A Lei for Community

Lei Legacies: April 2024

2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Every month we will weave a lei for you, one that brings together plants and stories from our five botanic gardens. We will spotlight the NTBG staff and community members who create these beautiful works alongside their lei. Created by Isabel Infante, April’s lei celebrates the diverse community and multicultural spirit of The Kampong, itself named after the Malaysian word for “village.”

A lei created by Keinan Kawaihalau-Alejo

Celebrating the richness and diversity of our community at The Kampong

The Kampong

This beautiful lei weaves together plants from around the world, reflecting the diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences of The Kampong’s South Florida community.

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An interview with the lei maker, Isabel Infante

What do lei mean to you?

A lei offers a thoughtful and beautiful way to celebrate and honor someone, blending elements of nature, place, and community. What’s particularly appealing to me about this gift is its ability to capture a specific moment and sense of place. Crafted using flowers and plants native to a particular time of year and location, it provides a profound connection to culture and its relationship with the natural world.

Can you share your vision behind this particular lei?

In honor of the 60th anniversary of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, this lei symbolizes a celebration of diversity. As a part of The Kampong community, which brings together nature enthusiasts from various backgrounds, this lei pays homage to the multicultural essence of both The Kampong and the city of Miami. The living collection of The Kampong, once the personal residence of David Fairchild, and then of Catherine “Kay” Sweeney, flourished from their fascination and love for tropical plants. During their global travels, Fairchild and Sweeney both brought, nurtured, and cherished these plants in the garden. Consequently, The Kampong boasts vegetation ranging from those native to Biscayne Bay to baobabs originating from Madagascar, reflecting Miami’s rich and vibrant community. Everyone finds a welcoming space in this tropical environment.

For this lei, I selected a hoya vine (Hoya carnosa) as the foundation and incorporated croton leaves (Codiaeum variegatum), which originate from East Asia. I included red flowers (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys) to complement the delicate dots of the croton, as well as light pink begonias (Begonia heracleifolia), native to Mexico and northern Central America. Finally, a burst of purple color was added with flowers from a king’s mantle bush (Thunbergia erecta), originally from West Africa. This lei beautifully intertwines the diverse and captivating ecosystem and community in which we live.

How would you describe your relationship with plants? What advice might you have to help others deepen their relationship with the plants and places that define their home?

Personally, I am fascinated by plants. What attracts me the most is observing their shapes, how they grow and develop in relation to the environment in which they live, while also reminding us that humans are part of this ecosystem. I never cease to marvel at the dimensions and exuberance of leaves and the aromas of flowers that grow in tropical environments. As advice, and what is repeated time and time again, walking in nature is immediately grounding, a source of peace. At least for me, that’s how I feel every time I visit The Kampong, which makes me come back again and again.

Six decades. Five Gardens. One Mission.

Discover all of our lei legacy stories and check out upcoming events in celebration of NTBG’s 60th anniversary.

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