- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) - How did Chinatown gardens grow?

More ideas, based upon a botanical project between Deadwood Historic Preservation archives and Black Hills State University’s herbarium, are sure to sprout up. The two entities recently approved a move into phase two of the project at a cost not to exceed $9,900, the Black Hills Pioneer (http://bit.ly/24yqQQ9 ) reported.

“We would like to expand what we know about the Chinese gardens up in the Chinatown area and about botanical specimens we have in the collection, too,” explained Deadwood City Archivist Mike Runge. “One thing that is really fascinating is that Joseph Sulentic of Deadwood wrote a book on the history of the Chinese in Deadwood. One of the things the family has are Fee Lee Wong’s handwritten letters in regard to the mercantile that was knocked down . one of the items they provided us with is a list of items that were being brought in to Deadwood from San Francisco.”

“Believe it or not, we found some in our Chinatown archives,” Runge said. “That already expands on that knowledge and we have a better understanding, from what companies sold . to the diet of the Chinese community out here in this area. It’s a different way of looking at it, which gives us insight into Eastern medicinal practices going on here, as well. The fact that someone thought to collect the plant specimens during the archaeological investigations was ingenious.”

Three plant biologists at Black Hills State University, Dr. Mark Gabel, professor emeritus; Dr. Tara Ramsey, research associate; and Dr. Justin Ramsey, assistant professor, proposed to properly add and prepare botanical specimens for presentations and displays by accomplishing the following tasks: preservation of plant materials sampled during earlier archaeological work; field collection of extant plant species in Deadwood’s Chinatown District; garden grow-out of eliminated species known from Chinatown District merchant’s lists, i.e., the Joseph Sulentic documents; taxonomic identification of plant materials; photography and collection information entry to BHSU herbarium database; mounting of plant specimens in protective frames and containers; writing of interpretive materials; and final scientific report.

There is longstanding interest and information about the use of animal bones, ceramics, porcelain materials, and bottles by the Chinese in Deadwood, but less known about plant materials. Help from the BHSU herbarium staff is essential, as plants sampled during archaeological efforts in the early 2000s have not been formally processed or preserved for scientific study or educational activities. Pressed specimens of extant plants are of low quality because of their off-season collection and the botanical inexperience of archaeological researchers who conducted the original sampling of the Chinatown District.

The primary goal of the project is to preserve for perpetuity the plant materials collected during archaeological work in the early 2000s. Whole plant specimens will be mounted on archival herbarium paper, identified taxonomically using floras and systematic monographs, and labeled with scientific and common names.

Seeds and plant fragments recovered from privies and ceremonial pit areas in the early 2000s are critical to the project, as they are materials most likely to have originated directly from Chinese residents in the city of Deadwood.

With permission from the current landowner, BHSU officials will sample remaining areas of the Chinatown District and taxonomically identify extant vascular plant species to determine if exotic and medicinal plant species have persisted at the site and generate high quality herbarium collections of those species.

Because many of the plant species grown by Chinese residents of the city of Deadwood are unlikely to have persisted to the present day, BHSU project principals have proposed a garden grown out of 20-30 species identified from merchants’ lists from the Chinatown District in the late 1800s. Plants will be grown at Ramsey Lab’s off-campus plant research facility. Flowering of the plants is expected between June and August.

All plant materials from the Deadwood Chinatown District will be incorporated into the Black Hills State University herbarium database, including photographic images, taxonomic identifications, and collection data.

Building from taxonomic identifications of plant materials, BHSU will interpret potential uses of plants grown by Chinese residents of Deadwood for medicine, cultural, and spiritual practices, food and spices, recreation, and decoration.

The final products from the partnership, including preserved and organized specimens, will be turned over the city of Deadwood by or before December 2016. The added, processed specimens will be housed in the Deadwood city archives. Funding for the project will be split between the city archives’ annual budget and the Historic Preservation archaeology budget.

The BHSU Herbarium, located on campus, has approximately 50,000 botanical and fossil plant specimens, with room for taking on approximately 20,000 more, growing by 3,000 specimens annually. It is one of the two large herbaria in South Dakota.

“The BHSU Herbarium also manages an online database of plant specimens from this region,” Runge said, “known as the Collaborative Database of the Plants from Western South Dakota and Eastern Wyoming Including the Bear Lodge Mountains and Black Hills.”

The BHSU Herbarium database has been compiled with one grant from the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and two grants from the National Science Foundation. It contains data of all vascular plant specimens contained in herbaria from the Missouri Plateau, which includes the western two-thirds of the Dakotas, northern Nebraska, eastern Wyoming, and the eastern two-thirds of Montana. The herbarium database has online access at http://herbarium.bhsu.edu/database.htm. It is best viewed on PC and mobile versions of the site are in the early planning stages.

“When you talk about historic preservation, it goes beyond bricks and mortar, which is what funding from HP was spent on in the 80s,” Runge said. “Now we’re able to focus on education and doing scientific research, which changes the shift and helps build the story of the Chinese and others much more in depth.”

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Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, http://www.bhpioneer.com

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