Elevating Underrecognized Contributions to Plant Study & Cultivation
During Black History Month, we pay tribute to African Americans and their many contributions to the history of this country. Sadly, much of their legacy and achievements in the fields of horticulture and botany have been ignored and lost. This month is an opportunity to strive to recall and celebrate important and inspiring African Americans.
One such regional legacy with international impact is that of Clarence Pleasants. Clarence fell in love with oleanders as a boy in Virginia, and decided to dedicate his life to this enchanting subtropical shrub.
When only a 7th grade education was available to him in formal schooling, he turned to the Norfolk Botanical Garden to dive deeper in his knowledge and understanding of the Nerium species. He corresponded with people across the globe to learn about the plant and discovered that oleanders were planted prolifically in Galveston after the devastating flood of 1900.
Driven by his passion for oleanders, he moved to Galveston, aka the Oleander City, and grew and propagated numerous species. Clarence co-founded what is now known as the International Oleander Society with Kewpie Guido who was inspired by his love of oleanders.
Despite their toxicity for mammals, including humans, oleanders are beloved landscaping plants for their resiliency and blooms. The oleanders in the Mediterranean and Tropical biomes in the Global Collection Garden suffered during the December 2022 freeze, but we expect many will bounce back, as some closer to the coast – in Galveston, League City, and Seabrook, for instance – are already doing. We are grateful for Clarence “Mr. Oleander” Pleasants’ passion for and commitment to oleanders. We celebrate the work that builds on his contributions that continues in Galveston to cultivate and showcase this species.
Claudia Gee Vassar, President & General Counsel
Read the February 2023 e-newsletter for more, including the story of a wedding planner who has fallen in love with the Garden’s rental spaces and why Apache Corporation chose to include the Garden among the recipients of its Tree Grant Program.