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Toys: An Amusing Use of Plants

Contributed by Veronica Franco, Centro de Investigacion Cientifica de Yucatan (CICY), Apartado Postal 87, Cordemex, Yucatan C.P. 97310 México

Among the vast uses of plants, there is one that is especially attractive, not only for children, but for adults as well. Toys can provide enjoyment for the young and the old. The aims of this workshop were to:

  1. learn about toys made from plants or plant structures from different regions of Mexico;
  2. relate the variety of toys to the biodiversity of the country; and
  3. analyse these aspects in terms of how useful this kind of activity can be in raising awareness, particularly in children, of the importance of plant conservation.

This workshop included ludic, historical, cultural, botanical and ecological issues. Delegates considered what toys were and their importance.

Toys are an essential element in the formation of a child’s character. By playing with toys, children start to learn about adult life and in addition parents use them to educate children.

Contemporary Mexican culture has developed from a mixture of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cultures resulting in a culture that is unique and rich.

There is archaeological evidence that in pre-Hispanic Mexican culture, artisans made different types of toys. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that elaborate toys started being made such as trains, dolls, tea sets, doll houses, soldiers, marionettes etc. Many of these were made from plants or plant structures.

Although there are toys made with fruits, seeds, vines, palm leaves, cotton and aquatic plants among others, most are made from wood. When conducting workshops at CICY with the public we question and analyse what wood is, how trees produce it, mentioning as well some of its botanical and ecological characteristics, and how the diverse type of toys are directly related to plant diversity.

The practical part of this workshop with congress delegates involved building toys. Using the templates toys can be made from soft and thin wood.


  • paints in a range of bright colours
  • paint brushes
  • sand paper
  • copper wire
  • pliers.


  1. Place the templates on the soft thin wood and cut out the shapes.
  2. Sand the edges of the wood pieces using sandpaper.
  3. Paint each of the pieces and let them dry.
  4. Attach the pieces as shown in the diagrams and ensure that the arms and legs hang loosely so that they can move forwards and backwards.

Bellota comes from the Nahuatl communities from the state of Puebla in Mexico. The original toys were made with the Quercus sp. seed. You can either use a large seed or use a small piece of wood. When you pull the string it turns.

Equilibrista comes from the state of Michoacan in Mexico. This area has large pine and pine-oak forests. This toy is in the shape of a monkey.

Chinete originates from the state of Guerrero in Mexico. Staff from CICY have made a chameleon and a rabbit – but many other animals could be made.