This ambitious project has resulted in the collection of an exhaustive amount of data about the plants of this huge region. It encompasses a wide variety of plants and many uses normally not mentioned in books dealing with medicinal plants as well as many that treat the economic utility of plants.
Botanists estimate that there are approximately 250,000 kinds of plants in the world, with 20,000 in North America. The state of Texas alone, due to its size, covers at least eleven different types of environmental zones which includes at least 5,000 native and naturalized plants. The UWPT covers over 3,000 of these, i.e., any plants with reported economically useful applications. This first volume covers 86 plant genera, including 264 species in 42 families.
Genera include Abronia (sand verbena; native, use: landscape & edible root starch for native Americans; it is not really a verbena, it is a Nyctaginaceae) through Arundo (saxophone reed; family Gramineae, naturalized from the Middle East). Genera with commonly recognizable species employed as current or former medicinal plants include Achillea, Acorus, Agave, Agrimonia, Allium, Aloe, Amaranthus, Ammi, Anthemis, Apium, Aralia, Arbutus, Arctostaphylos, Aristolochia, and Artemisia.
Although the plants covered are limited to this geographical region, various uses from all over the world are cited, including data showing folklore, chemistry, nutritional, pharmacological, and clinical uses, and much more. According to project director and lead co-author Scooter Cheatham, the Encyclopedia is "intended to be the most comprehensive treatment ever for the uses of each species."
These economic uses are extensive if not exhaustive with over 5,000 categories listed. The survey of uses cited includes food, medicine, wax, fiber, dye, ornamental, rifle stock, kapok substitute filling, insecticide, soap, fragrance, shoe dressing, wines, sodas, ritual and superstition and religious, paper, essential oils, livestock and wild animal feed, poisons, flooring/building materials, thatch, cosmetics, food preservatives, cookware and utensils, agricultural equipment, furniture, cloth and clothing, and myriad others.
Musing on the role plants can play in our culture, Cheatham said, "Our society in general has a vast void on how plants can offer potential benefits. This is not part of our fundamental education. Little about plants is communicated. We have to learn to change the way we think -- especially about the potential uses of plants that are growing right under our own feet. We don't have to get excited only about exotic rainforest plants.
"We need to begin to take inventory about plant resources, that's what we've done and we hope other people will do so as well," said Cheatham. The project deals with various areas of plant research: medical advances from plants, new and unusual foods for both humans and animals, alternative economic ideas from novel uses of plants and plant materials, assistance in helping stem the loss in species diversity, and ways to improve and diversify the uses of public and private lands.
The monographs are extremely well laid out and easy to access. Each monograph on each genus includes color photography of each species of plants in the genus and range maps showing the distribution of the species within North America. The "Economic Uses" section contains margin notes explaining the general use detailed in each paragraph of text. This user-friendliness makes for quick and easy ability to go straight to the information that one is seeking.
The encyclopedia manuscripts have been peer-reviewed by numerous botanists, anthropologists, historians, chemists, landowners, and physicians.
OVER 24 YEARS OF RESEARCH
Cheatham has been actively involved in the project of developing this monumental compilation of information for over 24 years. He has been ably assisted by Lynn Marshall for the past 18 years. Both have sacrificed countless hours, weekends, months, and years, usually foregoing any salary or financial support. In 1991 Cheatham and Marshall and a group of their supporters founded the Useful Wild Plants of Texas, Inc., a non-profit organization established to provide a vehicle to complete the research and editorial tasks necessary to publish the encyclopedia. The Useful Wild Plants of Texas project is supported by contributions and grants from foundations and individuals as well as memberships.
The project originally began as a collaboration between Cheatham and Marshall Johnston, Ph.D., then professor of botany at the University of Texas and co-author of the Manual of Vascular Plants of Texas (with Donovan Correll). Dr. E. Arthur Bell, Director Emeritus of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England, has written an extensive foreword to Volume 1.
The UWPT publishes a quarterly newsletter that informs the public about the progress on the publication of the volumes of the encyclopedia, plus lots of information on the utility of various plants, profiles of botanists and their work, and more.
According to Lynn Marshall, project co-author, those who can benefit from the Encyclopedia include not only researchers and botanists but ranchers, farmers, or any landowner, small to large businesses, as well as pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetic, and food manufacturers.
Cheatham offers more perspective on the potential economic uses that are listed in Volume 1. "There are many uses presented in the Encyclopedia but turning them into commercially feasible projects and/or products is always a more difficult task." He continued, "This is a project that needs to be embraced by everyone in this region. It has potential to impact the regional economy on numerous levels and ways." He was quick to point out that commercial applications for the plants listed in the Encyclopedia are certainly not limited to Texas and surrounding areas. Because Texas is so geographically diverse, the implications for commercial potential impact many other parts of the U.S.
The vast amount and sheer scope of information in this work is a product developer's dream!
Article copyright American Botanical Council.