Use of native tree species by an Hispanic community in Panama

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Economic Botany


We investigated the use of plants collected in the wild by a small farming community in Central Panama to document the importance of noncultivated plants by tropical, nonforest- dwelling, nonindigenous people. We visited the community to observe what wood was used to build houses and interviewed local people about medicinal and edible plants collected in the wild state. The community reported use of 119 noncultivated plant species, including 108 tree species, three shrubs, two herbs, four lianas, and two vines. The majority (71) of the species were used for building homes. Other products built with wood collected in the wild were diverse kinds of tools, containers, cages, and fences. The second most important use of wild plants, in terms of number of species, was firewood, for which 40 species were mentioned by the community. Other uses included fruit for human consumption (20 species). Most of the species (82 of 119) were collected in secondary forests near the community, whereas another large group (47 species) were collected in mature forest. Fewer species were harvested in shrubby regrowth or from isolated trees in farm land. Nearly all the species (111 of 119) were native to the area, and never cultivated locally, but 15 species were considered especially valuable, and were often protected when found as juveniles. Only six of the species are commonly used in reforestation programs in Panama. We conclude that even hispanic communities in tropical Latin America, living outside the forest, with no Amerindian inhabitants, make frequent use of the great diversity of trees native to the region.