PS 12-68 - Plant identification and use on St. Thomas, USVI: An undergraduate class investigates local knowledge

Tuesday, August 9, 2016
ESA Exhibit Hall, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center
Juliet A. Ruggiero, Biology, University of the Virgin Islands, St Thomas, United States Minor Outlying Islands

During Fall term 2015, an undergraduate class at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Campus was introduced to theory and methods related to the science of Ethnobotany. With this background, students carried out an Ethnobotanical Practicum to learn basic field techniques and explore the value of five local plant species to local elders, selected by the students. The five species investigated were chosen through a random process undertaken by the entire class. Following this, the class worked in teams to review literature, preserve voucher specimens, generate interview questions, select and interview elders, and analyze the data. At the end of the Fall term, the students presented to an audience of invited academics and press.


Informants consistently identified 4 out of 5 specimens. They provided medicinal and/or food uses for Cajanus cajan (pigeon pea), Aloe Vera, Chenopodium ambrosioides (worm grass), and Melicoccus bijugatus (genip). Misidentified or unidentified was Thespesia populnea (hati). Students presented the results of their research throughout the next term. Students demonstrated that this hands-on teaching method could become a model for introducing the science of Ethnobotany to undergraduates. The students acquired skills in biological field techniques such as identification and plant pressing as well as anthropological techniques such as surveying. Although Ethnobotany is not traditionally offered at this school, students have taken the initiative to repeat this course and study in the coming Fall 2016 term.