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Pharmacy Schools Dedicate New Medicinal Plant Gardens

In April 2013, the colleges of pharmacy at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and the University of Rhode Island (URI) announced the openings of new medicinal plant garden spaces, harking back to the days when medicinal plant gardens were an essential component of pharmacy education.

“Medicinal plants and crude drugs used to be part of pharmacy curriculum and [they were] taken out,” said Ikhlas Khan, PhD, assistant director of Ole Miss’s National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) and the director of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Excellence on Botanical Dietary Supplements Research (email, June 26, 2013). “Now [they are] being reintroduced in different ways.”

Maynard W. Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden Complex

The new Maynard Quimby Medicinal Plant Garden complex at Ole Miss was dedicated on April 17, 2013, in conjunction with the 12th annual Oxford International Conference on the Science of Botanicals. The expansive facilities, many of which are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, include an herbarium; administrative, laboratory, and maintenance buildings; a shade house; greenhouse; and horticulture building.

University officials are calling the new complex the “greenest” facility of its main campus in Oxford, MS. “Energy-efficient features … include natural lighting, a 20,000-gallon tank to collect rainwater running off the roofs and green ‘walls’ of climbing medicinal plants to shade its laboratory building in summer.”1

The garden itself is registered with Botanic Gardens Conservation International and is expected to be a vital component of the College of Pharmacy. “We have over two thousand species of medicinal plants at the garden,” said Dr. Khan. “[The] focus has been to collect plants which have medicinal value to create authentic samples that can be used for authenticating raw material and perform[ing] analyses that can be used to develop quality parameters.”

According to Alice M. Clark, the vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs at Ole Miss, “The Quimby Garden maintains a diverse, accurately identified, and medicinally important living plant collection to support drug discovery efforts” at the College of Pharmacy and through the NCNPR. “But its value and impact extend far beyond our own research programs.”1

In addition to being open to the public and supporting drug discovery efforts, the new garden will include a seed bank and herbarium where seeds and plants can be cleaned, stored, and catalogued. FDA employees also will use it as a part of their training on Good Manufacturing Practices.

“The School of Pharmacy at University of Mississippi has a long history of natural products research, and having a garden to teach and research plants is an essential component,” said Dr. Khan. “Anyone is welcome. We have guided tours for school kids and senior [citizens] who are interested in knowing more about nature and medicinal aspects of plants.”

The garden’s namesake, the late Maynard M. Quimby, PhD, was a professor of pharmacognosy at Ole Miss, the president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy from 1967 to 1968, and a specialist in the botany of cannabis (Cannabis sativa, Cannabaceae). A bronze bust of Dr. Quimby currently stands in the laboratory building’s lobby.

URI Pharmacy Courtyard and Heber W. Youngken Jr. Medicinal Plant Garden

Also in April 2013, the University of Rhode Island opened a new College of Pharmacy Courtyard and rededicated its Heber Youngken Jr. Medicinal Plant Garden. According to Donald H. DeHayes, provost and vice president of academic affairs, “The University is justifiably proud of its interdisciplinary approach to education, and the courtyard and garden are excellent examples of our commitment to that approach.”2

“This is truly a place where one can learn about natural pharmaceuticals, nutrition, and aesthetics,” DeHayes continued.2

The original garden opened in 1958 and was dedicated in 1994 to Dr. Youngken, the founding dean of the College of Pharmacy and son of Heber Youngken Sr., a famous pharmacognosist at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston and an author of some of the first pharmacognosy texts published in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. Before the rededication, the garden “was virtually hidden from the larger campus community and was primarily a resource for pharmacy students and faculty, as well as other researchers interested in the healing power of plants and natural products that come from them.”2

Today, the garden and new courtyard feature 200 species of medicinal plants, 500 ornamental plants, as well as various art installations including benches in the shape of birch leaves, a “translucent sculptural frieze featuring panels that depict plant life in laboratory slides,” as well as an arc wall that serves as seating and divides the courtyard.

The artistic components of the garden were created as part of the State of Rhode Island’s requirement that any taxpayer-funded building must have an art component included in the space. “This courtyard and garden illustrate the multiplicity of connections between nature and healing, research and teaching, and art and science,” said DeHayes.2

Perhaps more importantly, the courtyard and garden will serve as tranquil, educational spaces for students, scientists, and the public. “This garden takes the University and the College back to their roots as leaders in medicinal plant research around the world,” said Navindra Seeram, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacy and supervisor of the garden. “The rededication of this garden emphasizes the importance of plant-based remedies over the centuries and their important role in contemporary medicine. We are delighted that even the casual visitor will now be able to learn about medicinal plants and the work we do at URI to make society healthier.”2

ABC’s Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal was invited to deliver the keynote speech at the URI garden dedication. “I am pleased to have been able to attend both dedications at Ole Miss and URI, and I think it is remarkable that these two leading colleges of pharmacy have dedicated medicinal plant gardens within only a few weeks of each other. Hopefully, these gardens will help inspire a new generation of pharmacy students to pursue careers in natural products research, or at least, be more receptive to considering the use of medicinal plant-based preparations in their pharmacy practice.”

Although medicinal plant gardens such as the ones at the Universities of Mississippi and Rhode Island have fallen out of favor as important aspects of pharmacy curriculum, Dr. Khan hopes these spaces are the beginning of a broader trend among universities and the public. “I am very excited and hopeful that medicinal plant gardens will revive in all the schools and will become [an] integral part of the research and education effort,” he said. “Public interest is growing and so is the research in this area.”

—Tyler Smith


  1. Ole Miss to dedicate new medicinal plant garden facilities [press release]. Oxford, MI: University of Mississippi; April 11, 2013. Available at: Accessed July 19, 2013.
  2. URI celebrates opening of new pharmacy courtyard, Youngken Medicinal Plant Garden [press release]. Kingston, RI: University of Rhode Island; April 26, 2013. Available at: Accessed July 19, 2013.