Editor's Note: This is the second post starts the short series written by students who went to Florida with Dr. Cassandra Quave to collect plants on an ethnobotanical research expedition. Dr. Quave and her research involves the upkeep and use of Emory University's Herbarium. Their mission is to serve as a botanical research and educational resource for the Emory University and global community. They aim to foster understanding of the human-nature interface by collecting, preserving, researching and exhibiting botanical specimens and ethnobotanical objects. The Herbarium is currently running a fundraiser. If you would like to find out more about the Herbarium and/or provide some support, please visit here.
By: Rina Lee
My first fieldwork experience in Arcadia, Florida was quite eye-opening. Within a week, I was able to weave together the various components in the field of ethnobotany. This is my second year in the Quave Research Group and I have worked in both the phytochemistry and microbiology labs, but I did not have any fieldwork experience. I was always missing the third component, which was the origin of ethnobotany. It was fascinating to visualize how these various parts came together. I learned to appreciate the value behind plants and their traditional uses. Teamwork, communication with the local property owners, appreciation of Southern culture, and the importance of conservation were a few of the lessons I learned over this spring break.
The theme of conservation really stood out to me because I was able to connect it to my previous class about American environmental history. Prior to this trip, I understood the reasons for conservation, but I never felt quite strongly about it because I believed that the benefits that come from industry and environmental pollution outweighed the need for conservation. However, collecting plants along the Peace River completely transformed my views. The tranquility of the surroundings – the birds gracefully flying across the river, the alligators relaxing along the shores, tree branches swaying with the wind, and the fish jumping out of the river – painted such a beautiful scene of nature. I had not previously appreciated nature to that magnitude. It wasn’t simply the aesthetic aspect of nature that overcame my senses; it was the value within nature, which I found fascinating. Whether it was in the plants, soil, or animals, some compound from some organism along the Peace River could become the next life-saving drug. The wisdom and power of nature in designing such potent molecules of great biological activity and the complexity of the ecosystem in allowing such organisms to exist – it is miraculous. From this trip, I realized the importance of conservation, because humans benefit so much from nature.
The cooperation and knowledge among the locals was really helpful in completing the fieldwork. The local property owners were kind and enthusiastic about aiding us in finding the plants, and they provided every bit of knowledge they had about certain plants. Since they were such experts about their environment they were often better than we were in pointing out plants and helping us collect information. Furthermore, their love for the land and enthusiasm were inspiring factors that drove us to work harder in the field in hopes of finding a plant that might be bioactive. There were several instances in which they pointed out useful plants, which we were not able to see. With the aid of the local property owners, the trip was very successful.
I initially had doubts about attending this trip; the mosquitoes, alligators, snakes, and hours of sun seemed unappealing. In the end, however, I actually wish I could have stayed longer to continue the collection. I never looked at plants in this light before, pondering their potential as new drug sources, and now I can’t help but stare at plants on Emory’s campus. This spring break trip was truly amazing, and I wish that this trip would become an annual event as an alternative spring break for students to gain a better understanding and appreciation for ethnobotany, the environment, science, and more.