biologist at Holden Forests & Gardens.

This is the 15th annual Scientist Lecture Series hosted by HF&G that features prominent botanists and ecologists.

The talks will take place on Zoom with a livestream to YouTube. The talks are free to view, but participants must register.

Free supplemental educational materials for middle and high school students and teachers: HF&G will provide  educational activities and resources based on each talk for use by teachers and parents. The videos will be made permanently available on YouTube for public viewing after the live event has ended. The YouTube video description will contain a link to a special series webpage describing and hosting the educational materials. These materials will be aimed at students in grades 7 through 12, interdisciplinary, connected to educational standards and focused on the comprehension and connection to the biological concepts and lived experiences of the speakers as presented in the talks.

Registration is now open for the Wednesday, October 14 lecture with Maya L. Allen. Registration will be open for all lectures soon. You can register here:

October 14, 2020

Speaker: Maya L. Allen

Affiliation: University of New Mexico Department of Biology

Talk Title: Planting Seeds of Freedom in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico: How Blackdom Grew Its Roots through Dry-Farming

Talk Summary: In the early twentieth century, Frank Boyer and Daniel Keys undertook a 2,000-mile journey by foot from Pelham, Georgia to Roswell, New Mexico. Motivated to produce a sovereign community and elevate their economic status without the persecution of the US’ Jim Crows Laws, Blackdom was incorporated in 1903 as first Black settlement of the New Mexico Territory. This talk will tell the story of how the recruitment of Southern Black families brought a wealth of Southern and African agricultural knowledge to the Pecos Valley, where they would be challenged by calcareous soils and drought. Ms. Allen will show how, despite these challenges, this community cultivated Alfalfa, apples, Sorghum, beans, potatoes, cotton, cantaloupe, onions, and sugar beets. In fact, Boyer boasted the largest hay harvest business in Dexter, NM. Today, Blackdom is a ghost town and the desert grasslands have been replaced by Chihuahuan Desert scrub. But the legacy lives on through their descendants and in the survival of Vado, NM – a second community founded farther south from Blackdom.

Speaker Bio: With a background in systematics of algae as an undergraduate researcher, Ms. Allen has since gone on to work in marine, fresh-water and terrestrial systems.  Ms. Allen also was a participant in the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections Project as an undergraduate, where she contributed to this important effort to make academic collections more accessible to the global research community and the public. She conducted her MS thesis work on resolving the phylogeny of Glossopetalon, a small genus of flowering shrubs native to SW North America using restriction site associated DNA sequencing (RAD-seq). Ms. Allen has transitioned to exploring research questions focused on the phenotypic plasticity’s role in evolution and patterns of plasticity throughout species ranges. As a graduate student at UNM she is a mentor to students from underrepresented groups through the Project for New Mexico Graduate Students of Color program and as a Research Coaching Fellow.


November 11, 2020

Speaker: Morgan Halane, PhD

Affiliation: National Parks Service

Talk Title: Rethinking Nontraditional: Navigating a Biology Career While Black

Talk Summary: Scientists often face career hurdles when they take what some see as a “nontraditional path.” The traditional scientific career, however, has been defined primarily by white scientists. In this talk, Dr. Halane will discuss his career as a Black botanist and highlight the fact that everyone faces their own unique path in life. The belief that non-conformity to the traditional scientific path is a weakness disproportionately harms Black scientists, and this talk will present ways to rethink this stance.

Speaker Bio: Dr. Halane’s research has investigated aspects of plant immunity in legumes and the model plant Arabidopsis, and the molecular biology of citrus greening disease. This work focuses on understanding how plant immune responses are triggered by exposure to pathogenic proteins. He continued his research on plant immunity as a POSTECH Korea Research Fellowship from the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF), eventually bringing his research skills to the biotech industry at Aanika Biosciences. Beyond his research, Dr. Halane’s diverse skill set also speaks to his interest in outreach, including a BA in English literature with a thesis focused on depictions of adaptation in film ‘When “Loosely Based On” Becomes “New”: Defining the Limits of Adaptation in the Film Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’.


December 9, 2020

Speaker: Nokwanda P. Makunga, PhD

Affiliation: Associate Professor at Stellenbosch University, Department of Botany and Zoology

Talk Title: Of plants and people:  From the past to the present

Talk Summary: South Africa is world renowned for its biodiversity and many have recognized that its botanical wealth presents with unique opportunities for conservation and commercialization which can drive economic development. It is a country with many varied indigenous knowledge systems. Having developed within a hyper-diverse floral region, the various practices for utilization of medicinal plants have led to a wide range of ethnic pharmacopeias which are uniquely South African in character. There is certainly enormous scope for this indigenous knowledge combined with the many medicinal plants to contribute both to human health at both locally and at the global level. Through a historical account, this talk will relate how the different cultural practices of the exploitation of plants for health likely arose in southern Africa.  Thereafter, by using various examples of indigenous and endemic plant species, Dr. Makunga will explore how biotechnologies are integral to our better understanding of these plants and their unique phytochemistry.  Finally, the ways in which such approaches can add a new value to traditional plant knowledge and its custodians will be discussed.

Speaker Bio: Dr. Makunga’s research in the field of medicinal plant biology focuses plants of South Africa, using an interdisciplinary approach that combines medicinal chemistry approaches investigating the genetics and molecular biology of secondary metabolites, with ethnobotanical studies investigating local plant knowledge and practices, with a goal to better understand potential medicinal value of South African native plants. Dr. Makunga’s research investigates some well-known horticultural species such as pomegranate but is also actively uncovering the wealth of traditional uses for South African plant species. Her work documenting traditional uses combined with laboratory and clinical assessments of the active compounds and their effects has been foundational in bringing African medicinal floral to the forefront of medicinal chemistry. Dr Makunga was a Fulbright Research Scholar (2017/2018) at the University of Minnesota.

For a complete series listing including bios and lecture descriptions, 

January 13, 2021
Speaker: Tatyana Soto
Affiliation: Purdue University.
Talk Title: Toxic Soils & Special Plants: Serpentine Endemism in California

February 10, 2021
Speaker: Brandi Cannon
Affiliation: Middle School Science Teacher & Science Curriculum Coordinator
Talk Title: Identification & Discovery: A Botanical Love Story


March 10, 2021
Speaker: Beronda Montgomery, PhD
Affiliation: Foundation Professor at Michigan State University
Talk title: From Seeds of Inspiration to a Harvest of Discovery

April 14, 2021

Speaker: Tanisha Williams, PhD
Affiliation: Burpee Post-Doctoral Fellow in Botany Bucknell University, Lead Organizer of #BlackBotanistsWeek
Talk Title: Uncovering the Black Botanical Legacy


May 12, 2021
Speaker: Georgia Silvera Seamans
, PhD
Affiliation: Director and co-founder of Washington Square Park Eco Projects
Talk Title: New York City’s Phenology Gradient


June 9, 2021
Speaker: Jade Bleau
Affiliation: University of Edinburgh, Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences
Talk Title: The Deadly Messengers: How plants harness highly reactive products of stress


July 14, 2021
Speaker: Rupert Koopman.
Affiliation: Conservation Manager at the Botanical Society of South Africa, Chair Fynbos Forum Committee.
Talk Title: From fynbos to Savanna (and everything in between): Plant conservation in South Africa


August 11, 2021
Speaker: Natasza Fontaine.
Affiliation: Florida State University, Curator R.K. Godfrey Herbarium.
Talk Title: Seeing Red: How plants influence coloration in birds


About Black Botanists Week
In July 2020, Dr. Tanisha Williams (Bucknell University) led the organization of a Twitter campaign entitled #BlackBotanistsWeek with a goal “to promote, encourage, create a safe space for, and find more Black people (and BIPOC1) who love plants.” This campaign was hugely successful, reaching thousands of viewers, and attracting many Black Botanists from around the globe to participate and introduce themselves to the greater science Twitter community. As a follow-up, the organizers created a #BlackBotanistsWeek Twitter account, which has already garnered over 500 followers in a few short weeks. Black Botanists Week received an outpouring of support and requests for collaboration through their website contact form. The organizing committee strives to leverage these collaborations to fund a Black Botanists Week Scholarship to support underrepresented groups in pursuing botanical fields.

About the University of New Mexico
Founded in 1889 as New Mexico’s flagship institution, The University of New Mexico now occupies nearly 800 acres near old Route 66 in the heart of Albuquerque, a metropolitan area of more than 500,000 people. From the magnificent mesas to the west, past the banks of the historic Rio Grande to the Sandia Mountains to the east, Albuquerque is a blend of culture and cuisine, styles and stories, people, pursuits and panoramas. Offering a distinctive campus environment with a Pueblo Revival architectural theme, the campus buildings echo nearby Pueblo Indian villages. The nationally recognized campus arboretum and the popular duck pond offer an outstanding botanical experience in the midst of one of New Mexico’s great public open spaces. For more information visit

About Holden Forests & Gardens
Holden Forests & Gardens is made up of two of Northeast Ohio’s most important environmental and cultural institutions — the Holden Arboretum and Cleveland Botanical Garden — whose mission is to connect people with the wonder, beauty, and value of trees and plants, to inspire action for healthy communities.  The 14th largest public garden in the country, Holden Forests & Gardens has over 17,000 member households and an annual attendance of over 350,000 for whom we strive to provide inspirational and educational visitor experiences. For more information, visit and

Geauga News
Author: Geauga News