Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, July 2, 1999

By Dean Sensui, Star-Bulletin
Winnie Singeo examines a Queen Emma lily at Foster Garden.
In addition to being responsible for the plant inventories at the
botanical gardens, Singeo leads school tours to help
children appreciate plants.

Planting career ideas for girls

This Independence Day weekend is an appropriate time to think about a new series of books for girls, encouraging them to find independence by entering "nontraditional" professions for women. At first glance, it seems 20 years behind the times -- women have joined many of the professions in sizable numbers, particularly law and most fields of medicine.

But when you read the list of titles, maybe women haven't quite got a foot in the door as engineers, architects, astronomers or cardiologists. A few of the professions are somewhat esoteric, for example Egyptology and paleontology don't seem good avenues to employment. But the latest book should interest gardeners.

Kristin Rose Bozak, an associate professor of biological sciences at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, is co-author of "You Can Be a Woman Botanist," directed at middle school girls. Bozak's career research has focused on cloning the DNA from avocado plants to control the ripening process, a project of enormous value to California's thousands of commercial avocado growers. Her co-author is Judith Love Cohen, an electrical engineer who began the series with "You Can Be a Woman Engineer."


Book introduction:
Bullet "You Can Be a Woman Botanist,", by Kristin Rose Bozak, Judith Cohen and David Katz, designed for girls in grades five through eight
Bullet Introduction by: Winnie Singeo, collections manager of Honolulu Botanical Gardens, with readings from the book, and a discussion of Singeo's career and opportunities for women in botany
Bullet When: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. July 31
Bullet Where: Borders Waikele
Bullet Cost: Free
Bullet Call: 676-6699

For a more personal slant on the possibilities of botany as a career for a woman, Winnie Singeo, a botanist and collections manager of Honolulu Botanical Gardens, talked about her experiences in the field. She will go into greater detail during an introduction of the book later this month.

"In high school I never really thought about a plant-related field of work. I grew up in Waipahu, but an interest in plants was natural to me. Both my father and my grandfather were always fiddling with plants. I remember a hibiscus bush in our yard with flowers in several colors. My father had grafted different varieties onto a single rootstock and each graft was a different colored flower."

Singeo said she wasn't a gardener then, but did well in her physical science courses. "When I got to the University of Hawaii, I worked as a dishwasher at the medical school to earn tuition money. A pharmacology teacher, Dr. George Read, encouraged me to go into botany, saying it was a good field for a woman. So I did, and I got a botany degree, but there weren't any jobs in botany."

Realizing employers were more interested in growing food crops than flowers, she earned a masters degree in agronomy and soil science and found a job with the government of the Republic of Palau. There she helped farmers with their crops, and later married a classmate from the university whose home was Palau.

After returning to Honolulu she worked for 10 years in the pineapple and sugar industries, doing research on increasing plant yields by controlling destruction by nematodes. "This is agronomy, not botany. When I think back, there weren't very many women botanists in the field," Singeo said. "One day in 1990 my brother saw an ad in the paper for a botanist at the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. 'You always wanted to be a botanist-go for it, he said.'

"I had a degree in botany, but no experience. I went anyway to the interview, and I got the job. I love working here with the gardens. Each one of them is so different."

The Honolulu Botanical Gardens are part of the city Department of Parks and Recreation, and are headquartered at Foster Garden, where Singeo spends most of her time. The other gardens are Liliuokalani Garden in Liliha, Hoomaluhia in Kaneohe, Wahiawa Botanical Garden and Koko Crater Botanical Garden.

As collections manager of the gardens, it is Singeo's responsibility to know their complete plant inventories. "I keep computer records," she said, "of every plant in each garden, where it is located and its current condition. Each one has a number, like a social security number, so we can keep track of it , even if we move it. I get calls about cultivation of tropical plants from botanists all over the country."

She prepares and maintains labels in the gardens, small signs at the base of each plant giving its common and botanical names and place of origin. She also leads school tours of the gardens for first through fourth graders. "Little kids are natural botanists, and this is one of my favorite parts of the job. An appreciation of plants begins when you're young. These are our future conservationists, our hope."

Singeo said many more women are entering the field of botany than during her college days. "To be a botanist, you need to like science classes, be strong in math and chemistry and be curious about nature. There are employment opportunities not only in botanical gardens but in commercial nurseries, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in agriculture and in research."

She compared her job with the nine other careers in the series on women in nontraditional fields. "I have regular 9 to 5 working days right here on Oahu without emergency calls or far away field trips. My husband and I have a 16-year-old daughter, and both she and my husband have been very supportive of my work. It's a good career."

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

Send queries along with name and phone number to:
Evergreen by Lois Taylor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
Or send e-mail to
Please be sure to include a phone number.

Evergreen by Lois Taylor is a regular Friday feature of the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin. © 1998 All rights reserved.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin