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If you like Richard Schultes's story, you might also like:
Lee Berger,
Norman Borlaug,
Sylvia Earle,
Paul Farmer,
Jane Goodall,
Stephen Jay Gould,
Donald Johanson,
Meave Leakey,
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Tim White and
Edward O. Wilson

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Richard Schultes
 
Richard Schultes
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Richard Schultes Profile

The Father of Modern Ethnobotany

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  Richard Schultes

"You are not going back to the States, you are going right down into the Amazon and try to get the Indians to tap wild rubber. The Japanese have taken over all of Southeast Asia -- we have no more rubber, which is essential, especially for the heavy military planes."

These were the orders given to a 26 year-old American botanist who had come to the Amazon on a one-year grant to study native arrow poisons. Richard Schultes answered his government's call and soon revived the production of rubber in the Amazon. He remained after the war to conduct purely scientific research on all potentially useful plants of the region. He ended up staying in the Amazon for 13 years.

Despite Schultes's repeated disclaimers, it was a voyage fraught with hardship, toil and danger. Blood poisoning, food poisoning and recurrent bouts of malaria were common occurrences. Hazardous journeys by foot, canoe, and aged airplanes were routine. Natives everywhere used arrows tipped with substances that could have killed him in an instant.

Thanks to the contacts he had made with local chiefs and medicine men, Schultes was able to tap into thousands of years of accumulated herb lore and identify dozens of plants with long-documented uses. This living tradition, passed down from generation to generation, saved him untold amounts of time that he otherwise would have had to spend on basic research.

Today, through his efforts, many substances originally used by natives of the Amazon as hallucinogens or poisons serve the entire world as the sources of everything from muscle relaxants used in surgery to biodegradable insecticides. It is not given to many individuals to be universally recognized as the founder of an entirely new branch of science. But such was the honor accorded Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, the father of ethnobotany -- the scientific investigation of plants used by primitive societies.




This page last revised on Feb 02, 2005 16:12 EDT
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