TRANSFORMINGETHNOBOTANY FOR THENEW MILLENNIUM1Michael J. Balick2ABSTRACT In the past several decades, the science of ethnobotany has evolved from a discipline primarily concerned withmaking lists of useful plants in a particular geographic region or among an individual tribe, to a multidisciplinaryendeavor focused on understanding the relationship between plants and people. Ethnobotanists are involved in projectsranging from community level germplasm conservation to multinational biodiversity prospecting. One resuit of therenewed interest and activity in ethnobotany has been the increased public awareness of this branch of biologicalscience. Several projects utilizing the contemporary ethnobotanical paradigm are discussed, including in-situ germplasmconservation in the western United States, ethnobotanical market surveys in Mexico, the management and use of Sabalpalm resources in Mexico, quantitative studies in the Neotropics, and ethnopharmacological studies linked to drugdevelopment in Samoa. The Belize Ethnobotany Project's multidisciplinary approach to the study and conservation oftraditional medicines and the development of an ethno-biomedical forest reserve in Belize are also reviewed. Contem-porary ethnobotanical studies have value not only for the research questions they address, but as a way of catalyzingawareness of the value of biological diversity and support for its conservation among a broad range of people. The term ethnobotany was first proposed in a lec-ture by John Harshberger to apply to the study of"plants used by primitive and aboriginal people. . ." (Anonymous, 1895). This initial concept ofethnobotanical investigation was typified in a paperby J. Walter Fewkes (1896), "A Contribution toEthnobotany," in which he wrote of the work of hisstudent J. G. Owens, who initiated a study on thefoods and food resources of the Hopi Indians. Inthis paper, which was published after Owens'sdeath, Fewkes wrote about their collaborative en-deavors, presenting a list of the common naines anduses of several dozen food species, and stating, "Isimply wish to call attention to the interesting fieldof ethnobotany which the Hopi Indians furnish theethnologist." This work reflects the style in whichearly ethnobotanical studies were undertaken-compiling lists of commnn and Latin names ofplants used by an indigenous group. Efforts previous to that time were carried out un-der the heading of "aboriginal botany," a ternicoined by Steven Powers (1873-1875) to include"all fornns of the vegetable world which the aborig-ines used for medicine. food, textile fabrics. orna-ments, etc." Edward L. Paltner. a botanist whomade comprehensive descriptions of the flora of thewestern United States, was also one of the first bot-anists to investigate the cultural significance ofplants to indigenous people through his fieldwork(Palmer, 1871, 1878). Prior to the above-mentionedendeavors, other investigators studied the use ofplants by North American indigenous peoples, of-ten focusing on the medicinal values that theseconferred. Ford (1978) calculated that a total of 904studies had been published on native North Amer-ican ethnobotany before 1977. In the past several decades, the nature of eth-nobotanical investigation began to change, becom-ing more focused on studies of the relationship be-tween plants and people in the broadest sense, andemploying multidisciplinary perspectives. Exam-ples include the study of Berlin et al. (1974), whichcombined botanical, linguistic, and utilization in-formation, and that of Schultes and Hoffman(1973), which united ethnomedicine and phyto-chemistry. The emergence of ethnobotany as a mul-tidisciplinary science, springing forth from its foun-dation in systematic botany, has resulted ininteresting and important research questions thatare being addressed. This "new" ethnobotany linksdiverse disciplines, such as anthropology, botany,nutrition, ecology, conservation, economics. and 1' am grateful to Brian Boom, Robert A. Bye, Jr., Javier Caballero. Paul Cox, Edelmnira l.inares, Steven Smith, andDaniela Soleri for providing me with information on their research. 1 thank the traditional healers who have collaboratedwith me in the Belize Ethnobotany Project and allowed me to give voice to their endeavors. Rosita Arvigo and GregoryShropshire of lx Chel Tropical Research Foundation have been my valued companions in Belize, and we are gratefulto our many friends and supporters of this project. Jay Walker was verv kind to prepare Figure 1, as was ElizabethPecchia in typing the manuscript. 2 Director and Philecology Curator of Economic Botany, The New York Botanical Garden, Institute of EconomicBotany. Bronx. New York 10458-5126, U.S.A.ANN. MissouRI BOT. GARD. 83: 58-66. 1996.