NYLogo.gif - 4492 
Universidade Federal do Acre

Floristics and Economic Botany of Acre, Brazil
Florística e Botânica Econômica do Acre, Brasil

Index to Common Names of Plants in Acre

D. C. Daly, M. Silveira, A. P. Kirchgessner, A. S. Roberts

View the Index of Common Names of Plants in Acre
Last updated, December 1999

Knowledge of common names, their etymology, and the conceptual framework in which they are used can provide invaluable insights into a culture; a great deal can be learned about the plants as well. Ethnobiological analysis of plant names can help not only in tracing disseminations of useful plant species (and plant uses) but also in determining how peoples and their languages are related and making inferences about past migrations and agricultural history. Common names must be approached with as much rigor as scientific names; they must be also be approached with caution. The degree to which folk species correspond exactly to so-called scientific species is often impressive but frequently imperfect, and "special-purpose" classifications can disrupt the parallels. Still, in our analysis of the approximately one thousand common names for plants recorded in Acre, of those names recorded more than once, 113 corresponded to only one species, another 113 to only one genus, and 64 to several genera in the same family. This is one of many reasons why (ethno)botanists should take folk taxonomy seriously and seek to learn from it.

The strongest outside cultural influence in Acre during the past century has come from Brazil's arid Northeast, whence periodic droughts still send pulses of emigrants to all corners of the country. During the rubber boom, which began late in the last century and collapsed about 1912, thousands of poor nordestinos were recruited or emigrated to Amazonia to become seringueiros (rubber-tappers); Acre's forests yielded abundant rubber of the highest quality, so this region was a focus of immigration (Weinstein 1983; Dean 1987). A much smaller repeat of this scenario occurred during World War II, when the Allies sought to revive wild-collected rubber production after the Japanese had seized the centers of plantation production in Asia (e.g., Dean 1987).

Immigrants from the northeast and elsewhere continued to trickle into the region after the war; many of those arriving in Acre became rubber-tappers, because until recently, Brazilian government subsidies meant that seringueiros could still survive in what had become a traditional lifestyle. The extraction of rubber and collection of Brazil nuts together still accounted for 65 percent of the value of Acre's exports in 1991 (Estado do Acre, 1993).

The flow and diversity of immigrants to Amazonia increased dramatically starting in the 1960s, stimulated and facilitated by the construction of highways that now traverse the region and link it to other parts of the country, notably the heavily populated south (Oliveira, 1983). The non-indigenous demography of Acre maintains a strong nordestino flavor, however, even in the state capital of Rio Branco, which is linked by highways to south-central and southern Brazil. Of 420 heads of households randomly sampled in a demographic study of Rio Branco, 70 percent stated that their fathers had been born in other states within Brazil; the most common response was Ceará, a small northeastern state (Schmink & Cordeiro, 1992). No statistics of this sort are available for Acre's forest communities, but we conclude from our experience that the pattern is even more pronounced, especially when one factors in third- and fourth-generation descendants of immigrants.

Resources used

The primary resource for this paper-in-progress is a growing collections-based data-base of the Acre flora that has been in development since 1990 and which is a product of the official collaborative relationship (convênio) between The New York Botanical Garden (NY) and the Parque Zoobotânico of the Universidade Federal do Acre (UFAC) in Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. The data-base consists of the available information for all the botanical collections made in the state since Ernst Ule's pioneering expedition in 1901 (Ule 1908), regardless of the identification status. Approximately 18,000 collections have been made in Acre, but the data-base contains slightly more than 14,000 records, because complete records such as field books are not available for many of the earlier collectors, notably Adolpho Ducke. The data-base has been made into a subset of NY's collections management data-base, which contains a distinct screen with fields for common names, the languages used, and comments. It is easily downloaded to standard data-basing software. During the year 2000, the label information in the data-base will be made available on-line.

The sources of the common names incorporated into the Acre flora data-base may not reflect the entire spectrum of the state's cultural diversity, but they do represent a broad sampling, ranging from Kaxinawá children to octogenarian rubber-tappers. The majority of the names have been obtained from a limited number of Acre-born mateiros, the educated master woodsmen whose hard work and great knowledge of plants have propelled most Amazonian botanical research. Several Acre state agencies, including UFAC, have mateiros on their full-time staff. Numerous forest community residents have generously shared their names for plants while containing their amusement at the scientific names. Another debt is owed to the botanists who have understood the value of eliciting and recording local plant names and uses.

Indigenous names are sadly under-represented in the data-base and in this paper; indeed, virtually all of the indigenous names included here came from a single Kaxinawá community on the middle Rio Tarauacá (e.g., Ehringhaus, 1997). There are 14 distinct indigenous groups in Acre representing three language families, the Arawak, Arawá, and Pano (Comissaão Pró-Indio do Acre-CPI/AC, 1996), so in reality our efforts to document the common names of Acre plants have just scratched the surface. Only part of the blame lies with the bureaucratic barriers that impede ethnobotanical research on decreed indigenous lands; the real problem has been that exceedingly few researchers anywhere in Amazonia have been prepared to do what is necessary to obtain valid ethnobotanical information: do the background research on the group being studied; learn modern anthropological techniques; invest the time necessary to apply these techniques; overcome any language barriers; and make some kind of substantive contribution to the indigenous community.

To redress this situation in Acre, personnel at UFAC's Parque Zoobotânico are working with the Comissão Pró-Indio (CPI), a non-governmental organization based in Rio Branco that is concerned with indigenous rights, to develop a nucleus of trained ethnobotanists. The CPI is key to this effort, because it can work with indigenous communities to screen projects and researchers, assess community needs, and link botanists with anthropologists or others who have established relationships with selected communities.

Considering that Acre’s cultural history is anything but insular, we surveyed the available literature in order to make comparisons between the common names used in Acre and those used elsewhere in Amazonia. The largest compilation of common names for Brazilian Amazonia and their botanical counterparts is still that published by Silva et al. in 1977. Vouchers are not cited, but the great majority of the names were gleaned from the in-house cadre of mateiros who collected widely in the region for the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) during a particularly active period of that herbarium's 50-year history. Each entry includes a brief description of the plant and occasionally a comment on uses.

A useful but more limited index of common names for trees in eastern Amazonian Brazil is contained in the bilingual field guide prepared by Parrotta et al. (1995) for trees occurring in the Floresta Nacional do Tapajós, located southwest of Santarém in central-western Pará. They obtained common names from mateiros employed by the Centro de Pesquisas Agropecuárias dos Trópicos Úmidos (EMBRAPA-CPATU) in Belém. The entries are organized by family and then Latin binomial. For each species, a brief description, common name(s), and notes on uses accompany photographs of the habit, bark, blaze, a branchlet, and in some cases flowers or fruits. The first author works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. Vouchers are cited.

Based on his early work in Roraima, Rodrigues (undated) prepared a list of approx. 150 vernacular names from that region and their proposed botanical equivalents. An index to the latter appears at the end; no vouchers are cited.

For Northeastern Brazil, the most comprehensive compilation of common names and botanical equivalents is that of Braga (1960), who worked principally in the state of Ceará. His entries are organized by common name; for each species there is a brief description and in numerous cases there is an indication of probable etymologies for Tupí names. Vouchers are not cited. As might be expected in light of the role of Ceará in Acre’s history, as well as the vast geography of Tupi-based languages in South America, the two regions share a number of common names for plants. What is surprising -- and ironic – is that Acre also has relatively strong floristic affinities with the dry forests of central and northeastern Brazil, particularly at generic rank.

Empéraire (1983) prepared a reliable and useful table of the scientific names and the approx. 350 corresponding common names (some had more than one common name, some had none) for the 382 species she surveyed as part of her ethnobotanical study of a region of caatinga vegetation in the state of Piauí. Her work also includes an index by common name, as well as the geographic distributions or (for introduced plants) origins of the species treated. She also used an unabridged Portuguese dictionary to conduct a basic analysis of the linguistic and therefore the probable geographic origins of the common names.

Three valuable indexes are available for Amazonian Peru. Duke and Vásquez (1993) included only species for which the authors had ethnobotanical information (often from other published sources); nonetheless, it contains some 1200 scientific names and 1300 common names, and the authors cited vouchers and include notes on uses. Rutter (1990) produced a large compilation of common names, purported scientific equivalents, and uses for plants either cited for Amazonian Peru or considered likely to occur there. There are three alphabetical listings. One is a cross-referenced list of both common names and scientific equivalents (by genus); uses appear with the species except in cases where there was no scientific name available. The other two are lists of species organized by use category, divided into medicinals and non-medicinals. The information comes from the author's own field work plus a number of references (including several based on research in Brazilian Amazonia); their relative contributions are unclear. No vouchers are cited. The scientific nomenclature is outdated, based as it was on older references. One of the more useful features of Rutter's book is the inclusion for many common names of their linguistic origins; the author's affiliation with the Summer Institute of Linguistics adds some weight to this information. Unfortunately, no etymologies are provided.

Spichiger et al. (1985) prepared a catalog of the common names of trees in the vicinity of the Arboreto Jenaro Herrera, a permanent study site near the río Ucayali in Loreto, Peru. Most of the names were obtained from the second author, a woodsman and botanist from the area. The approx. 250 distinct entries are organized by common name, which is accompanied by the scientific equivalent, descriptive notes and sometimes notes on uses, and in many cases alternative scientific equivalents that have appeared in Encarnación (1983) or in Soukup (1970(1971)), which treated all of Peru. Vouchers are not cited.

Taxonomic identifications

Whenever possible, we have included only taxonomic identifications made by taxonomic specialists. A number of identifications to genus and a lesser amount to species in families for which there is no active specialist have been made by the first author or confirmed by him.

Representation of taxonomic groups

Among the taxa for which common names have been obtained in Acre (Table I), some taxonomic groups are better represented than others. To some extent this reflects the relative importance (as measured by density and diversity) of groups such as the Moraceae, Euphorbiaceae, Arecaceae, Leguminosae sensu lato (Fabaceae, Mimosaceae, and Caesalpiniaceae), Rubiaceae, and Piperaceae. Some families are under-represented because some collections lack identification to genus if the family is an "orphan" (i.e., lacking a specialist) or if specialists lag in identifying material. Conversely, some families are better represented thanks to prompt active specialists.

Two groups are particularly well represented in relative terms. Prof. Evandro Ferreira of the Universidade Federal do Acre has made over 500 collections in Acre of Arecaceae, a group neglected in most regions because palms tend to be difficult to collect. Ehringhaus (1998) made intensive collections of Piperaceae during 1996 for an ethnobotanical project among the Kaxinawá of the Rio Tarauacá; her efforts doubled the number of species of the family known from Acre. Fertile material of the Rubiaceae and Piperaceae is often easy to see and collect.

Representation of life forms

Trees far outnumber shrubs and herbs in the list of common names (Table I), despite the fact that all plant groups have been collected and even though trees are more difficult to collect as a rule. Two principal factors are involved. First, lowland tropical humid forests -- particularly under seasonal climates, as in much of Acre -- show a higher density and diversity of trees relative to herbs, shrubs, and epiphytes compared to montane forests (e.g., Ducke & Black, 1953; Holdridge, 1971; Londoño-Vega, 1997; see discussion in Daly & Mitchell, in press). Second, to date the vast majority of the common names have been obtained from non-indigenous forest communities and woodsmen (mateiros), and it is our experience that non-indigenous persons in Acre are more likely to have popular names for trees and more likely to make nomenclatural distinctions among taxonomic groups of trees.


Literature Cited

Alcorn, J. B. & C. Hérnandez V. 1983. Plants of the Huastecan region of Mexico with an analysis of their Huastec names.

Balée W. & D. Moore 1991. Similarity and variation in plant names in five Tupi-Guarani languages (eastern Amazonia). Bull. Florida Mus. Nat. Hist. 35: 210-262.

Balée, W. 1989. Nomenclatural patterns in Ka'apor ethnobotany. J. Ethnobiol. 9(1): 1-24.

Balée, W. & D. C. Daly 1990. Ka'apor resin classification. Advances in Economic Botany 8: 24-34.

Bennett, B. B. & P. Gómez A. 1991. Variación de los nombres vulgares y los usos que dan a las plantas los indígenas Shuar del Ecuador. Pages 129-137. In: M. Ríos & H. Pedersen, eds. Las Plantas y el Hombre. Ediciones Abya-Yala, Quito.

Braga, R. 1964. Plantas do Nordeste, Especialmente do Ceará (2nd ed.). Imprensa Oficial, Fortaleza, Brazil.

Comissão Pró-Indio do Acre-CPI/AC 1996. Atlas Geográfico Indígena do Acre. Gráfica Kene Hewe, Rio Branco.

Daly, D. C. 1990. The genus Tetragastris and the forests of Eastern Brazil - Studies in neotropical Burseraceae III. Kew Bull. 45: 179-194.

Daly, D. C. 1993 (1997). Systematics and ethnobotany: What's in a name? Delpinoa, n.s. 35-36: 3-14.

Daly, D. C. & J. D. Mitchell (in press). Lowland vegetation of tropical South America -- an overview. In: D. Lentz, ed. Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the pre-Columbian Americas. Columbia University Press, New York.

Dean, W. 1987. Brazil and the Struggle for Rubber. A Study in Environmental History. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ducke, A. & G. A. Black 1953. Phytogeographical notes on the Brazilian Amazon. An. Acad. Bras. Ciências 25(1): 1-46.

Duke, J. A. & R. Vásquez 1993. Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary. CRC Press, Boca Raton.

Ehringhaus, C. 1997. Medicinal uses of Piper spp. (Piperaceae) by an indigenous Kaxinawa community in Acre, Brazil: Ethnobotany, ecology, phytochemistry, and biological activity. Thesis (M.S.), Florida International University, Miami.

Empéraire, L. 1983. La Caatinga du Sud-est du Piauí (Brésil). Étude Ethnobotanique. Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations, Paris (Mém. no. 21).

Encarnación, F. 1983. Nomenclatura de las especies forestales comunes en el Perú. Documento de Trabajo no. 7. Proyecto PNUD/FAO/PER/81/002, Lima.

Estado do Acre. Secretaria de Estado e Planejamento-SEPLAN 1993. Diagnóstico situacional e prognóstico. SEPLAN, Rio Branco.

Holdridge, L. R. 1971. Forest Environments in Tropical Life Zones: A Pilot Study. Oxford: Pergamon.

Londoño-Vega, A. C. and E. Álvarez-Dávila. 1997. Comparación florística de dos bosques (tierra firme y varzea) en la región de Araracuara, Amazonía colombiana. Caldasia 19: 431-463.

Mead, G. A. 1970. On the improper usage of common names when giving botanical data. Am. Antiq. 35: 108-109.

Oliveira, A. E. de 1983. Ocupação humana. Pages 144-327. In: Salati, E., H. O. R. Schubart, W. Junk, & A. E. de Oliveira. Amazônia: Desenvolvimento, Integração, e Ecologia. Editora Braziliense/CNPq, São Paulo.

Parrotta, J. A., J. K. Francis, & R. R. de Almeida 1995. Trees of the Tapajós. A Photographic Field Guide. U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry, Río Piedras, Puerto Rico.

Rea, A. M. 1990. Naming as process: Taxonomic adjustments in a changing biotic environment. Pages 61-79. In: Posey, D. A. & W L. Overal, eds. Ethnobiology: Implications and Applications. SCT/PR, CNPq, Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi, Belém, Brazil.

Rutter, R. A. 1990. Catálogo de Plantas Utiles de la Amazonía Peruana. Instituto Lingüístico de Verano, Yarinacocha, Peru.

Rodrigues, W. A. (without date). Lista dos nomes vernáculos da flora do Território do Rio Branco. Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia-INPA, Publicaçao no. 9. 19 pp. [undated re-issue of INPA Publicações Avulsas no. 8, 1957]

Schmink, M. and M. L. Cordeiro. 1992. Urbanização na Amazônia: Mudanças econômicas e demográficas em Rio Branco, Acre, Brasil. Universidade Federal do Acre e Universidade da Florida, Rio Branco, Brazil.

Silva, M. F. da, P. L. B. Lisbôa, & R. C. L. Lisbôa 1977. Nomes Vulgares de Plantas Amazônicas. INPA-Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia/CNPq, Manaus.

Soukup, J. 1970 (i.e., 1971). Vocabulario de los Nombres Vulgares de la Flora Peruana y Catálogo de los Géneros. Editorial Salesiana, Lima.

Spichiger, R., F. Encarnación, & M. Chota 1985. Catálogo de los nombres vernáculos de los árboles del Arborétum Jenaro Herrera y alrededores (provincia de Requena, departamento de Loreto, Perú). Contribución al estudio de la flora y de la vegetación de la Amazonía Peruana. IX. Candollea 40: 595-629.

Ule, E. 1908. Die Pflanzenformationen des Amazonas-Giebietes. Pflanzengeographische Ergebnisse meiner in den Jahren 1900-1903 in Brasilien und Peru unternommenen Reisen. Bot. Jahrb. 40: 114-172.

Vásquez, R. & A. H. Gentry 1987. Limitaciones del uso de nombres vernaculares en los inventarios forestales de la Amazonía peruana. Rev. Forestal del Perú 14(1): 109-120.

Weinstein, B. 1983. The Amazon Rubber Boom 1850-1920. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Return to The Floristics and Economic Botany of Acre, Brazil Table of Contents