An Ethnobotany of Darwin’s Gardens

Nina L. Etkin


This article puts a unique spin on Charles Darwin’s work by looking at the plants that he studied through the lens of ethnobotany. I employ this biocultural perspective to explore a handful of species to understand how their cultural constructions intersect their physical appearance, biochemistry, and behavior. While Darwin’s natural history studies contemplated variation, sexual reproduction, speciation, and a myriad of other biological themes, I look at the conjunction of ethnography and the biology of therapeutic and other actions to describe how diverse cultures use those species for medicine, food, and other applications, and how their tangible qualities both impact health and contribute to meaning. I briefly introduce Darwin and his theory of natural selection and his impact on science and society. Following, I problematize two groups of his plants to which I apply the same theoretical perspective – what many (but not Darwin) regard to be “prosaic” garden species, and the striking insect-trapping plants.

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Ethnobotany Research and Applications (ISSN 1547-3465) is published online by the Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University.
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