Ethnobotanical review session

Over the early years of ethnobotany I struggled to construct a final examination that felt aligned to the course and the material in the course. A few years ago an expert in tropical plants visited the campus and asked to tour the garden. With physical science and mathematics being my stronger backgrounds, I was looking forward to learning more about the plants in the garden.

Arnald makes notes.

When we entered the garden the expert began rattling off Latin binomials for the plants, they seemed to know the plants of the garden, or so it would have seemed to someone who did not know the correct names. Whatever plants the expert was naming, if indeed they were actual plants, not one was single correct identification.

I gently and meekly asked in each instance, "Uh, isn't this Clerodendrum inerme? Premna obtusifolia? Senna alata?"


"Oh, yes, of course!" said the expert. For every single plant. We did not cross paths again after that walk in the garden. I do not know all of the plants, only a few. I am very open and up front about my lack of knowledge. Why would one make up Latin names, simply admit to not knowing. Metroxylon amicarum is not found outside of Pohnpei and Chuuk, one would have to a palm expert's expert to know that tree.


I concluded that the expert was a fraud and also realized what my final examination had to look like. A student should be able to walk through the forest and know their plant names and uses. The forest should be their pharmacy, their hardware store, and their supermarket. And so the current final format came into existence. The students do get a key to work with for the Latin binomial, but they must know their own name for the plant and be familiar with the plant's use.

Jane Rose

The class visits the garden on four occasions. There are garden clean-ups at term start and midterm. There is a visit during the vegetative morphology walk.  And there is the final term end clean-up and plant review seen in these images.

Shalein and Ivenglynn

The final still looks and feels right, authentic to the intent of the course.

Ashley, Ivenglynn, Rose Ann Pama

Rose Ann Pama and Masumy Saimon

Emylou Leigh

Arnald and Delphina
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