Ethnobotany course authentic assessment

This past week I to see a film that was placed in the Pacific to see the plants. Of course the film had Cocos nucifera, and some well done Artocarpus altilis. I was interested in the details. I saw a fern on the side of the mountain on Motonui and realized someone had done some fern work. Without a Blu-ray disk and screen capture software I cannot grab the screens I would want to grab. There is no doubt, however, that the attention to detail at the programming level bordered on the obsessive.

The enlargement is of the ground cover above the beach berm to the left of Moana in the above poster shot. While the ferns are probably generic, they bear a resemblance to Cyclosorus maemonensis. Not that C. maemonensis would grow in that location, but that such a small detail was intentionally modeled suggests the level attention paid to scene detailing in Moana.

Mitch with Clerodendrum inerme, ilau here on Pohnpei

Cyclosorus maemonensis is often used to scrub dishes and can be used as a wash cloth. On that island behind Moana in the age in which the movie was set - prior to modern foreign invasive plants arriving, every plant had a name and a usefulness. The island gave them what they needed because elders of fictitious Motonui could walk their island and know the use of every plant. Plants that healed injury, warded off disease, provided nutrition, supplied building and boat making materials, and would have been used in traditional ceremonies.

Dannia and Mary-Ann in the field

The ethnobotany class final examination remains structured in that same spirit. A walk across the campus identifying plants by local and Latin names along with a description of the use of the plant.


The students are given a Latin binomial name list of 70 plants found in and around the campus, thus they do not have to memorize 70 some Latin names. The logic behind the inclusion of the Latin names derives from phone calls and messages I have received over the years.

Scaevola taccada, remek on Pohnpei

Calls where a friend, relative, or former student is on another Pacific island and knows they need a particular plant, knows their own name for the plant, and has a local friend who knows the plants on that island by their local names. The communication gap is the absence of a mapping between the plant names of the islands. Latin names bridge that gap - many languages of the Pacific have flora that translate between Latin binomials and local names.

Selfie with Macaranga carolinensis leaf

The students also had to provide the local names for their plants. For students from islands on which a plant does not occur and thus has no name, those students simply note that the plant is not extant on their island. Plants like Scaevola taccada are found on both the high and atoll islands, others such as Ponapea ledermanniana are found only on Pohnpei and Kosrae and have a name only on Pohnpei.

April identifying Ixora casei, ketieu

The local names are a challenge for some of the students. While some students remain botanically knowledgeable, others are only familiar with the names of food plants.

Sasha with Ixora casei inflorescense

For the purposes of the class, the local use can be from anywhere in Micronesia. On Pohnpei Ixora casei, ketieu, is used to make dokia sticks for canoe dances, mark boundaries, and as a structural element for attaching the outrigger to the main hull where strength is a key consideration.

Artocarpus altilis behind the Mary-Ann and Siorine

This last field walk of the course is held during the final examination period and is the final examination, authentic assessment of ethnobotanical knowledge. The walk usually features rain, especially at this time of the year, but after a week of rainy days, the sun was out all day. What is usually a muddy, wet slog was a pleasant stroll on relatively dry terrain.

Yostrick and Mitchell by the Saccharum officinarum

Lienna and LynnJella in front of one of the tested plants: Cocos nucifera, nūū in Mortlockese

The class then returned to the front steps of the FSM-China Friendship Center to finish writing out their work.

Mary-Ann Solomon Henry


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