Comparative Exploration of Plants and Local Knowledge in Portland Parish, Jamaica

Ina Vandebroek

The Caribbean Islands are a biodiversity hotspot. Plant species of these islands are popularly used by local communities for health and subsistence, especially in rural areas. Previous research into medicinal plant knowledge in the Dominican Republic and of Dominican immigrants in New York City has resulted in an ethnobotanical database with more than 7500 medicinal plant uses. This data represent an ideal source for comparative research with other Caribbean countries that share many plants with the Dominican Republic, such as Jamaica (1225 shared plant species). The lush, biodiversity-rich parish of Portland in Jamaica represents an ideal site for fieldwork. Our research hypothesis is based on the assumption that medicinal plant knowledge held by Jamaicans about shared Jamaican-Dominican plant species will be significantly different between both countries. We will test this hypothesis through collection of quantifiable ethnobotanical data, and comparison of cultural consensus indices that calculate variation in plant knowledge. It is expected that variation in plant knowledge within each country will be significantly lower as compared to between-country variation. Research will entail field expeditions to collect voucher specimens, interviews with local residents about those species, Global Information Systems (GIS) analysis to calculate the vulnerability of these plant species to extinction, and comparison of research data between Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. The significance of the proposed research lies in its approach to apply quantitative analysis to discover patterns in plant knowledge, and this approach can be expanded to other countries and their Diasporas as part of a Pan-Caribbean comparison.

NYBG Science Talk Blog Post: Every Bush has a Use, Every Bush has a Meaning

Farmer Dalmont holding the medicinal species Peperomia rotundifolia.