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Ethnobotanical Portraits

  Throughout the Handbook, you will discover botanical bits and pieces: a leaf here, a fiber there, a flower in the corner. The task of identifying plant parts, common to all ethnobotanical work, is illustrated on these pages. Behind each plant, you will find projects and people, all involved with applying ethnobotanical results to conservation and community development in various parts of the world.     -GJM 


Seeds, from which new ideas grow in the Multimedia Center. This issue features the seeds of Jatropha curcas (Euphorbiaceae) which is cultivated by Mixe Indian people in the northern sierra of Oaxaca, Mexico. Called locally pivayón (probably a corruption of piñon, the Spanish name for pine nuts), it yields seeds which are roasted and eaten as a snack food.  

  Jatropha curcas is used medicinally in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa for a variety of health problems. The information on Mixe use and naming of this species comes from an ethnofloristic inventory carried out by Mixe community members in collaboration with a local non-governmental organization called Sociedad para el Estudio de los Recursos Bióticos de Oaxaca (SERBO), and the People and Plants Initiative. The ethnobotanical team of SERBO is participating in a WWF project on people-centered conservation in  Oaxaca, with a focus  on creating educational  materials on useful plants and promoting the sustainable utilization of selected species. 


  • Rafael García Soriano,  SERBO, Porfirio Diaz 211, Apartado Postal 533,Oaxaca, Oaxaca 68000, Mexico;   Tel./Fax +52.951.60098,    e-mail serbo@laneta.apc.org 

Textures, weaving together viewpoints and issues. Closeup of the brim of a hat, woven from Carludovica palmata (Cyclanthaceae), the panama hat plant. The hat was made in Totaizal, a Mestizo community near the Beni Biosphere Reserve in northern Bolivia. Members of a neighboring village, Galilea, have created an arts and crafts center where they sell locally-produced hats, baskets and other objects made from natural fibers. The villagers are experimenting with the cultivation of Carludovica in home gardens, agricultural plots and secondary forests. These efforts are supported in part by PEBENI, a project on plants and ethnobotany of the Beni region, which is carried out jointly by the Beni Biological Station and the People and Plants Initiative.   


  • Inés Hinojosa and Enrique Uzquiano,  Estación Biológica del Beni, Av. 16 de Julio, No. 1732, Casilla 5829, La Paz, Bolivia;    Tel./Fax +591.2.350612.  

Leaves, carry readers’ comments in the letters to the editor section. Leaves from the sal tree (Shorea robusta, Dipterocarpaceae) are used to make disposable plates in West Bengal and other parts of India. They are used as a substitute for banana and lotus leaves, which are becoming increasingly scarce. In a study prepared for IBRAD (Indian Institute of Bio-Social Research and Development, to be described in an upcoming issue of the Handbook on community forestry), Madhumati Dutta and Manasi Adhikari write: ‘... sal leaves are an important non-timber forest product and as long as the village people produce plates from them, they will not want their forest to be destroyed.
Conversely, as long as the forests are there, villagers living in the peripheral regions can make a living out of the production of sal leaf plates. Hence, there is a strong two-way linkage between forest regeneration and sal plate making’

From: Dutta, M. and M. Adhikari. 1991. Sal leaf plate making in West Bengal: a case study of the cottage industry in Sabalmara, West Midnapore. IBRAD Working Paper 2. IBRAD, Calcutta.


  • IBRAD, 3A Hindustan Road, Calcutta 700 029, India;   Tel. +91.33.743105, Fax +91.33.766554 or +91.33.2482314. .

Paper, bears the title of each section. This paper, made in Nepal from lokta (Daphne bholua, Thymelaeaceae) bark, is used for greeting cards, briefcases, folders and other handicrafts. Hand-made paper from the Himalayas is an ancient craft of Nepal. The bark is harvested from managed forests in the hills of Nepal, and the paper is manufactured by crafts-persons in the town of Bhaktapur. Proceeds from the sales are used for community development activities under a programme initiated by UNICEF/Nepal.


  • Bhaktapur Craft Printers, P.O. Box 2205, Bhaktapur, Nepal.  


Inés Hinojosa, PEBENI coordinator, watching as Ascencio  Lera weaves palm leaves in San Antonio,    a Chimane Indian community in Bolivia.       jipi-japa (Carludovica palmata) cultivated in an experimental plot in Galilea, Bolivia.  




Pei Shengji

Pei Shengji is Head of the Mountain Natural Resources Division of ICIMOD in Kathmandu, Nepal. He was educated at the Chengdu School of Agriculture and Agronomy in China and received advanced training in botany and ecology from the Kunming Institute of Botany, (Chinese Academy of Sciences), University of Hawaii at Manao and the East-West Center in Hawaii, United States. He gained much of his ethnobotanical expertise during the more than twenty years he spent as researcher and director of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan Province, China. He has carried out research on many topics, including biodiversity conservation in temple yards and holy hills of the Dai ethnic region of Yunnan; the economic botany of rattans and bamboo; edible flowers of southern China; and plant diversity in swidden agroecosystems.   See ICIMOD for his address.  

Jakob Bandusya

Jakob Bandusya (Photo: R. Höft), nearly 70 years old, is a naturalist and master woodsman. His parents came to western Uganda from what is now Rwanda, at a time before such boundaries were defined by European geographers. He has lived most of his life in what is now Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a crucial catchment forest and home of a unique population of gorillas.

 He is special not only in the depth of his knowledge, but also in that he has acquired land for his family to cultivate when most of his people, the Batwa pygmies, are landless share-croppers working for Bakiga agriculturalists.  

  Jakob has played an important role in recording local peoples’ names and uses of forest plants and insects. This information, along with that from other neighbors of the park, has led to the zoning of multiple-use areas within the park, enabling local people to have continued access to forest resources, paths and culturally important sites.  

  Jakob is passing his knowledge on to his many sons. One, Caleb Bandusya, is a star gorilla tracker employed by the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation. Jakob is currently working with Dominic Byarugaba, a Ugandan graduate student funded through the People and Plants Initiative, to explore links between Batwa traditional knowledge of stingless (Meliponine) bees, pollination ecology and resource use. Contact: Simon Jennings, Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation, P.O. Box 44, Kabale, Uganda; Fax +256.486.22307.  



What is this . . . ?

Did you recognize the plant  scattered through these pages?  

  It is Urospatha antisylleptica R.E. Schultes, a plant in the Arum family (Araceae). The ground unripened spadix is used by Barasana Indians of South America for contraception.  

From: Schultes, R.E. and R.F. Raffauf. 1990. The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia. Historical, Ethno- & Economic Botany Series, volume 2. Dioscorides Press, Portland, Oregon. Based on Schultes’ fieldwork in the Colombian Amazon - spanning more than 50 years - and Raffauf’s phytochemical screenings, this compendium describes nearly 1500 species of medicinal and toxic plants, representing 596 genera in 145 plant families. Contact: Dioscorides Press, 9999 S.W. Wilshire, Suite 124, Portland, Oregon 97225, USA.         


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