Naturally Flexible

Ethnobotany

  • humans interact with plants every day
  • and we have for as long as we have existed
  • whether it be for food, shelter, clothing, survival, what have you
  • plants are an integral part of our lives
  • so there is indeed a field of study that investigates how people and plants interact
  • it’s one part botany
  • and one part ethnology/anthropology
  • put it all together and you get
  • ethnobotany!
  • ethnobotanists are responsible for describing the complex inter-workings of plant-human relationships on a cultural scale
  • how do we manage, perceive, and utilize these plants?
  • how are they woven into our lives?
  • there were always people out there interested in studying plants
  • us humans have a unique propensity to ask and attempt to answer questions about our environment
  • there has been a long lineage of people who could be loosely called botanists
  • perhaps botanical explorers would be a more fitting term
  • there is hardly enough space here to list them all here
  • so we’ll pick the most necessary of them to discuss
  • Carl Linnaeus was a particularly important botanist
  • publishing a text of sorts in 1753 that contained information on about 5,900 different plants
  • he was also the man who devised the system of binomial nomenclature (genus, species) that we use today
  • in his time period
  • botanists and anthropologists
  • worked separately from each other and were, for the most part, disinterested in the other’s findings
  • then, as time passed, the two disciplines began to converge
  • the discipline of ethnobotany itself is said to have began with a man name Richard Evan Schultes in the mid twentieth century
  • the term ethnobotany was yet to be coined
  • but the foundational ideology behind the discipline had begun
  • nowadays
  • to be an ethnobotanist
  • one must not only have a deep understanding of plants, their biology, and their ecology
  • but one must also be concentrated on how plants have worked their way into people’s lives

This is simply more evidence to disprove popular conception of what a scientist is. Botanists don’t sit in labs all day, pipetting until the sun goes down (though there are surely some days when time consuming benchwork is necessary). There is far too much work to be done out in the field, interacting with humans and nature. Science is not fixed either. Disciplines stretch and bend and merge and diverge as time progresses and as we learn more about the natural world. Ethnobotany is just a colorful example of what sort of fascinations can come from this unendable, bendable world we live in.

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