A quantitative and comprehensive assessment of Belizean Creole ethnobotany: Implications for forest conservation

Date of Completion

January 2005


Biology, Botany|Biology, Ecology|Environmental Sciences




With escalating rates of deforestation, acculturation, and assimilation of local and indigenous cultures throughout the world, there is an increasing urgency for ethnobotanical research. This study provides the first comprehensive survey of Belizean Creole ethnobotany and evaluates the ethnobotanical importance of forest types for harvesting useful species. Creoles utilize a taxonomically diverse group of plants representing 407 species from 289 genera and 91 plant families to meet their medicinal and materials needs. Included are 227 medicinals, 133 construction species, 93 food plants, 52 craft species, 34 timber species, and an additional 147 species used for ancillary uses such as firewood and ornamentals. Most (76%) Creole medicinals are wild and native to Belize. Domesticates and semi-domesticates are the most important food species. The Creole pharmacopeia treats over 40 human diseases. About 71% of Creole medicinals contain bioactive compounds: 54% are alkaloid-bearing, 12% contain glycosides, and 5% contain terpenes and/or steroids. Most medicinals are trees (31%), followed by herbs (29%), shrubs (20%), and vines (20%). Leaves (139 species), stems (61), and roots (50) are the preferred plant parts. Remedies are prepared mostly by decoctions (169 species), and poultices (59) and are administered orally (190 species) and topically (111). The most widely used Creole medicinals are more physiologically active than randomly collected plants; this suggests that Creole medicinal plant selection was non-random. Creoles depend on a mosaic of different-age forests to meet their ethnobotanical needs. Though secondary forests had higher mean densities and species richness of ethnobotanically useful species, old growth forests contained important species useful against unusual and serious diseases and for which there are no substitutes in the pharmacopeia. Old growth forests had significantly higher mean densities, mean relative abundance, and basal area of timber species in the tree size class, while young secondary forests showed significantly higher densities of food species in the seedling size class. In general, Creoles attribute higher use-value and significance to old growth forests than secondary forests. Because Creole ethnobotanical knowledge is rapidly disappearing, due to acculturation and rapid assimilation, this study is even more important in that it may also be used to educate current and future generations of Creoles about their ethnobotany. ^