Botanist puts her expertise to work establishing Cherokee garden

Karen Hall ’92 returned to her undergraduate education after years of working as a nightclub singer, in sales, as a stable hand and as a box company shift supervisor. Now Hall, of Bryson City, who comes from a long line of plant enthusiasts, is the first professional botanist in her family.

Photo courtesy Greg Beckner of the Greenville Journal

A professor at Clemson University and director of Clemson’s master gardener program, Hall helped create the Cherokee Worldview Garden within the South Carolina Botanical Garden. The garden reflects the Cherokee worldview and relationship with nature and acknowledges the first human beings to inhabit the land that the Botanical Garden now stewards.

“The Cherokee have a quite deserved distrust of sharing their traditional herbal remedies with researchers,” Hall said. “All too often the dissertation includes a list of plants and the illnesses they are used to treat, which the drug makers pounce on to turn a profit.”

Hall, on the other hand, has a strong rapport with members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who advised her in the garden’s creation. The garden grew from Hall’s dissertation, which focused on the Cherokee use of plants in their traditional culture. She earned her doctorate in plant physiology from Clemson in 2006, after earning her master’s degree in botany there in 1999.

Less than a mile from a former Cherokee town, the garden contains plants for food, shelter, medicine, basketry, weaponry, trade and more. Structures include a watchtower (typical for crops), fire pit, dry creek bed, benches and river cane. Freeman Owle ’76 MAEd ’78, Cherokee storyteller and elder, was part of the celebration when the garden opened in June 2010.

This story was compiled with information from the online publication Journal Watchdog, based in Greenville, S.C.