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CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference.
CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference

by Timothy Johnson. CRC Press, 2000 Corporate Blvd., N.W., Boca Raton, FL 33431. 1999. Hardcover. 1210 pp. ISBN 0-8493-1187-X.

CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference is a title that has little to do with the contents of the book. A more reasonable title would have been "An alphabetical listing by species of National Parks where you might encounter the species, with occasional notations on use." This massive work is a print version of a database of "listings" of 28,659 plants species. Was I excited when I received the direct mail promotion on this book from the publisher! I wrote a check for $160 and change and sent it that day. My expectations were not met. I was grateful for the publisher's generous return policy.

Wow, information on nearly 30,000 species in one book. Not! Entries are arranged alphabetically by species, followed by additional data under a category number. The species is category (1). All text is Roman. No botanical authorities are included. Common names follow (sometimes) set in caps (category 2). Next comes the scientific name of the plant family in lower case type (category 3). The next entry under each species is an alphabetical listing of which National Parks the plant is recorded from (4). The National Parks listing feature is by far the bulk of data in the book. Category 5 under each species seems to be action, such as antidiarrheal, astringent, etc. Category 6 entries are diseases or conditions for which the plant is used. Category 7 entries are chemical components, or classes. Under Asclepias tuberosa the chemical entry is "hormones." This is fairly indicative of the chemical detail included in the few places where I could find it. Category 8 is a listing of nativ e groups who used the plant or regions where the plant is utilized. Category 9 tells us "medicine," "poultice," "tea," "poison," or such "use". Category 10 (rarely included) relates to body part such as "throat." Category 11 (rarely included) denotes habitat. Category 12 (rarely included) is "comments." Each species is assigned a number.

In randomly flipping through dozens of entries, I did not find one that included all of the categories under each species. Many entries include only the scientific name, common name, plant family, and the national park(s) where they are found. Some entries such as Calystegia japonica, list only the scientific name followed by the plant family.

I was interested in finding "ethnobotanical data" on tea, Camellia sinensis. In this book, I find the scientific name. No common name is included for the plant. I find it is a member of the theaceae [sic]. I learn it is recorded from "Asia, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mexico, Turkey." Its actions are listed as "analgesic, astringent, demulcent, diuretic, lactogogue, narcotic." The native group that used it is the "Kickapoo." And its "use" (category 9) is "poison, tea."

Gee whiz, perhaps my expectations are set too high, but do you get the impression something is missing here?

An index appends the text. Under Gettysburg Military Park one finds over 300 citations to species entries numbers. That would be extremely useful data if I were visiting Gettysburg and wanted to know what grew there, but not if I have to look at 300 entries in a book. Under Yellowstone National Park, I find something over a thousand entries in the index. This information would be useful as the a multi-relational, searchable database on a CD-ROM or other electronic format.

A bibliography (18 entries) is also included which, in a word, can be described as pitiful. However, in addition five Internet data bases are listed (three of them Jim Duke's, one each in Daniel Moerman's on-line database and the National Park Service's flora database). These are useful sources of information.

I will refer to this book each time I plan a visit to national park. Otherwise, this massive pile of hardbound paper will serve as an excellent doorstop. In all honesty, the author has amassed an incredible amount of data, but I don't understand how or in what way it is useful to the vast majority of readers who fork out $160 for this work, besides telling me in which national parks a plant occurs. Highly not recommended.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Steven Foster