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ETHNOBOTANICAL ANALYSIS OF DIFFERENT SUCCESSIONAL STAGES
AS SOURCES OF WILD EDIBLE PLANTS FOR THE GUAYMI PEOPLE IN COSTA
HECTOR CASTANEDA LANGLOIS
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF SCIENCE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Hector Castaneda Langlois
To Guaymi people of Costa Rica, to my wife Evelyn and to my family.
Special thanks to my advisor, Hugh Popenoe and the other members of my committee
John Richard Stepp and Walter Judd. I am very grateful to Maria Bejarano and Alejandro
Palacios of the Guaymi Indigenous reserve for their having me at their home and helping
me during my field work. Also, I give special acknowledgment to Luis Diego G6mez for
his valuable help in providing contacts, advice, and logistics aid to my work. I am also
thankful for the aid and support given to me by Rodolfo Quir6s, Emilce Ramirez, and all
the staff of Las Cruces Biological Station (Organization for Tropical Studies). I also
thank Luis Poveda and Pablo Sanchez at the Juvenal Valerio Herbarium for their help in
identifying plant material.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S .................................................................... ......... .............. iv
LIST O F TA BLE S ......... .......................... ....................... ............. .. viii
LIST OF FIGURES ......... ......................... ...... ........ ............ ix
ABSTRACT .............. .................. .......... .............. xi
1 SPECIES DIVERSITY OF THE CULTURAL DOMAIN OF WILD PLANTS
USED BY THE GUAYM I AS FOOD ........................................ ...................... 1
Spatial L location ..................................................................2
A agriculture and Subsistence ............................................................... ........................ 8
T y p e of V eg etation ................................ .. ...................................... .................. 10
Surrounding A rea .........................................................................10
Relevance of the Project ....................... ..... ........ ............ ...... ... .............. .. 11
Guaymi Indigenous Reserve as a Human Ecosystem................................ ..................... 11
Guaymi Classifications of Ecological Successions ................................. ............... 14
The Guaymi Wild Edible Plants Cognitive Domain ........... ............ ..................14
M methodology .............. .... .... .............................................................. .... 15
R e su lts ............. ....................... ......... .......................................................1 6
D discussion ......... .. ....... .. ......... .. ......... ...................................24
Role of W ild Edible Plants in Guaymi Culture ...................................................25
Species Richness of the Cognitive Domain of Wild Edible Plants of the Guaymi ..27
Distribution of Species According to Botanical Families......................................28
Distribution of Species According to Part Used by the Guaymi ...........................28
U se of N ative vs. Exotic Species ............... .............................. ............... .... 29
Species Richness of Edible Plants According to Their Life Forms........................29
Plant U ses and D description ................... ........ ........................................... 30
A nacardiaceae ................................................................ .... ........... 30
A p ia c e a e ..................................................................................................... 3 0
A recaceae ................. ........................................ ......................... 31
A scom ycetes (Sacroscyphaceae) .......................................... ............... 33
Begoniaceae .................................... ............................... .......34
B ign oniaceae .................................................................................. 34
B rom eliaceae...............................................................34
Burseraceae ................................................................. .. ......... 35
C aricaceae ................................................................. .................. 3 5
Chrysobalanaceae ......................... ..... .. .......... ................ 35
C y clanth aceae .............................................................37
D en n stad eitacea e ......................................................................................... 3 7
D io scoreaceae ............................................................. 3 8
F abaceae................................................ 39
H eliconiaceae ................................. ................................ ... 39
L auraceae ..................................... ..........................40
L ecythidaceae .............................................................4 0
M alp ig h iaceae ............................................................................. 4 0
M alv aceae ................................................................4 1
M aranthaceae ................................................................. .... .......42
C o n v o lv u lac eae ........................................................................................... 4 3
M o rac eae ............................................................................... 4 3
M y rta c e a e .................................................................................................... 4 3
P h y to la c c a c e a e ............................................................................................ 4 4
Sapotaceae ................................................................. ......45
Sim aroubaceae ................................................................. ... .......45
Solanaceae ............................................. 45
T h eo p h ra staceae ................................................................................. 4 6
Urticaceae ............................................... ......46
2 INTERNAL STRUCTURE OF THE WILD EDIBLE PLANTS COGNITIVE
DOMAIN FOR THE GUAYMI OF COTO BRUS, COSTA RICA ...........................48
M e th o d o lo g y ............. ........... .................. .................................................................... 4 9
R e su lts ............. ........... .................. .............................................................................. 5 0
D isc u ssio n ............. ........... .................. ........................................................................ 5 2
C o n c lu sio n s ............. ........... .................. ...................................................................... 6 0
3 ETHNIC IMPORTANCE AND DIVERSITY OF SUCCESSIONAL STAGES,
PLANT PARTS, BOTANICAL FAMILIES AND LIFE FORMS AS SOURCES
OF W ILD FOODS TO THE GUAYM I ........................................ ............... 61
M eth o d o lo g y ................................................................................................... ........... 6 4
R e su lts ................... ...................7...................1..........
D iscu ssio n ................................................................................ 7 6
C o n clu sio n s ............................................................................... 8 6
4 PERCEPTIONS OF IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESSIONAL STAGES AS
A SOURCE OF WILD FOOD PLANTS AMONG DIFFERENT AGE AND
G E N D E R G R O U P S ............................................................ ................................... 88
M methodology ................................................................................ .. ...............................89
Average Number of Species Mentioned per Person................ .............. ....90
Ethnobotanical Im portance ............................................................................ 90
R e su lts ...................... .............. ............... ...................... ................ 9 0
Average Number of Species Mentioned per Person................ .............. ....91
Ethnobotanical Im portance ............................................................................ 95
D iscu ssion .............................................................. .................. ............... 97
Average Number of Edible Plant Species Mentioned per Person in
in Different Age and Gender Groups....................... ... ............... 97
Ethnobotanical Importance of Successional Stages to Different Age
and G ender G roups .................. ............................. ......... ........ .... 99
C conclusions ............................................................... .... ..... ......... 105
A W ILD EDIBLE PLANTS QUESTIONNAIRE....................................................... 107
B PLANT SPECIES CODE NAM ES ................................. .....................108
C SIMILARITY MATRIX FOR POSITIVE MATCHES FOR WILD EDIBLE
PLANTS USED BY THE GUAYMI............................................. .................. 110
D THREE DIMENSIONAL MDS FOR THE WILD FOOD PLANTS COGNITIVE
D O M A IN ................... ......... .......... ...... ... ................ ............... 112
E SALIENCE (SMITHS'S S) VALUES FOR EDIBLE PLANTS.............................113
F PROBABILITY OF SPECIES HAVING A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE IN
THEIR ABUNDANCE BETWEEN DIFFERENT VEGETATION TYPES ............119
LIST OF REFEREN CES ........................................................... .. ............... 120
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................. ............... 124
LIST OF TABLES
1-1 List of wild edible plants found during this project ............................................. 17
1-2 Number of edible species per botanical family used by the Guaymi in Coto Brus,
C o sta R ica. ......................................................... ................ 2 0
3-1 Average similarities between successional stages regarding species composition...71
3-2 Simpson's diversity index for species of wild edible plants used by the Guaymi in
five different types of vegetation (Kruskal-Wallis analysis).............................. 71
3-3 Ethnobotanical importance of five different types of successions (Kruskal-Wallis
a n a ly sis ........................................................................... 7 4
4-1 T tests for the means of the number of species mentioned per informant for three
different age groups for alpha = 0.05 ............................................. ............... 92
4-2 T tests for the means of the number of species mentioned per informant for male
and female informants with alpha = 0.10 ...................................... ............... 94
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1 Geographical location of Costa Rica. ........................................ ....... ............... 3
1-2 Geographical location of study area.......... .. ..................................... 3
1-3 Aerial photograph of the Guaymi Indigenous reserve at Coto Brus .....................
1-4 Species informant curve for wild edible plants used by the Guaymi in Coto Brus,
Costa Rica ........................... ......... ...................................... 16
1-5 Number of species of wild edible plants according to the part used by the
Guaym i of Coto Brus, Costa Rica ........................................ ....................... 22
1-6 Exotic vs. native species of wild edible plants used by the Guaymi in Coto Brus,
C o sta R ica ........................................................................... 2 3
1-7 Number of wild edible plant species according to their life forms as used by the
Guaym i of Coto Brus, Costa Rica ........................................ ........................ 24
2-1 Non-metric multidimensional scaling (2 dimensions) of the wild edible plants
cognitive domain of the Guaymi of Costa Rica, Coto Brus ...............................51
2-2 Cluster analysis of the wild edible plants cognitive domain of the Guaymi of
C osta R ica, C oto B rus ...................... .................. ............... ..... ........ 52
2-3 Proportional number of species according to their use with regards to distance from
the center of the cognitive domain for wild edible plants used by the Guaymi of
C o sta R ic a ......................................................................... 5 7
2-4 Non-metric multidimensional scaling (2 dimensions) of the wild edible plants
cognitive domain of the Guaymi of Costa Rica, Coto Brus showing the more
prominent clusters ................................... ... .. .......... ......... ....58
3-1 Average of Simpson's diversity index for edible plants calculated for five types
o f v eg etatio n ............................................................................... ....... ................. 7 3
3-2 Ethnobotanical importance of five different successional stages of vegetation as
sources of wild edible plants for the Guaymi of Costa Rica .............................73
3-3 Ethnobotanical importance of life forms used by the Guaymi for food ................ 74
3-4 Ethnobotanical importance of plant parts used by the Guaymi ............................75
4-1 Average number of edible plant species mentioned according to informant age ... 91
4-2 Mean number of species mentioned by different age group .................................92
4-3 Average number of species mentioned by informants of different genders ..........94
4-4 Differences among different age groups regarding ethnobotanical importance of
successional stages as sources of wild food plants.............. ...... ............... 95
4-5 Differences between genders regarding the ethnobotanical importance of different
successional stages as a source of wild food plants in Guaymi society...................96
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science
ETHNOBOTANICAL ANALYSIS OF DIFFERENT SUCCESSIONAL STAGES AS
SOURCES OF WILD EDIBLE PLANTS FOR THE GUAYMI PEOPLE IN COSTA RICA
Hector Castaneda Langlois
Chair: Hugh L. Popenoe
Major Department: Natural Resources and Environment
The study took place in the Guaymi Indigenous Reserve of Coto Brus, in the southern
pacific region of Punta Arenas, Costa Rica. The purpose of the project was to investigate
the cultural importance of different successional stages have in providing the Guaymi
with wild food plants. Forty six members of the community were interviewed about wild
foods they knew and how they prepared them. Free listing was used to collect the data
from each informant. Next the abundance of edible plants (those obtained from the
interviews) was studied in five different successional stages.
The cultural importance of each successional stage was evaluated by calculating an
Ethnobotanical Importance value (which combined the salience each species had in the
free listings with the abundance it had in the different successional stages). Fifty three
species of plants and one species of fungus were recorded. Through projections of the
species informant curve, a total of 63 species were estimated to make up the wild-food-
plant cognitive domain. To the Guaymi, the most culturally valuable and biologically
diverse successional stages were the mature forests and their edges. Significant
differences were found in the number of plants mentioned by informants of different
ages. In general, the tendency was for older informants to mention more species.
It was also found that older people tend to attribute more value to mature forests and
their edges as sources of food than do younger people. Significant differences were also
found in the number of species mentioned by men and women. The tendency was for
men to mention more species than women. Because of their customs, women do not often
go into mature forests since they are far from the inhabited areas; hence they are probably
less familiar with the flora there. In general, mature forests and their edges (as well as
older secondary growth) had more cultural value to men than to women. On the other
hand, women valued early secondary growth as a source of wild food plants more than
SPECIES DIVERSITY OF THE CULTURAL DOMAIN OF WILD PLANTS USED
BY THE GUAYMI AS FOOD
The purpose of the study was to determine the cultural and economic values of
different successional stages of vegetation for local human communities in terms of the
diversity and abundance of wild-food plants they provide. Costa Rica's high biodiversity
provides indigenous communities with a vast array of wild food plants which contribute
to the livelihoods of native people in significant ways (Stone 1962, 1949).
Since each successional stage contains different species of plants, different
successional stages are expected to provide different kinds of products. Often, more-
disturbed types of vegetation provide more useful plants than less-disturbed forests
(Arnold & Perez, 1998). If this is the case, the Costa Rican government's restrictive land-
use policies has regarding indigenous reservations (IIDH, 2002), which limit the types of
disturbances within the forest may not be the best for the people that they seek to protect.
Knowing the value to human communities of each type of vegetation could serve as a
decision-making tool, since it might be useful when evaluating the economic and cultural
impact of new policies or the introduction of new farming techniques that involve
changes in the use of the vegetation cover. The information gathered in this study could
be used by the community as a way to record knowledge and practices.
To achieve this, the general methodology was to conduct semi-structured interviews
with an indigenous community, assessing their knowledge and perception of the
importance of the useful flora. To complement this data, field transects (with the aid of
local guides to identify useful plants) were used to collect ecological data on the plants
(light, soils, successional stage, associations, etc). Information on the species used; and
their management, cultural importance and ecology were recorded to complete the
The Guaymi (formerly the Ngobe) are from Panama and Southern Costa Rica. While
the main population is concentrated in Panama (54,285 people according to the official
census of 1980) (Sinclair, 1988), a significant population of 10,568 exists in Costa Rica
(Cordero, 2002), mainly in the South Pacific coast (Figures 1-1 1-2 and 1-3).
Within Costa Rica, the Guaymi are distributed in five main areas, four of them
official indigenous reserves. The five main areas are Reserva Indigena Conte Burica,
Reserva Forestal Guaymi de Coto Brus, Reserva Forestal Guaymi de Osa, Abrojo
Montezuma, and Altos de San Antonio. This last community is not a reserve, but still
preserves Guaymi culture and traditions (Cordero. 2002).
Costa Rica's geographic location has many factors that create conditions that increase
biodiversity. Examples of these conditions are its location in a land bridge between two
continental masses, pacific and Atlantic watersheds, a variety of hydrological regimes
(from very wet year-round, to seasonally dry), and a steeply sloped topography that
allows climatic changes within very small areas.
The cultural influence of Costa Rican groups is much more related to Amazonian
cultures rather than to Mesoamerican cultures. No highly organized societies such as
those of Mexico and northern Central America were found in this part of the isthmus
when the Spaniards arrived.
Figure 1-1. Geographical location of Costa Rica.
Puntarernas' ad SA M
Puerto .San 1s
Guaymi Indigenous reserve--
Figure 1-2. Geographical location of study area
The Guaymi are located in the southern Pacific slopes of the Talamancan range.
Many family ties and cultural exchange continue between Panamanian and Costa Rican
Guaymi. However, the Costa Rican side does not have the same racial conflicts that have
alienated the Guaymi in Panama; and Costa Rican Guaymi are more accessible to
No major roads come near the reserve. The closest town is about 17 km.
Transportation to San Vito takes about 4 hours since there are only few transports that
make it into the reserve through the dirt roads.
The focus of the present study was the Reserva Forestal Guaymi. The main reason
was that the community already has a working relationship with Las Cruces Biological
Station (OTS) and the Wilson Botanical Gardens nearby. It is also the second largest of
the Guaymi reserves in both population and area; home to approximately 1,963 people
(Casa de Salud Reserva Indigena Guaymi, 2003) of Guaymi descent in approximately
7,500 ha of primary and secondary forest (as well as agroforestry systems and
The Ng6be, as the Guaymi originally called themselves, lived in what is now northern
Panama and Southern Costa Rica on both the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds. One of the
main areas of habitation was the Guaymi Valley; hence the name that was given to them
by Spaniards and later adopted by them as an ethnic group to adapt to colonial society.
Few records of the Ngobe society exist prior to the Spanish invasion. Records that do
exist of this period are the only written history available and are often biased in favor of
the Spanish concept of society. Nevertheless, valuable information can be obtained from
In 1502, when Christopher Columbus landed on the Coast of Costa Rica (which was
given this name because Columbus believed the inhabitants had large stockpiles of gold
hidden in the forests) the Guaymi territories extended from Northern Panama to southern
They had settlements on both Pacific and Atlantic coasts and there were probably
concentrated along the fertile valleys such as the Valle de la Estrella and Valle del
Guaymi (Cooke, 1982).
During the colonial period, the Guaymi remained resistant to the Spanish invaders.
Efforts were made by both Cartago (then the Costa Rican capital) and Panama to conquer
them but they remained independent until the late 1600's when they gradually declined in
power due to lack of access to the more fertile lands. At this point religious missionaries
finally subdued these populations and incorporated them into the colonial government to
later be displaced from their lands. In 1680 it was declared that indigenous freedom was a
danger to the colony and hence a system of"reducciones" or reserves, was established
and indigenous people were not allowed to travel beyond these.
As the demand for land by the white and meztizo inhabitants grew, the different
indigenous groups were forced to be relocated repeatedly into more remote and infertile
lands. Little or no compensation was granted to them. One of the last fertile valleys to be
taken over by modern society was the Valle de la Estrella. This remote valley remained
inaccessible to the Costa Rican government until 1870 when a concession was given to a
North American company to construct an Atlantic Railroad. With the advent of this
railroad the United Fruit Company established a massive banana plantation project which
ended up displacing the remaining Bri Bri, Guaymi, Cabecar, and Tayni groups. This
S 2 ^
forced many of these groups to move up into the Talamancan and Cruces ranges where
they were incorporated into existing reserves of different ethnic groups or formed new
temporary ones. In spite of the historical data relating the Guaymi to the Valle de la
Estrella in the Atlantic, most of the Guaymi in the Coto Brus area came in more recently
in the 1940's from Panama (Camacho, 1996; Koshear, 1995). The main reason for this
migration was the scarcity of land (Koshear, 1995).
The Guaymi experienced a long period of instability as they had no rights to
individual land tenure, were not recognized as Costa Rican citizens, and could not defend
themselves legally in case of invasions of their reserves. Even if the laws prohibited non
indigenous people from moving into the reserves, many Costa Ricans sold their lands in
the lowlands to banana companies and ended up invading the reserves, pushing the
Guaymi and other people further into the mountains.
It was not until 1973 when a commission of indigenous affairs was first established to
regulate conflicts between the government and indigenous groups, and to give them
rights as Costa Rican citizens. In 1977 the first Indigenous Law was passed to assure
equal rights to these groups. In practice, however, in recent years, the Guaymi and other
indigenous people still have had trouble having access to education and health services,
and their lands are still constantly being invaded by squatters in spite of the existing laws.
Not until the 1990's did the government agree to give "cedulas" or ID cards to all the
indigenous people. Presently, however, conditions seem to be improving as the
government has set up 6 bilingual (Spanish-Ngobere) primary schools, a health care
center and is working on the electric light system.
Finally in 1976 the current location of the Guaymi reserve at Coto Brus was
established and designated as such (IIDH, 2002). Presently, the Guaymi reserves are
governed by a Communal Association which is required by the Indigenous Law. This
organization is a step towards granting a certain degree of autonomy and protection to the
Guaymi in the sense that it can take care of managing resources (as long as the
management is in compliance with Costa Rican law) and it must be consulted by external
entities who wish to exploit mineral resources or partake in other activities within the
Through these associations, the different indigenous groups have been able to channel
tourism, external funds for development and other benefits for the communities. Still,
native groups are not in complete ownership of their lands since they are considered as
state property and every activity must be regulated by the central government.
Agriculture and Subsistence
With a mean annual rainfall of approximately 3500 mm (OTS, 2003) and poor acidic
soils, the Guaymi area is not, in general, very favorable for corn cultivation, hence the
Guaymi have tended to rely on a wider variety of crops for their subsistence (Cooke,
Chronicles of Spanish explorers that relate the way many Guaymi communities
depended not only on maize but also relied on a diversity of roots, fruits, wild game,
crustaceans, and estuarine, sea and river fish. The pejibaye palm (Bactris gasipaes) is
mentioned as an important source of starch. This plant is cited as being central to their
culture as a source of food, starch, drink, tools, and weapons (Cooke, 1982). This is still
true today. Fish (both fresh and salt water) seemed to play a very important part in the
local diet, more so than land animals according to Las Casas (1875 cited by Cooke,
Currently the Guaymi make a living out of subsistence farming, occasional hunting
and gathering, handicraft sales, laboring outside the reserve and occasional tourism.
Coffee and cacao are the most important cash crops, and represent the group's most
profitable monetary activity. Costa Rican law prohibits them from exploiting timber for
purposes other than self consumption, and land use change is strictly regulated (IIDH,
2002). This policy comes from decree No. 20045 on the 16th of August of 1991, whereby
commercial logging was prohibited in indigenous reservations because they are state
property and are supposed to remain forested to protect the native's traditional way of
subsistence living. The law defines the traditional way of life as that of subsistence
farming, hunting and gathering, and logging is considered as a threat to this way of life
(IIDH, 2002). Apparently the government is not yet ready to trust Indigenous groups with
full responsibility of management of their lands for fear of having other groups take
advantage and deplete the forest resources.
Presently the Guaymi of Osa and Conte Burica reserves have engaged in other types
of management with the aid of international NGO's, these include low impact extraction
of fallen timber and commercialization of handicrafts.
Farming is somewhat limited because of the poorness of the soils and the steep slopes
found in the reserve. In addition to this, the government's policies for retaining
forestlands and "preserving" native people's traditional way of life further limit the
Guaymi and force them to find ways of using the forest to subsidize their livelihoods.
The Guaymi of Coto Brus have incorporated themselves into the Costa Rican
initiative of payment for environmental services. This initiative pays them a fixed amount
for the conservation of forestlands in the northern part of the reserve. These funds are
distributed among the larger land owners, usually the oldest families who arrived in the
area. Overall, the Guaymi, as a group, have been active in incorporating new economical
and developmental opportunities into their lifestyles.
Type of Vegetation
The Guaymi Indigenous reserve is classified by Holdridge's life zone system as very
humid pre-montaine forest, warm-wet transition (Hartshorn, 1983). Ranging from about
900 to 1500 meters above sea level, the reserve presents a variety of successional stages,
which include primary and secondary forest, disturbed primary forests, farmlands and
fallow fields of different ages.
The environment surrounding the reservation is dominated by the presence of San
Vito and other communities, which are a source of income, fertilizers and other goods to
the Guaymi. Often Guaymi will find paying jobs in town or on local farms. The
community of Savanillas and La Vega are also very close to the reservation. However,
these towns often act as a negative influence since they are a source of poachers and
squatters that invade the reservation. The Wilson Botanical Gardens and the Las Cruces
Biological Station run by OTS are also a major influence since they bring in tourists,
students and researchers who contribute to the community.
Relevance of the Project
Knowing the importance of different successional stages for a particular culture is
useful for scientific, governmental, communal and non governmental organizations
involved in the planning and decision making process regarding land use in the area.
Furthermore, this project proposes a methodology that can be used for evaluating the
importance of successional stages in providing non timber forest products other than
edible plants and for other cultures other than the Guaymi.
Another objective is to develop a background of information upon which further
forest resource development projects can be based on in the future to aid the Guaymi and
improve their quality of life. Since Costa Rican law currently prohibits the more
profitable activity of commercial logging and restricts land use change, it is important for
any development program to consider the ecology and ethnic dynamics of Non timber
Forest Products available within the reserve.
Finally, the project will also serve to record the Guaymi's knowledge of their
environment. This will aid in preserving it for their future generations and for the general
scientific and lay community.
Guaymi Indigenous Reserve as a Human Ecosystem
There exists a complex relationship between the Guaymi culture and its environment.
This relationship is based on the interactions that result from the Guaymi's partial
dependence on the forest and its resources. It is a two way interaction in which the
culture and knowledge of the Guaymi is influenced by the dynamics of the ecosystem
(species composition, phenology, climate, soils, etc), and the environment is at the same
time shaped by the Guaymi's use of it (harvest intensities, methods of extraction, patterns
of habitation, management, modifications of vegetation cover, etc).
The accumulation of ethnoecological knowledge regarding plant uses (food,
medicine, fiber, etc), animal behavior, soils management, and agricultural practices is
essential for the Guaymi to transform the raw resources provided by the forest into useful
products such as food, building materials, handicrafts, dyes, and others. Accumulating
this knowledge, however, requires the investment of energy on the part of the
community. This energy manifests itself in time spent teaching the young, time spent by
the younger generations learning about the uses of plants, time spent in the forest
collecting these to preserve it in the memory as well as to generate new knowledge. All
this time could be invested in other activities such as paid work outside the reserve.
Although not a formal process of learning in most cases, the activity involves a specific
community structure in which members spend time together sharing knowledge.
From the ecosystem's point of view, the Guaymi community is a central component
that has, as most human communities do, a determining influence on its workings.
Activities such as agriculture, wild plant collecting for food, materials and medicine,
hunting and clearing for habitation and tourism have a direct effect on the animal and
plant communities surrounding them.
The clearing of vegetation for agriculture in the flatter areas that have more fertile
soils initiates a successional cycle that would not otherwise exist in the forest. Each
succession stage is characterized by a different community of plants that are adapted to
the conditions of light, temperature and moisture therein. This will benefit those plants
adapted to such conditions and harm those which cannot compete under them. In this
way, the species composition is directly affected by human activities.
Aside from the impacts of agriculture, other activities such as direct extraction of
plants or plant parts from the forest also affect the spatial distribution and abundance of
species. Extraction can have adverse or positive effects on plant populations. For
example, plants for which extraction involves the elimination of the whole plant such.
Other plants where extraction involves plant organs such as leaves or stems but which
leave the plant alive to resprout another season may be affected in a more indirect way.
For example, a plant whose leaves or stems are removed must invest its energy into re-
sprouting, energy that could have been used for reproduction; hence the abundance of
offspring that this plant produces will be diminished, consequently reducing the plant's
abundance in the future. Plants used in this way are likely to be more abundant in places
less frequented by humans.
On the other hand, there are some plants that may benefit from human use. Plants
which produce edible fruits may use humans as a means of seed dispersion, consequently
thriving in areas near human habitation. Other plants useful to humans receive special
care such as weeding and vine removal whether they grow in the forest or as volunteers
in agricultural fields. Other plants receive even more care through partial or complete
domestication as is the case for Bactris gassipaes and many tubers commonly grown in
plots or home gardens (.Xll iithri\,ii, violaceum., Dioscorea spp.).
Finally, the impacts on the local fauna are similar to those of vegetation. As animals
depend on plants as a source of food and shelter, changes in the composition of
vegetation are prone to benefit or undermine their survival according to their ecological
requirements. In a similar manner to plant extraction, hunting will also have an effect on
Thus humans play a determining role in the composition and distribution of
vegetation surrounding them either by direct or indirect manipulation. This effect cannot
be said to be either positive or negative, but only as a reality within the reserve which is
key to the current state of the ecosystem. Both plants and animal communities existing in
the reserve have been shaped by the presence of the Guaymi community in a similar
fashion that the Guaymi community is structured to adapt to the environment.
Guaymi Classifications of Ecological Successions
The Guaymi have a simple way of classifying ecological successions. They recognize
the original state of the forest as "kotowa" which simply means mountain. After the
forest is cut down and fields are established they are known as "work places". Once these
are abandoned after four or five years of cultivation, they recognize early secondary
growth as "komu kia" or small brush. After five or six years more of this stage it becomes
"komu" or brush. The next and final stage before returning to mature forest is called
"komu kri" or tall brush. This stage lasts about ten years, and is recognized because the
girth of the trees is such that an axe must be used to clear the area. The species
composition of the tall brush stage differentiates it from mature forests. Finally after
eleven to 15 years they say the mountain returns to its original state.
The Guaymi Wild Edible Plants Cognitive Domain
The knowledge held by a community regarding a certain topic is called a Cultural
Domain. It does not depend on a single individual, but rather it is spread throughout the
community. In this case, the cultural domain under study is that of wild edible plants. In
studying this domain, two main characteristics were taken into account: diversity of
plants known and relative importance of each plant. The reason for this is that not all
plants will have the same importance as others. For example, some may be used by most
of the community, indicating they are culturally important, while others may be used by
only a small percentage of the community, making them culturally less important. More
important plants will also tend to be more salient in the informants' minds.
In this study, any wild plants used for food (as well as one fungus species) were
considered to form part of the domain. This first chapter includes a description of the
plants that were found to be part of this domain, their methods of preparation, cultural
details associated with them and the part of the plant that is used for food.
The method for obtaining information on the cultural domain in question was free
listing. A total of 46 informants were interviewed for this purpose. Each informant was
asked to enumerate all the wild edible plants that came to his mind at that moment. These
were noted down in a questionnaire. Additional information such as successional stage,
part used, preparation and frequency of use was also noted down (See Appendix A for
The number of informants to be interviewed was determined by using the informant-
species curve (Figure 1-1). This curve was obtained by comparing the number of species
mentioned with the number of informants interviewed. These results were randomized
130 times through bootstrapping to estimate the tendency of new species to appear.
Through this curve, the total number of species that compose the cultural domain were
estimated as the curve started to level off.
All the plants that could be found in the wild during ecological sampling were
collected for botanical identification at the Herbario Juvenal Valerio of the National
University of Costa Rica. Digital pictures of most species were taken. The names of the
plants in Ngobere were taken from the Guaymi Grammar and Dictionary (Alphonse,
1956), the Alfabeto Practico Ilustrado Guaymi (Constenla, 2001), and personal
consultations with the bilingual school teacher of La Casona school: Santos Gonzalez
Figure 1-3 presents the informant- species curve after bootstrapping the results for the
freelistings 130 times. The curve tends to stabilize itself slightly above 60 species. The
decision to stop the free listing interviews at 46 informants to maximize the available
time was taken based on this curve.
0 50 10 150 20 2M 3D0
Figure 1-4. Species informant curve for wild edible plants used by the Guaymi in
Coto Brus Costa Rica.
From the free listings, a general list of the plants used by the Guaymi was created.
Table 1-1 presents the list of items with their common and scientific names and the parts
of the plants mentioned by the informants. Spanish and English names (often generic)
were used when possible, but often only the Ngobe name was the only specific name that
could be found.
For the Spanish names, Leon et al (2000) was used to mention the other names that
the plants are given throughout Costa Rica. The reason for this is that the Guaymi would
often know only few or none at all of the names given to plants in Spanish. English
names were taken from various books that describe tropical crops, these, however were
not complete since many of the plants are not commonly seen as crops and do not have
common names in English.
The scientific names were spelled according to the spelling recognized by the
Missouri Botanical Garden (Tropicos 3 database, 2004). Although the original Ngobere
toungue does not have a written alphabet, native names were spelled according to the
official phonetical representation used in Guaymi written language Alphonse (1956) and
Constela et al (1981).
Table 1-1. List of wild edible plants found during this study.
Family Species Part used Ngobere English name Spanish
Anacardiaceae Spondias mombin L shoots J6go Yellow jobo
Apiaceae Eryngiumfoetidum L. leaves Kulandro False coriander culantro
Arecaceae Chamaedorea tepejilote immature Nfurum pacaya
Liebm. ex Mart flower
Arecaceae Socratea exorrhiza (Mart.) shoots Buro heart of palm chonta
Arecaceae Geonoma interrupt (Ruiz shoots Juo heart of palm surtuba
& Pay.) Mart.
Table 1-1. Continued
Family Species Part used Ngobere English Spanish
name name name
Arecaceae shoots Midra heart of Palmito de
Euterpe precatoria Mart. palm mantequilla
Arecaceae shoots Titi heart of palmito
Prestoea acuminata palmito de
(Willd.) HE Moore matequilla
Arecaceae Oenocarpus mapora H. shoots Jora heart of manqueque
Begoniaceae Begonia sp. stalk ibiagro begonia begonia
Bignoniaceae Mansoa hymenaea (DC.) leaves do boin ajo natural
Bromeliaceae Bromeliapinguin L. fruit viru pifiuela
Burseraceae Protium panamense (Rose) fruit judra tain alcanfor
Caricaceae Vasconcella cauliflora fruit kegema wild papaya papaya de
(Jacq.) A. DC monte
Convolvulaceae Maripa nicaraguensis fruit drwa koi
Chrysobalanaceae Licania belloi Prance fruit sabo sonsapote
Clusiaceae Garcinia madruno (Kunth) fruit trobo Madrofio,
Hammel lim6n de
Cucurbitaceae Sechiumpittieri (Cogn.) C. shoots mirera taca, tacaco
Cucurbitaceae Sechium tacaco (Pittier) C. shoots ka kare tacaco
Cyclanthaceae Carludovica palmata Ruiz immature dogogo Elotillo,
& Pavon flower chidra,
Dennstaedtiaceae Hypolepis repens shoots ka ugw6 helecho de
(Linnaeus) C. Presl. espina
Dioscoriaceae Dioscorea trifida Lf root driin nuen Yam fiampi
Dioscoriaceae root drun Yam fiampi
Dioscorea alata L fiampi
Dioscoriaceae root drun Yam fiampi
Dioscorea trifida Lf driine
Fabaceae Inga spectabilis (Vahl) fruit bu guaba
Fabaceae Inga cotobrucencis. fruit bi guaba
Fabaceae Inga hibaudiana. fruit bti guaba
Heliconiaceae Heliconiapogonantha shoots mune Heliconia platanilla
Table 1-1. Continued
Family Species Part used Ngobere English name Spanish
Heliconiaceae Heliconia danielsiana W.J. shoots mune Heliconia platanilla
Heliconiaceae Heliconia latispatha shoots bidu Heliconia platanilla
Lauraceae fruit duga Wild avocado aguacate
Persea sp. de
Lecythidaceae Gustavia superba (Kunth) fruit tuba membrillo
Malpighiaceae Byrsonima crassifolia (L.) fruit miga nance
Malvaceae Theobroma bicolor Bonpl. fruit odobi Wild cacao pataste
in Humb. & Bonpl.
Malvaceae Theobroma angustifolium fruit mura Wild cacao cacao de
Sesse & Moc. ex DC. montafia
Malvaceae Triumfetta sp. stalk mozote mozote
Maranthaceae Calathea crotalifera S. shoots krigo bugun bijagua
Marantaceae Hylaeanthe hoffmannii (K. root apu
Schum.) A.M.E. Jonker &
Jonker ex H. Kenn.
Moraceae fruit bere Bread nut Azulillo,
Brosimum guianense mariabe,
(Aubl.) Huber granadillo
Myrtaceae Psidium guajava L. fruit ngima Guava guayaba
Passifloraceae Passiflora vitifolia Kunth fruit guate Passion fruit granadilla
Passifloraceae Passiflora quadrangularis fruit guate Passion fruit granadilla
Passifloraceae Passiflora sp. fruit guate Passion fruit granadilla
Phytolaccaceae Phytolacca rivinoides leaves segi Poke weed jaboncillo
Kunth & C.D. Bouche
Sapotaceae Chrysophyllum brenesii fruit zuli krie caimito
Sapotaceae Pouteria sapota (Jaq.) H.E. fruit ngomo zapote
Moore & Stream
Sarcoscyphaceae Cookeina tricholoma fruiting kri olo hongo
(Ascomycetes) (Mont.) Kuntz body
Simaroubaceae Simarouba glauca DC. fruit rug aaceituno
Solanaceae Cestrum sp. Cestrum leaves fiulio zorrillo
racemosum Ruiz & Pay.
Theophrastaceae Clavija costaricana Pittier fruit draw kri
Theophrastaceae Clavija costaricana Pittier fruit musola
Table 1-1. Continued
Family Species Part used Ngobere name English name Spanish
Urticaceae Urera baccifera (L.) shoots bugrun ortiga
Gaudich. ex Wedd.
Urticaceae Urera elata (Sw.) Griseb. shoots bugrin ortiga
Unknown seed graju
Unknown stalk ka fide
All the scientific names and authors were taken from TROPICOS3 database of the
Missouri Botanical Gardens (2004).
Table 1-2 presents the number of species per family that were found. The tendency of
the Guaymi is to use one or a few species (often of the same genus) from a large number
of families, with exception of the palms, there seems to be no preference for any
Table 1-2. Number of edible species per botanical family used by the Guaymi in Coto
Brus, Costa Rica.
Family number of edible
Table 1-2 Continued
Family number of edible
Figure 1-5 presents the number of species according to the part of the plant that is
eaten, it shows that most of the species used by the Guaymi are plants with edible fruits.
Plants that provide edible shoots are the second largest group in terms of plants
consumed. There are not many wild root crops even if the Guaymi do rely on several
cultivated roots. This tendency gives an insight into the food preferences of the
During informal conversations, it was noted that greens of bitter taste are very
appreciated as a complement to every-day diet. Shoots were similarly appreciated
although they did not seem as varied. Many of the shoots, especially those of palms, were
considered more as food for special occasions rather than an every day meal. Fruits, in
general, do not form part of formal meals but are taken in between meals as desserts or as
The one edible fungus that was recorded was a very appreciated seasonal food. Found
mostly during the burning season it is collected in large quantities and incorporated into
regular meals. Seeds and stalks however were not so popular, mostly they were not used
or used for other purposes other than food (for example medicine).
fnit shoots leaves root stalk irnatLre flower fruiting body seed
Figure 1-5. Number of species of wild edible plants according to the part used by the
Guaymi of Coto Brus, Costa Rica.
It can be said that fruit bearing plants are the most abundant type of food plant. Many
of these are trees from the mature forests. Later on the analyses, this will influence the
cultural importance of that succession and especially its edges as a source of food for the
Guaymi. Figure 1-6 shows the percentage of wild plants used by the Guaymi that are not
native to the area. These plants are exotics that have escaped cultivation and adapted to
the local environment.
Figure 1-6. Exotic vs. native species of wild edible plants used by the Guaymi in Coto
Brus, Costa Rica.
In general, the Guaymi tend to eat more wild native plants than exotics. Although
many of their cultivated crops are exotic to the area, not many have adapted to the Coto
Brus area enough to become wild.
Figure 1-7 shows the distribution of species according to their life forms. Overall,
most of the plants used by the Guaymi, regardless of their cultural importance, are trees.
Vines and herbs have similar numbers of useful species. Palms and shrubs are next in
number of species per life form class, and finally there is just one species of fungus.
Trees are the life form with the most edible species in Guaymi culture. Although
many of these are not considered very important (See Chapters II and III), they are
relevant because the large number of species makes them a year round source of food.
Figure 1-7. Number of wild edible plant species according to their life forms as used
by the Guaymi of Coto Brus, Costa Rica.
The wild edible plants used by the Guaymi consist mostly of common plants such as
those that can be found in roadsides or in easily accessible parts of mature and secondary
forests. This is logical since it would be the most abundant plants the ones that would be
more likely to be tested as edible plants, also it is these plants that can be relied on as an
abundant source of food in case of an emergency.
Some of the plants mentioned by the informants could not be confirmed by botanical
sampling, which raises the question of whether these plants are not really found in the
wild. Informants may have made a mistake, or the plants simply may not have been
found while sampling.
Another common problem was the fact that common names were used differently by
the various informants. Often a group of plants would be referred to by an informant
using a single name while a more knowledgeable informant would be able to give
individual names for them. In these cases, the more general name was used and later the
botanical species and other common names covered by this grouping were specified. This
may be due to the age, background, interest, intelligence or socio-economic condition of
the informant. Another problem encountered was the recognition of varieties by the
Guaymi that are not recognized by botanical systematics. In this case the botanical name
was used and the local names of the varieties were specified.
Role of Wild Edible Plants in Guaymi Culture
It is important to approach the topic of wild edible plants knowing what is their role
in Guaymi culture. The Guaymi have long stopped being a hunting and gathering society.
Even though historical authors such as Las Casas (1875, cited by Cooke, 1982) describe
them as dependent on hunting, fishing and gathering, in the tradition of many
Amazonian-influenced cultures, evidence is also found in literature that the bulk of their
diet came from starchy crops (Manihot esculenta, Dioscoria alata, XIldinm,,inl
violaceum, Bactris gasipaes) .
Modem day Guaymi in Coto Brus still rely on the above listed crops for their diet. In
addition, with the advent of fertilizers and pesticides, other crops that have lately become
more feasible to them such as rice and maize, which historically were not central to their
farming systems (Cooke, 1982). Coffee and cacao are also grown for sale, and the money
is used in purchasing outside foods such as tuna, spam, pasta, beef, and other goods.
The introduction of western farm animals such as pigs and chickens has also made
them less reliant on hunting as a source of protein. Nowadays, hunting is viewed more as
a pastime and a luxury than a source of nourishment.
In spite of all these changes, however, the Guaymi plant very few vegetables or
greens. What few vegetables they can purchase such as cauliflower, can only be found in
San Vito, which is about two to three hours (and $3.50) away by bus. Thus the only
source of vegetables and greens, and consequently of the vitamins these provide, are the
ones collected in the wild.
The absence of electric power in most of the reserve is also an impediment for
keeping foods refrigerated. This however may change in the next few years.
While wild food plants may not be a central part of the diet, they are an essential one.
It is well known that a diverse diet contributes to a nutritional well being (Gura, 1986;
Marten, 1988; Hernandez, 1974). The forests and fallows provide a ready and free source
of greens for the Guaymi. Often this importance is overlooked by them since the products
are "free", and their use is sporadic and varied. There is no marked dependence on any
one type of wild food plant, since they are usually consumed when they are found by
chance. Nonetheless, if these were not available, the variety and quality of the Guaymi's
diet would be reduced to basically carbohydrates and occasional proteins, leaving out
many essential vitamins.
Even if most wild foods are consumed as snacks or side dishes, wild greens and
vegetables often provide indigenous communities with a source of minerals, protein, and
vitamins not available elsewhere (Fleuret, 1979; Hladik, 1990; Levy, 1936). Very often
wild plants serve to complement maize based diets by supplying the lysine that that crop
lacks ( Caldwell, 1972; Ogle, 1985) Even plants viewed as "children's' food" serve as a
complement to their diets.
During the interviews, a social tendency to look down on native wild foods was
perceived, particularly from the younger generations. While people above their 40's did
not seem to have any problem in talking about this topic, younger people seemed to be
less willing to cooperate in general. Many made the point that their parents used to eat
that but that they preferred "white people" foods like the rest of the Costa Rican
population. Many parents also complained that their children did not want to eat those
foods anymore but preferred the groceries and canned foods sold in the local store.
Species Richness of the Cognitive Domain of Wild Edible Plants of the Guaymi
Fifty two plant species and one fungus were recorded as being used as sources of wild
food by the Guaymi. Figure 1-1 presents the species informant curve used to estimate the
size of the cognitive domain in question. As can be seen in Figure 1-1, the curve tends to
level off as it approaches 60 species. According to the logarithmic regression equation,
the estimated number of species that would have been found if the sample size was
doubled would be of 61.31, which means an increase of only 3 species would result from
46 additional interviews. However, since there is, in theory, a finite number of species
that compose the domain (Bernard, 2004) the logarithmic model is problematic since it
does not contain an asymptote. Instead, an asymptotic model is best and is assumed to
show the limit of the cognitive domain. This asymptote is estimated to be to be at around
63 species meaning that the 84.12% of the species composing the Guaymi wild edible
plants cognitive domain are covered by this study.
The richness of wild food plants used by the Guaymi is relatively high compared to
other indigenous groups in Costa Rica. Ramos Garcia-Serrano (2004) reports only 34
species of wild plants being used as food by the Bribri and Cabecar groups. Using the
reported plants for the Guaymi as a base of comparison, it means that their cognitive
domain is 58.8 % larger than that of these groups (76.5% if the estimated number of
species is used)
Distribution of Species According to Botanical Families
It was found that the edible plants used by the Guaymi that could be identified
properly belonged to a total of 33 botanical families (Table 1-2). While most families
contained only inedible species, certain families showed a particular abundance of edible
species. For example, Arecaceae presented a total of 6 species that were used as food.
Others such as Fabaceae (genus Inga), Passifloraceae and Malvaceae contained three
edible species each.
It is important to note that a greater number of species in a family does not
necessarily make that family culturally important. This is because a family may contain
many trivial species while another family may contain only one species with great
importance. This will be analyzed in detail in Chapter III.
Distribution of Species According to Part Used by the Guaymi
Figure 1-5 is a chart indicating the number of plants used by the Guaymi according to
the edible part that they use. Fruits tend to be the most diverse group of edible plants,
followed by shoots. As in the case of the botanical families, a greater number of species
in a group does not necessarily show cultural importance. Fruits, as will be seen later in
this document, are not particularly culturally important individually, yet their great
diversity may amount to a greater importance as a group in Guaymi diet.
Leaves, roots, stalks and flowers are of secondary importance in terms of number of
species used. Seeds and fungal fruiting bodies have the least number of species.
Use of Native vs. Exotic Species
In spite of having been in this particular area for a relatively short period of time (70
years), the Guaymi are particularly well adapted to using plants native to Costa Rica
(94%) vs. exotics (6%) (Figure 1-6). This is understandable since the original Guaymi
territory did encompass parts of Costa Rica and, in Panama, it extended over a wide
range of successional stages that contain similar species to the Coto Brus region. It is not
surprising then that the knowledge possessed by the original immigrants also worked for
the new area they were moving into.
Also, not many of the edible exotic plants have been able to thrive in the ecological
conditions of the reservation. For example, plants like Zizigiumjambos and Mangifera
indica, which have readily become invasive in other tropical regions and incorporated
into the local cultural domains as "wild", can be found only sparingly at the reservation
and are not considered "wild" by the Guaymi. Some plants, however, which are native to
Costa Rica and the Guaymi region, but not present in the Coto Brus region have also
been introduced by them and are sometimes found as escapees in fallows and secondary
forests. Such is the case of Gustavia superba, Bromelia pinguin, Mansoa hymenaea.
These are found mostly in home gardens but sometimes in wild or semi wild conditions.
Species Richness of Edible Plants According to Their Life Forms
It was found that the most useful life forms to the Guaymi, in terms of number of
edible species were the trees, followed by herbs and vines (Figure 1-5). Palms and shrubs
presented a relatively low number of species compared to other life forms and just one
fungus was reported.
The tree group also coincides with the previous fruit group since 80% of the trees are
used for their fruits. This means that fruits are more likely to be available year round for
complementing human diet.
Plant Uses and Description
The plant uses, common names and descriptions are based on field observations,
informant interviews and on the work of Le6n's (2000) work. These are all grouped
according to the botanical families the species belong to according to the Missouri
Botanical Gardens' TROPICOS3 data base (2004).
Spondias mombin L. (Jogo, yellow mombin, jobo). This fast growing tree is
commonly found in secondary forest since it is a pioneer species. Unlike other indigenous
groups such as the Cabercar and Bribri of the region (Economic botany), the Guaymi do
not eat the fruits. Instead they harvest the young apical stems, peal them and eat the juicy,
green tissue inside. This plant is taken as a snack by workers when clearing their fields
for planting. It is very refreshing and tastes like green mangoes. Also, they say it is good
for treating and preventing colds. Leon et al (2000) also cites the fruits as being edible
but not always of agreeable flavor. He also reports that the roots accumulate water in
them and are used to quench thirst.
Eryngiumfoetidum L (Kulandro, coriander, Culantro coyote). Culantro coyote or
"kulandro" as the local pronunciation goes, is an exotic but naturalized herb that
commonly grows as a volunteer weed in fields and home gardens. Its leaves are used in
everyday cooking to flavor food.
In addition to having many other ethnobotanical uses such as a source of fiber,
building materials, tools, and thatching, the Arecaceae, or palm family, contains the most
numerous wild edible species for the Guaymi. With one exception, the most often eaten
part is the "palmito" or heart of palm. This food is considered important to the Guaymi as
a delicacy and is prepared for special occasions. While the cultivated heart of palm
(Bactris gasipaes), which does not grow wild in the region, is the most commonly
consumed palm, wild palmito is considered better tasting and of higher quality than this
Preparation of the heart of palm is similar for all species. The first and simplest way
is to eat it raw, alone or marinated in lime juice. Another common way to prepare it is to
fry it in butter and chop it into a fine "picadillo" to be accompanied by rice and beans.
Another method of preparation that was mentioned was to roast it. For this, the heart of
palm is left within its tougher protective stem and tossed directly into the burning coals. It
is left there for a few minutes until the husk is charred and finally it is pulled out and
Socratea exorhiza (Buro, chonta, maquenque). This species has a rather bitter flavor
to its heart of palm, this is why it is not as popular as others. Buro, however, is harvested
and mixed in with other species of palmito to make a bitter-sweet picadillo. The Guaymi
find the combination very attractive and prepare it for special occasions. It is found
mainly within old growth forests. It is easily recognized by its spiny support roots.
Geonoma interrupta (Jio, surtuba). This is another species with bitter tasting heart of
palm. Its uses are similar to S. exhorriza and it is found mainly within old growth
forests.Euterpe precatoria (Midra, palmito morado, palmito de matequilla). Midra is one
of the most sought after palmitos. Its sweet flavor is very palatable and can be eaten raw
or prepared in any of the common ways. It is found mainly within old growth forests.
Prestoea acuminata (Titi, palmito de matequilla). This is the other sweet palmito,
often called "true" palmito by the Guaymi. It is common in the lowlands and used in
ways similar to E. precatoria. Its taste is very sweet and could have potential commercial
value if cultivated or managed. It is found mainly within old growth forests. This palm
presents abundant regeneration under mature forest conditions (Le6n, 2000) and could
have potential form management as a non timber forest product.
Oenocarpus mapora (Jora, maquenque). This is the least common of the palms used
by the Guaymi at Coto Brus. It seems to have been more common in the past on the
higher slopes of the reserve. However, it seems to be quite rare now because of over
harvesting. This is not necessarily because its better quality but instead related to its
distribution. The higher lands are not very inhabited so the owners of the land seldom
look over them. This provides an opportunity for poachers both from within and outside
the reservation to come in and harvest their plants and animals in excess. Preparation is
the same as with other palmitos.
Chamadorea tepejilote (Niirium, pacaya, piciplina). Chamadorea tepejilote is a
common palm in moist areas such as river beds or terrain depressions. Because of the
high moisture of the forests within the reserve, even in slopes, it is found throughout old
growth and mature secondary forests in the reservation. The part eaten is the immature
inflorescence. This is harvested at a particular point before it starts to mature and become
bitter. If harvested properly, the taste and texture of the flowers is very pleasant. It is
commonly prepared by boiling along with black bean soup and served together with rice
and other wild greens. There is a popular belief that the taste is determined by the person
who harvests it: if it is bitter it means that the harvester is a stingy person.
Cookenia tricholoma (Kri olo). Kri olo literally means "tree ear" and it is the name
given to almost any tree dwelling fungus. However, when referring to eating kri olo the
term refers largely to just the species: C. tricholoma. This fungus is found very sparsely
within the forests, and it often grows in large numbers in dead wood. However, this
species has been favored by human habitation, and it is found in great numbers when the
forest is burned down in the cycle of shifting cultivation. Charred wood in the open sun
seems to be an especially favorable medium for it, since there it grows in quantities
superior to those found within the natural forests. There are two other species that were
mentioned during the interviews, but only as second hand experience (the informants
mentioned they believed some people ate them but that they them selves did not). One is
another species of Cookeina, which was mentioned by a Ngobe woman as being eaten by
her Buglere daughter in law. She said, however that eating that species was not well
looked upon by the Ngobe because they considered it inedible. The other species was a
gelatinous tree ear which my key informant said he had heard could be eaten, but he
himself did not dare to try it for fear of being poisoned.
The preparation of C. tricholoma can be done in two ways. One is to fry them in
butter and adding them to rice or beans, and the other is to salt them and envelop them in
a krigo (Calathea crotalifera) leaf and roast them in hot coals until the leaves started to
char. This species is very delicious and commonly eaten during the burning season.
Begonia sp (Ibiagro). This small herb is commonly found along roads and cliffs that
border the primary forest. It is very easy to find because of its red stalks. These are eaten
by the Guaymi as a snack when traveling through the reserve. Its sour, juicy taste is used
to quench thirst when water is not available._Also, it is used medicinally to treat colds.
Mansoa hymenaea (Doboin). This plant was reported by some informants as wild,
and is infrequently found in secondary growth. However this could not be corroborated as
the only specimens found were cultivated in home gardens. The natural distribution ofM.
hymenaea is on the drier Pacific coast, so it is possible that it was brought by immigrants
from Panama and it occasionally escapes into the wild. This plant possesses a strong
garlic-like smell and it is used as a substitute for it in cooking.
Bromeliapenguin (Vir, pifiuela).This bromeliad is another plant of doubtful origin.
Several informants reported it as being wild, however, the only time it was found in
natural surroundings during this study was in a secondary forest near a home garden. It is
therefore unclear whether it is native or an escapee from cultivation. One informant
mentioned that it was far more common in the drier area where he lived in Panama. It
was included however because of the reports by knowledgeable informants that it was
wild and sometimes cultivated.
Viru provides a reddish, sticky fruit which grows in a central disc-like inflorescence.
It is eaten raw as complement to everyday diet.
Protiumpanamense (Judra tain, alcanfor). Judra is a very common tree found mostly
in mature secondary forests and primary forests. In spite of its commonness, it was not
mentioned by many informants, which leads me to believe it is not a very well liked food.
The part eaten is the fruit, which has a very aromatic pulp.
Vasconcella cauliflora (Kegema). Wild papaya or Kegema is commonly found in
secondary forests, primary forest gaps, and along roadsides. Its abundant fruits are eaten
raw just like those of Caricapapaya fruits and are said to be just as good.
Licania belloi (Sabo, zapote, sunzapote). This large tree is native of the mature
forests of the region. Due the popularity of its fruit it is often left when clearing fields and
can be found in coffee and cacao plantations as a remnant tree. This species is one of the
most popular wild food plants, Guaymi men will actually take time off their daily labors
to go deep into the forest and actively look for zabo fruits instead of just collecting by
chance during other activities. Licania belloii usually grows in groves deep inside the
primary forests. Often, permission of the owner is needed to come in and gather fruits.
The sweet, sandy pulp is eaten raw and considered a delicacy by the Guaymi. Trees are
highly appreciated and care is taken when inside the forest not to damage saplings or
adult trees. This management practice may be a cultural adaptation to the trees's scarcity
since it is not observed with other wild species. The tree and its regeneration is not very
common and its distribution within the reserve is clumped in small patches.
Garcinia madruno (trobo, madrofio, lim6n de montafia, manzana amarilla). This tree
is fairly common in mature forest patches. Its fruits are abundant when in season and
commonly eaten by people traveling through the forest as a snack or sometimes collected
in large quantities to take back home as a dessert. One curious thing about this tree is
that, unlike Licania belloi., there is no cultural protection of the plants. If a tree is found
with a very abundant harvest, it can be cut entirely to collect all the fruits. My guide even
offered to cut down a tree so I could collect a sterile herbarium sample (an offer that I
urgently declined). This destructive method of collection does not appear to make the tree
or its regeneration less abundant.
Two species of Cucurbitaceae were identified as being used by the Guaymi.
However, the names used for these plants were often interchangeable and it was hard to
determine to which one of the species the informants were referring. Often different
names were attributed to the same plant or both plants grouped under one name.
Sechium tacaco, S. Pittieri (Mirera, Ka, Ka kure, Mirera kure, chayotio de monte,
taca, tacaco cimarr6n, tacaco). These two plants are climbing or sprawling vines
commonly found in early secondary growth. Because of their very similar appearance,
their common names are often used for both plants. Although both of these species
produce fruits that have been reported as being eaten in Costa Rica's Central Valley, the
varieties found in the Guaymi reservation present spiny, hard fruits that make them
difficult to eat. Instead, the Guaymi use the young sprouts. These are collected and cut
into fine chunks or "picadillos". They must be boiled and have the water changed at least
once to eliminate bitter substances. Sechium tacaco is an endemic species of Costa Rica.
Carludovicapalmata (dogogo, uchi, elotillo, chidra, estocoque) This plant is
extremely common throughout the reserve, particularly in secondary forests. For the
Guaymi, the plant itself is called "dogogo", while the inflorescence is called "uchi".
Guaymi men will often collect these while out working in their fields and bring them
home for the women to prepare. These plants are so common that there is no offense
implied in taking uchi from another person's field as long as it borders the roadside. The
common way of preparing the flowers is by boiling them along with bean soup. However,
it can also be roasted directly on hot coals until the protective bracts are charred and then
served with lime juice along with rice and beans. Its widespread distribution make it a
good, abundant vegetable. In other areas it is used for making baskets and hats (Le6n,
Hypolepis repens (Ka uguo, helecho de espina) This is the only fern that is eaten by
the Guaymi. However, it is one of the most popular and sought after wild foods. The
plant is a weedy species easily recognized by the presence of spines. It grows abundantly
in abandoned fields and early secondary successions. Although it is commonly found
along roadsides, it is hard to find plants that have not yet been collected. To get more
abundant harvests, the Guaymi usually have to rely on what grows in their own
abandoned fields.. The part eaten is the shoot or "fiddlehead" of the fern. The usual way
of preparing the shoots is to fry them in butter with Mansoa hymenaea leaves and serve
them along with rice or other vegetables. There exists a specialty market for edible fern
shoots in Asia and Europe and this particular plant, because of its weedy habit and rapid
growth, could be a potential cash crop if it were domesticated and all nutritional
properties turned out acceptable for human consumption.
There are two botanical species that were recognized during the study, of which only
one was found in the wild. However, the Guaymi recognize several distinct varieties of
this plant, which they consider to be separate species altogether.
Dioscorea trifida (Drun nuen, Drun tain, Drun Drune, Drin, Ktili, yam, fiampi)
Dioscorea trifida is a twining vine commonly found in early middle stages of forest
regeneration (4-9 yearss. It produces a tuber which is eaten boiled in water much like a
potato. Along with D. alata, Manihot esculenta, and A e/,lh,,i, violaceum, it is one of
the Guaymi's major staple food and source of starch. Although it is cultivated in home
gardens, it is also found growing wild along fences and abandoned fields. In cases of
food scarcity or if the need arises, people will resort to gathering them from the wild.
This semi-domesticated status may be the reason why not many informants mentioned it
as an important wild food, perhaps considering it more a cultivated plant.
Drun Nuen, is the most commonly cultivated variety. The term "Nuen" means white
and this is attributed to the color of the tuber. The tuber is said to be larger than other
Drun Drune, or black Drun, is said to posses a smaller tuber and can be recognized by
the darkish spots that it has on the underside of the leaves. It is also good for eating and
sometimes cultivated around the house.
Drun Tain, or red Drun, is said to produce a large tuber which is not very good for
eating. However, it will remain without spoiling for a long time which makes it good
when food is scarce. It is often used to feed pigs and chickens.
Drin or Ktli, is another variety mentioned by some informants, which is said to have
a small, carrot like tuber. No sample of this plant was collected or seen.
Dioscoria alata (Drun fiampi, fiampi) this cultivated variety is often found in home
gardens or even in monocultural plantations. It will occasionally be found in abandoned
fields or fences. This plant originated in Asia.
Inga spectabilis, I. cotobrucesnsis, I. hibaudiana. (bt, guaba) In spite of the high
diversity and abundance of this family, the only species of Fabaceae mentioned as edibles
were those of the genus Inga. Three species of this genus are consumed, often more as a
snack for children or passersbyes than as a sought after food. The part eaten is the fruit.
The white aril surrounding the seeds is eaten and the seed is spit out. Ingas can be found
along roadsides, in young secondary forests and in old growth forests. They are usually
left in cleared fields as a source of shade, or, if cut down, resprout promptly. As in other
regions, they are used as a source of shade for coffee and cacao. Here they not only fix
nitrogen and improve soil fertility but provide good fuel wood. Of all the uses of Inga,
food seems to be the least important.
Heliconiapogonantha, H. danielsiana, H. latispatha. (mine, bidu, platanilla).Three
species of Heliconia were recorded as edibles during this study. These plants are
probably the most abundant of all edible plants mentioned. They grow in most
successional stages from early successions to old growth forests (preferring the early
stages over the older ones). All of them fall under two common Ngobere names: mune or
bidu. As with other plants, it is was hard to tell sometimes which plants the informants
had in mind when talking about them since vegetatively they are so similar. However, the
botanical specimens taken as vouchers for these names show that there are three main
The part eaten is the apical shoot, found within the stalk in a similar fashion as the
hearts of palm. This shoot is taken and boiled together with bean or chicken broth and
served along with the regular meals. The taste is similar to that of asparagus although
there is a silky strand of fibrous material in the center. This plant is a good source of
vegetables during times of scarcity due to its extremely high abundance.
Persea sp. (Duga, aguacate de montafia) Duga or "mountain avocado" is found in a
more or less sparse but even distribution along the primary forests of the reserve. The
fruit of this plant is said to be similar to that of regular avocados but rounder in shape.
Although it is eaten, it is not as actively sought like other fruits such as Licania belloi.
and Chrysophyllum sp.
Gustavia superba (tuba, membrillo). This peculiar tree is scarce, reported only in
secondary forests of the Villa Palacios area and under cultivation in home gardens.
Informants mentioned how it grows much more abundantly and reaches a larger size in
Panama. This leads me to think that it was introduced from other regions and has adapted
to the local environment. The part eaten is the fruit, which is taken in a semi green state,
cooked in boiling water, and served as a vegetable along with meals.
Byrsonima crassifolia (Miga, nance). This tree is common to all of tropical America.
It grows mostly in open fields and is particularly resistant to burning. It can often be seen
in pastures, roadsides, home gardens or abandoned fields. The fruit is eaten raw as a
snack or made into sweets by adding sugar or fermenting it. Although it is not very
common, its distribution is wide spread, mostly seen near human habitation and working
Malvaceae are an important family since the Guaymi's sacred, plant cacao
(Thobroma cacao), is a member of this group. Cacao is native to some parts of Costa
Rica, none of the informants reported it as being wild in the reserve. It is worth
mentioning that, along with coffee, cacao is the most important cash crop planted by the
Guaymi. The demand for organic cacao has benefited them and buyers from San Jose
readily buy their harvests as soon as they are available. Cacao is also used in rituals to
ward off evil spirits. These involve the preparation of bitter, unsweetened cacao, which is
offered to the community. Also, the "sukia" or shaman is said to cure using cacao grains
and pastes as medicine for spiritual evils and curses.
Chocolate is also prepared for everyday consumption and is a preferred beverage that
is drunk hot or at room temperature.
Other species of Theobroma are also used in similar ways.
Theobroma angustifolium (mura, cacao de montafia). This wild cacao is found
mostly in the mature forests of the reservation. Even if it is not cultivated, the seeds are
also used to make chocolate and will sometimes be gathered for that purpose. Children
will also eat the pulp of the seeds when they can find them.
Theobroma bicolor (odoba, pataste). Although similar to cacao, T. bicolor is used
more for its fruit than its seeds. These are eaten when ripe. The tree was only found
growing in cultivation around houses, but several informants did report it as also being
found in the wild.
Triumffeta sp. (Mozote). This native plant is found almost in every early secondary
succession within the reserve. It was, however not reported by many informants as being
used. The name "mozote" is actually a Spanish nahuatism (that is a nahuat name adopted
by the Spaniards to name a plant) and no Ngobere name was reported. This leads me to
think this plant was not originally used by the Guaymi but rather its use came with the
colonists who had learned to use it in northern Central America. The stalks of the plant
are boiled to make an infusion that is drunk as a refreshment or as a medicine to "refresh"
the stomach in case of any illness.
Calathea crotalifera (Krigo, Krigo bogon, bijagua). This common herbaceous plant
can be found growing abundantly in the under story of primary and old secondary forests.
Sometimes it will also be found in early secondary growth were there is enough shade to
block out direct sunlight. The edible part of the plant is the unopened shoots, similar to
those of the Heliconia. These are taken out and eaten and have a very pleasant flavor
without the silky fibers of Heliconia. The amount of food obtained per plant is minimal
though, and it takes a lot of plants to get out a significant quantity. Nevertheless, krigo
has a very important role related to food. Its leaves are preferred by the Guaymi to wrap
food. Whether it is fruits, shoots, or medicinals collected in the wild or cooked meals
from home to be taken out into the field, krigo leaves are always used in preference to
other similar leaves (banana, heliconia, etc.). The reasons given by one informant for this
are the convenient length and width of the leaves, their resistance, the fact that they can
be tied with vines without ripping, and their ability to keep things "fresh". Also, as has
been mentioned, krigo leaves are used in cooking other wild plants since they are also
resistant to heat. Food is wrapped in them and tossed into the hot coals for roasting and
the leaves will not bum easily allowing the food to be cooked.
Hylaeanthe hoffmannii (Apu). This plant is not very common and was mentioned
only by a few, older informants. The part eaten is the root, which produces numerous
small tubers. These are said to be very tough and not very palatable which may show that
they are considered a famine food and reserved only for emergencies.
Maripa nicaraguensis (drwa koi, dulce). The Ngobe meaning of this plants name
literally means "monkey vine", probably referring to the fact that monkeys like to feed on
its fruits. It is a widespread, yet not very abundant twining vine found mostly in forest
edges and roadsides near primary forests. The part eaten is the fruit which is yellow when
mature. The pulp and seeds are not eaten, but rather the sweet, black liquid that it
produces is sucked on. This plant is considered a snack by children or people traveling to
their fields or amongst communities.
Brosimum guianense (Bere, bread nut, azulillo, mariabe, granadillo). The fruit of
this tree is eaten fresh. It commonly grows in mature forests and their edges. The
regeneration of this tree is very abundant although mature individuals are not very
Psidium guajaba (Ngiba, guayaba). Ngiba is a common plant throughout the
neotropics. Commonly found growing in secondary growth, gaps, pastures, and
roadsides. Its fruits are eaten green and ripe, it is unusual that trees will be planted by the
Guaymi since they grow so abundantly in disturbed areas.
Passiflora vitifola, P. quadrangularis, P. sp. (guate). Guate is a common fruit found
in both disturbed and undisturbed vegetation. Although it is very common, its
consumption is occasional, linked to the accessibility of the plants since these will often
grow up on trees and give fruits out of human reach. There are three species that were
recognized in the wild, all are used in very similar ways. The arils associated with the
seed are eaten directly or made into a refreshment.
Phytolacca riviniodes (Sega, jaboncillo). This is one of the most prominent food
plants used by the Guaymi. It is found gaps within primary forests, roadsides, but with
particular abundance in newly cleared fields bordering primary forests (it is
conspicuously absent in secondary forests and its edges). This plant is easily recognized
by its reddish stems containing betalin pigments (Foster, 2000). The part eaten is the leaf
which is cooked with one change of water to eliminate bitterness (HCN toxins) and then
chopped up into fine pieces and served in lime juice with meals. Sometimes it is also
mixed with eggs and cooked.
Members of Pytolaccaceae have been known to have cancerigenous substances
(Phytolacca americana L.), as is the case of poke weed which is eaten in rural parts of
southern US (Foster, 2000). Care should be taken when consuming this plant, and studies
to determine its toxicity would be useful before promoting the use of this plant. The
Guaymi eat it very often and was the most commonly mentioned plant during the
Le6n (2000) reports the green fruits are used in other places for washing clothes,
hence the common name "jaboncillo" or little soap.
Chrysophyllum brenesii (Suli krie, caimito de montafia). This tree is commonly
found in the primary forests of the reserve. It is appreciated for its fruits and good
construction wood. Although not as popular as Licania belloii, it is also protected when
collecting fruits. Cutting down a caimito tree to harvest its fruits is not well looked upon
by land owners and young men who do that are reprimanded by their elders. The fruit is
Pouteria sapota (Ngomo, zapote).This fruit is very popular. It is only found in the
deeper parts of the mature forests, although it is often cultivated in home gardens. The
fruit is very popular and is eaten raw.
Simarouba glauca (Ruga, aceituno). Although this tree is not very common within
the reservation, the fact that one of the informants mentioned it suggests that it may have
formed part of the edible plants cognitive domain at one point. It is a tree found
throughout the Guaymi territory and it would not be surprising that other Guaymi groups
still consume its edible fruits. Only one tree was found in the reserve during the study.
Cestrum racemosum. (Nulio, zorrillo). Nulio is a small tree that grows in early
secondary growth such as abandoned fields. Although its distribution is wide, it is not
very abundant and is usually found growing alone or in groups of two or three trees. The
parts eaten are the leaves, particularly the young ones. These are taken and boiled,
changing the water once, and then chopped up into "picadillo". They can be then eaten
accompanied with lime juice, or mixed with eggs and fried. C. racemosum is one of the
most popular greens mentioned during the interviews. Sometimes the leaves are eaten
fresh in the field. One advantage it has is that it provides a source of greens year round
since it does not loose its leaves. The taste and texture are similar to those of spinach.
Clavija costaricana Pittier. (Dwo kri, musola). Two different varieties of C.
costaricana were identified. Although telling them apart in the field is quite difficult
when sterile, the Guaymi tell them apart through their distinct flowering period. These
small shrubs tend to grow abundantly in the lowland primary forests. Often their presence
in a secondary forest will show that it is starting to reach its maturity and becoming
similar in structure to the older forests. They are both easily recognized by their single
woody stem less than 2.5 m in height and its clumped leaves at the top. When flowering
C. costarricanaa has extremely attractive flowers and produces very abundant fruits.
During the time of the study the plants were mostly in flower and no fruits were
found. Its abundance and accessibility in the forest under story, however, show that,
when in season, the fruits provide an abundant source of vitamins to the Guaymi. This is
an interesting plant since there are not many under story plants that provide abundant
harvests and synchronized harvests. There may be potential in managing this plant as a
sub-canopy forest product if a market could be found for it. Studies concerning the
nutritional value of these two species and possible products that could be derived from
them would be an interesting line of study.
Urera baccifera, Urera elata (Bugrun, bugo sali). To the horror of many outsiders,
the Guaymi have a predilection for eating the urticating leaves of several species of
Urera, known for their urticating leaves. Two species were collected and, of those two,
U. baccifera is said to have two varieties: one that is arborescent and one that is more
vine-like. The apparently inedible leaves are collected with much care and then boiled in
water to eliminate the urticating substances. Once this is done, they become edible (with
a slightly coarse texture reminiscent of sandpaper) and are very much favored by the
Guaymi as a year-round green.
Unidentified plants two plants were included that could not be collected. The first
one, identified as "za" is possibly a Sapotaceae of the genus Manilkara, judging by the
description of the tree. It has edible fruits similar to zapote (Pouteria sapota.) but smaller,
with milky sap. This plant was not found in the reserve but it may be common in other
regions inhabited by the Guaymi,
The second plant, identified as "ka hude" was mentioned by one reliable informant of
Panamanian origin as being eaten in his homeland and also being present in the Coto
Brus reservation. The name of the plant literally means "underwater plant" and it is a
subacuatic herb that grows in larger rivers attaching itself to rocks. Its growth habit is
said to be a cylindrical, fleshy herb of up to a meter in length. It is said to be cooked and
served as a vegetable along with meals. The reason why it was included was because of
the peculiarity of being a plant that thrives underwater. A crop that could be grown in
rivers would be of interesting potential if it turned out to be confirmed.
No specimens were collected since the rivers were muddied and overflowing due to
high rainfall during the study period.
INTERNAL STRUCTURE OF THE WILD EDIBLE PLANTS COGNITIVE
DOMAIN FOR THE GUAYMI OF COTO BRUS, COSTA RICA
A cognitive domain is not only composed of a list of items, or, in this case, species of
wild edible plants. These species are held in a structured manner, with some having more
importance than others; some are more prominent in the minds of the people that
constitute the culture and some less obvious. There is also a relation between species in
terms of how people think of them, this gives the cultural domain a structure that can be
represented spatially through multidimensional scaling (MDS).
Since a cognitive domain is nothing tangible, it helps to model it to give a better idea
of how it is structured. Mathematics and statistics are a good way of describing the
prominence of different items within the domain. The percentage of informants that
mention an item is, for example, a simple way of attributing importance to a single item.
However, to see the relationships that exist among all items, a matrix is needed. The
problem with matrices is that it is difficult for the human mind to accurately picture the
structure when the matrix is composed of many items (for example the matrix showing
the relation between 20 items would be a 20x20 matrix where it would be very difficult to
see more than two relationships at the same time.
To make matrices more accessible to visual analysis, non-metric MDS was used in
this study. This creates a spatial "map" of the cognitive domain using the mathematical
information from the matrix (Bernard, 1994). In this chapter, the structure of the wild
edible plants cognitive domain is reconstructed from the field information to analyze the
prominence and relative importance of the different species used and how they are
located within relation to one another in the context of Guaymi culture. The hypotheses
are the following:
The wild edible plants cognitive domain is such that it can accurately be mapped
through non-metric multidimensional scaling in two dimensions with a stress level below
There exists a core of wild species, which hold a more important place as sources
of food to the Guaymi of Coto Brus.
The core plants of the wild edible plant domain have a greater diversity of uses
than those in the periphery.
The first step was to take the information from the free listings given by 46 different
informants regarding wild edible plants. This information was analyzed using
ANTHROPAC (Borgatti, 1996).
The basic statistics of the items were obtained. The data were then organized into a
similarity matrix using positive matches as a measure of similarity. The principle behind
this is that those items that are more important will tend to be mentioned more times than
those of lesser importance. Items that are mentioned by more informants will have a
higher probability of being mentioned together with all other items in the matrix. Less
important items, on the other hand, will tend to have a lesser probability of being
mentioned together with all other items. Therefore positive matches of important items
will be higher than those of less important items. Hence, this MDS does not represent any
kind of functional relationship between items, nor does it take into account the order in
which items were mentioned.
To do this, the freelists were organized into a dichotomized matrix where rows were
informants and columns represented each item. Here a value of one showed that the item
was mentioned, while a value of 0 showed the item was not mentioned by that particular
This dichotomized matrix was then analyzed for similarities amongst items. The
measure was, as mentioned, the number of positive matches amongst items (positive
match among items indicates that the items were mentioned together by a particular
informant). The results were then represented in a spatial manner using non-metric MDS
The MDS was then divided into three concentric circles, taking the distance to the
furthest item as the radius for the largest one and the extent of the domain. The other
circles were located using a radius of 1/3 and 2/3 the length of the first one. This was
done to better show the structure of the domain. To confirm tendencies within the MDS,
a cluster analysis of the data was also conducted. This was done again using the positive
matches as a measure of similarity (Appendix C).
The way the items in the free lists are related to one another, as well as their
importance is portrayed in Figure 2-1. In this spatial representation patterns such as
importance (closeness to the center) and tendency to be mentioned together (groupings of
items) can be seen in Figure 2-1 and 2-2 with greater ease than in the original similarity
matrices (Apendix C). Figure 2-2 is a cluster analysis showing the association of plant
species according to their tendencies to be mentioned together by informants.
MOZ ODO KE
NUI ZABGO DOG
-0.72 DRK Y
TU BOI JUD
-1.49 -0.76 -0.03 0.70 1.43
tress in 2 dimensions is 0.147
Figure 2-1. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (2 dimensions) of the wild edible
plants cognitive domain of the Guaymi of Costa Rica, Coto Brus.
*Species symbol key in Appendix B.
MD K C G N OTGB NMZ K ZD DDVBT BDM J MTCRA 3 GKGKM KM 0 B I
OR R U U U B L I N U RI E G A R M U O I O U R I U O R A U P U RN U DI EU D EZ B
Z K I LY I L O T O G M D G B NU GG R I B G R O R O D I G U D A D A U GG R R RAI
4 4 4 2 2 3 31 1 2 3 3 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 2 2 4 1 3 3 3 3 3 4 3 4 4
Level 4 2 3 6 7 1 3 7 0 3 4 6 8 3 2 2 2 5 8 5 5 6 3 8 9 9 0 1 1 0 5 4 8 9 4 5 7 6 4 9 12 0 7 1 6
1 .0000 . . . . . . . .
0.6667 . . . . . .
0 .6 579 . . . . . . . .
0 .6279 . . . . . . . .
0.5946 . . . . XXX . .
0.5556 . . . . ) xx M 000c . .
0.5143 . . . . . X X >C X . .
0.5000 . . . X X . .
0.4286 . .
0.4211 . . . .
0.4000 . . .. .
0.3750 . . . .X x -XxxX -XxOO. < C.Xx
0.3636 . x x xxx x X ..
0.3448 . XX XXYr.. K >M
0.3438 . X XXX M -
0.3235 . .
Figure 2-2. Cluster analysis of the wild edible plants cognitive domain of the Guaymi
of Costa Rica, Coto Brus.
*Species symbol key in Appendix B.
Figures 2-1 shows the Non-metric MDS that shows the relation of species in the
Guaymi cognitive domain of wild edible plants in terms of those most commonly. Figure
2-2 presents the cluster analysis that relates species using positive matches as a measure
of similarity and importance.
The MDS shows the importance of different plants in the cognitive domain as well as
a certain degree of similarity with regards to which plants tend to be mentioned together.
As the name implies, multidimensional scaling can order items in as many dimensions
(2,3,4,5...N) as needed. The more dimensions that are added the less "stress" that the
diagram will have. Stress is a measure of how well the items are relating to each other in
the diagram. A MDS with high stress is not a good representation of a cognitive domain,
and if so more dimensions are needed to represent it graphically. Multidimensional
diagrams (N>2) are more difficult to present in two dimensional format (paper) therefore
it is better to use as few dimensions as possible. An acceptable level of stress is 0.15
In this particular case, two dimensions were needed to adequately place the items in a
low stress distribution (0.147). A three dimensional diagram is the optimal way of
describing the domain since it fits in the items with a minimal stress of 0.108, this
however is less practical for displaying in a written document. The three-dimensional
MDS is presented in Appendix D. This shows not only that the items within the domain
are quite consistent in their relationships with each other, but that it can acceptably be
represented in a two dimensional diagram on paper (even if a three dimensional diagram
The units composing the MDS are arbitrary measures derived from the similarity
matrix used to construct it, they hold no particular meaning for interpretation other than
showing the position of the items with regard to each other. Distance within the MDS
represents the degree of similarity amongst items in terms of which are mentioned more
often and together by informants. Distance from the center of the MDS shows the
importance of each item within the cognitive domain. In this manner, items closer to the
center were mentioned more times by the informants, giving them a more prominent
place within the domain. Items in the "core" of the MDS are those that hold a more
important place in Guaymi culture and therefore had more probabilities of being
On the other hand, items on the fringes of the MDS would show that they are less
important since they were mentioned fewer times and unrelated to the more important
items. Most of these items are species only mentioned by one or two informants therefore
they are not being a very important part of the culture being sampled.
Distance between items is a measure of similarity amongst them, the closer items are
together the more times they coincided in being mentioned together by the informants.
Items that are at a similar distance from the center, but in different quadrants within the
circle show that, although they are equally, important, they were mentioned by different
parts of the population, indicating that the knowledge of them is not evenly distributed
within the population.
The core of the diagram, defined by those items falling within a radius of 1/3 that of
the total domain, consists of 20 species (Figure 2-1). Among these there is a tight core of
plants that not only were mentioned be many informants, but consistently mentioned
together. These will be referred to as the inner core plants. The inner core consists of 5
species with a similarity of 0.5949 or more (Figure 2-2). These species are: Hypolepys
repens, Phytolacca rivinoides, Euterpe precatoria, Licania belloii and Chamadorea
The results coincide with field observations since these plants are among the favorite
wild foods of the Guaymi. In some cases, like L. belloii and E. precatoria, the plants are
not very easily accessible, but the Guaymi will make time to go and collect them because
of their palatability. As for the other plants, not only are they palatable to their taste, but
they are abundant throughout the reserve and provide a good source of vegetables and
greens without much extra labor.
The secondary core plants are composed of plants that are commonly eaten, but are
either not as tasty or available as those in the central core. Although not as favored as the
core plants, it is common to see people collecting them in their fields or on roadsides
when they happen to run into them.
The whole core of the domain contains most of the plants that play an important role
in the Guaymi diet. It provides them with a year-round source of vitamins and minerals
not available to them from other sources.
The second circle of the domain is composed of plants that are only occasionally
eaten, mostly fruits. These plants are not an important part of the Guaymi diet, yet they
still serve to give them a varied diet. Many of these plants are eaten mostly by children,
or sometimes by adults as a snack when out in the fields. Some of these plants are also
not found near settlements but far into the forests of the southern part of the reserve
making them less accessible to the community in general.
Finally, the third circle of the domain is composed of four species. These species are
not important since the knowledge of them is held only by a few individuals. Two of
these plants, identified as "za" and "ka hude" were not found to collect as specimens,
however were included because of the credibility of the sources. Za could to be a tree
from the family Sapotaceae, possibly Manilkara sp, by the description of the fruit, yet
this is not certain. This one was included since it may be more abundant in other Guaymi
territories than in Coto Brus. Ka fiude is a subacuatic plant found in the river (during the
time of the study it was not possible to go into the rivers due to heavy rains). This plant
was included since it is not common to find edible plants that grow subacuatically.
The other plants in the outer ring are plants that, while they can be eaten (Triumphetia
sp and Begonia sp), are considered more medicinal than edible, hence they are a
transition between the wild edible plant domain and the medicinal plant domain.
The variety of edible parts used is greater for the core of the domain compared with
the outer rings. What this shows is that there is a need for variety in types of foods (fruits,
fungi, leaves, shoots, roots, and flowers), Figure 2-3 presents these proportions.
Most of the plants in the outer rings are fruits. They are mostly plants from the
primary forests with which only a limited part of the population comes in contact with
(mostly men hunting), or plants that are sometimes cultivated and therefore not
considered by many as wild.
Since the plants in the inner core are the ones mostly used by the Guaymi, the great
variety of edible uses shows the varied needs that they have for vegetable supplements in
Examining the types of plants in the central core of the domain reveals that there is a
preference for species that produce fruits, leaves and shoots. While there is only one
species of fungi, this one appears in a central position indicating that it is a preferred
food. Also, there is only one type of root; while it holds a prominent position in the
diagram, the main source of roots for the Guaymi is cultivation and not foraging. On the
other hand, plants with edible stems are only present in the outer rims of the domain.
In summary, the Guaymi have a group of species of greater importance to them that
are composed of a very varied assortment of edible uses. There is a less important group
preferred plant part eaten by the Guaymi.
Clusters of species, or species that consistently were mentioned together can be seen
on the MDS (Figure 2-4) and on the cluster analysis (Fig 2-2). These clusters show plants
that were consistently mentioned together. The closeness to the center of the MDS shows
that the cluster was consistent for a greater number of informants while those further
from the center signify a consistent agreement but by a smaller number of informants.
fruit root leaves shoots stem fruiting body flower
Figure 2-3. Proportional number of species according to their use with regards to
distance from the center of the cognitive domain for wild edible plants used by the
Guaymi of Costa Rica.
The cluster analysis gives a measure of how similar the items in the freelists are. An
agreement of one between species shows that every time one was mentioned the other
one was present. Clusters, however, do not take into account the number of informants
that actually mentioned the plants, nor the order in which they were mentioned, therefore
they cannot be used to attribute importance to some species
What clusters do reveal is the distribution of the knowledge of certain plants within
the population. For example, in Figure 2-4, and 2-2, clusters C represents species that
were mentioned consistently by the same informants. The closeness with cluster B shows
that some of the informants that mentioned these plants, likely mentioned the ones form
group B. Cluster D,
-1.49 -0.76 -0.03 0.70 .-43
tress in 2 dimensions is 0.147
Figure 2-4. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (2 dimensions) of the wild edible
plants cognitive domain of the Guaymi of Costa Rica, Coto Brus showing the more
*Species symbol key in Appendix V.
however, is very distant from cluster C, this shows that the informants that did
mention plants in this second cluster, were unlikely to mention the plants in the first.
The cognitive domain is thus composed of a group of plants that is known by most of
the population (Clusters A & B) and two major groups known only by some portions of
the population. These secondary groups (D & C) are a more diffuse, or patchy part of the
cultural knowledge. This may be due to differences in knowledge possessed by age
groups as will be seen in later chapters.
The cluster analysis procedure allows me to introduce numbers and measures to the
tendencies that can be seen in the MDS. Group C is the most constant of all groups,
some species have an agreement of 1.00, that is they were always mentioned together.
However, the fact that only a few informants mentioned these species, and in this way did
not match positively with the greater part of the species, makes this cluster of tertiary
importance in spite of its high agreement. Group A, on the other hand, consists of species
with a high incidence with each other as well as species that were mentioned by a large
proportion of informants. It has an agreement of more than 0.51 and as high as 0.6579.
group B is an extension of group A, with a sporadic agreement between 0.50 and 0.33.
Group D is a more spread up group with little agreement (represented in the cluster
analysis by several peaks) in general it has an agreement of about 0.31.
Finally, there are several scattered species with little similarity to the other groups.
These are either species mentioned alone and in an isolated manner, or species that serve
as transitional points between the main groups.
The wild edible plant cognitive domain of the Guaymi culture of Coto Brus Costa
Rica can accurately be represented spatially in two dimensions through non metric MDS
with a stress level of less than 0.15 (0.149). A three-dimensional MDS is optimal and
allocates all species with a stress of 0.108
The core of the cognitive domain is composed of a group of plants with a diverse set
of uses while the outer rims of the domain are composed mainly of fruits and edible
Plants in the border of the domain are those that are known by a very small portion of
the population or have other uses more common than their edible properties.
Cluster analysis confirms the existence of similar groups in terms of positive matches
during the interviews. Since similarity among species shows importance in this case.
Using the MDS as and cluster analysis the species that form the core, or more important
group of plants are: Chamadorea tepejilote, Cookenia tricholoma, Dioscoria trifida,
Euterpe precatoria, Hypolepys repens, Licania belloii, Phytolacca riviniodes, Urera spp.
ETHNIC IMPORTANCE AND DIVERSITY OF SUCCESSIONAL STAGES,
PLANT PARTS, BOTANICAL FAMILIES AND LIFE FORMS AS SOURCES OF
WILD FOODS TO THE GUAYMI
As is well known, tropical rainforests possess a high biodiversity. This biodiversity
has a potential to satisfy a variety of human needs such as medicine, building materials,
food, fiber, etc. Yet extraction of these products is not dependant only on the forests'
biodiversity but on the knowledge of the cultures that come in contact with it. In this way,
a person belonging to city culture would probably not be able to obtain food from a
rainforest since the knowledge on how to use the available resources is not present to
allow their adequate use.
This ethnic or cultural viewpoint serves as a filter for the humans that interact with
different ecosystems. Even among cultures adapted to the rainforest, some may have
different uses for the same species and rely more on one or another type of vegetation to
satisfy their needs. In this way it is impossible to calculate the value of a certain type of
vegetation or land use without taking into account the cultural perspective from which it
is being approached. A western culture like the Latin culture in Costa Rica does not
posses the ethnobotanical knowledge that indigenous cultures have regarding uses of
local flora. This is why, even if the Costa Rican scientific community may know most of
the species common in its territory, it may see them as useless for practical purposes.
Indigenous communities such as the Guaymi, on the other hand, may know the same
species as botanist do, yet through centuries of trial and error, have found uses that
currently are still not known to scientists and the general Costa Rican population.
Studying this knowledge of cultures that are more adapted to tropical environments
than current Latin American westernized societies may be a great aid in finding new
crops and land use techniques to improve living conditions and the economy of these
countries. Using the knowledge accumulated through trial and error by generations of
aboriginal cultures may save time and money in researching these topics, and helping to
find a practical use for the vast biodiversity of the tropics. Preserving this fragile
knowledge for which the traditional means of oral transmission are being lost because of
modern education and aculturization, is an important step in reaching the most efficient
use of the tropics' biological resources.
The methodology used in this research is designed to evaluate ecosystems not only
from a biological perspective but from the human perspective of a certain group.
Knowing what the values of certain ecosystems are to a culture or group are important for
planning land use change and other development policies. For example, certain types of
secondary forests and fallows that are products of shifting cultivation are not viewed as
productive by western agronomists. This makes shifting cultivation seem like a wasteful
technique that requires leaving land in "unproductive" stages for a long period of time.
From the Guaymi perspective, like many other indigenous cultures (Harris D.R ,1971,
Alcorn 1984, Manner, H.I, 1981, Nyerges, A, 1989) however, fallows are not only used
to return fertility to soils but are also a source of vegetables, fruits, medicine and game to
natives that are normally inaccessible to them elsewhere.
The Ethnobotanical Importance (EI) presented in this methodology is a means to
evaluate the importance of different categories such as successional stages, life form,
parts used, and botanical families to a particular culture. It facilitates comparison of
different ecosystems for ethnobotanical uses such as medicine, craft material, fiber,
building materials, etc. (in this case limited to edible plants). It also helps to compare the
usefulness of an ecosystem between different cultures or groups within cultures (age and
gender groups for example).
The El also helps obtain data that cannot be directly obtained in a quantitative
manner. This refers to the fact that often the value of specific successional stages is not
recognized by people and cannot be easily seen. During the interviews, a large number of
informants would not specify the origin of the species they used. Answers were general
and often encompassing many successional stages as a whole. Although they were very
specific on plant names and preparation methods, many would not place individual
species in a particular successional stage. With few exceptions, most plants were said to
grow "just anywhere (in the wild)", or "in all types of forests". This makes it hard to
obtain the true value of successional stages if it cannot be accessed in detail through
Through the El, the true value of successional stages as a source of food plants can be
determined by putting together cultural data and direct field observation.
Diversity of wild edible plants is significantly higher in mature forest edges than
in other types of vegetation.
Mature forest edges have higher cultural importance than other types of
vegetation as sources of wild food plants.
Mature forests play a central role in the provision of wild food plants to the
Greens are the most important product obtained from wild edible plants by the
Shoots are preferred by the Guaymi as a source of food.
There are certain life forms that are culturally more important than others.
The ethnobotanical knowledge of wild plant species as a source of food by the
Guaymi is a function of their shifting cultivation practices and its elimination may cause
knowledge to be lost.
To determine which plants are being used by the Guaymi free listing of wild edible
plants was used with 46 informants until the informant-species curve leveled off (see
Chapter 1). The salience of each species (see Appendix E) was used to give each species
a cultural importance value for the Guaymi culture.
Then informal interviews were conducted to find out the Guaymi perspectives on
ecological succession. Visits throughout the reserve were conducted to determine the
main types of vegetation present. These were: early secondary succession (0-6 years), late
secondary succession (7-20 yrs), mature forest (20+ years), mature forest edge, late
secondary succession edge. By edge, we mean the area where the specific successional
stage meets a road, farming field or any other major open area. The reason for including
the edges of mature and secondary forests was that, according to informants and through
direct observation, this is where most edible plants are commonly collected. The edges of
early succession were not sampled since their exposure to light, and environmental
conditions do not vary greatly whether on the edge or center of the succession with
regards to the rest of the vegetation.
Similarities in Species Composition of Successional Stage
After the main successional stages were determined they located in the field and
sampled using 10 x 10 m plots to determine the frequency, abundance and diversity of the
plant species that exist there. Sixty such plots were used in this analysis for each
successional stage (300 total).
To compare the species composition of each successional stage, the abundance of all
species was compared amongst successional stages to determine the similarity between
them. This was determined by comparing, for each species present in each pair of
successional stages, the number of individuals per hectare. This was done by finding the
degree of dissimilarity dividing the absolute value of the difference in individuals of each
species by the total number of individuals of that same species in both successional
stages. This dissimilarity was then subtracted from one to determine similarity. In this
way a value of 1 would show that the specie in question was exactly as abundant in both
successional stages making them 100% similar, while a value of 0 would show that the
species is not at all present in one of the successional stages making them 0% similar. All
values in between would show the degree of similarity between the two successional
stages regarding that species.
The similarities of all species present in the successional stages were averaged to
obtain an average similarity between successional stages according to their composition
and abundance of edible species. Equation 3-1 shows the steps taken to calculate
Similarity (S)= 1 I Vni-V n
V ni+ V n2
Average similarity = S (Si_, S_.3 _...
Vtl = number of individuals of species n in successional stage 1
Vt2 = number of individuals of species n in successional stage 1
N = number of species being compared
Ethnic Importance of Successional Stages
From the ecological and ethnic data the Ethnobotanical Importance (EI) was
determined by combining ecological data from the field plots with ethnic information
from the free listing interviews.
Other research methods have been used to measure the cultural importance of specific
plants regarding their popularity and uses (Martin 1995, Alexeides 1996). Many others
methodologies have been created to evaluate the abundance of species in a particular
habitat. However no methods for evaluating the cultural value of the habitats themselves,
based on the importance of plants they contain could be found. Hence this methodology
was designed to fill that gap in a practical manner.
The Ethnobotanical Value for habitats has the advantage that it combines cultural and
ecological data in a straight forward manner. It gives the researcher an idea of what a
specific habitat's value is to a particular culture in terms of how they value those
products. It also weighs each species independently against its own population, allowing
a comparison species with very diverse survival strategies (for example grasses and
trees). It also does not require long term evaluation of production and phenology of the
species and in that way allows for the use of many species without having to research
each in detail.
The El does have its disadvantages though. First of all it does not take into account
the size and production per individual, which may skew the data (for example a certain
species of plant may be equally abundant in two habitats but produce more fruits in one
of them). Also, the use of salience as a measure of cultural importance may lead to
attribute more importance to overly abundant or notorious plants which may not be very
more notorious because its spiny stems are difficult to remove from fields).
In summary this is a proposed method for easily estimating the importance that
habitats (types of ecosystems, types of forests, types of successional stages) have for a
particular culture for one or more uses: as a source of edible plants, game animals, fishes,
fibre plants, types of clays, or any other product that is produced in a wild state.
The El is calculated as follows. From the free listing a value of Salience was
calculated for each species using Anthropac (Borgatti, 1996). This value was used as a
measure of importance of each species to Guaymi culture. This assumes that the salience
of each species is linked to its importance as a food plant (which was the topic of the free
list) and not to other qualities of the plant.
The number of individuals per hectare of each species was determined by
extrapolating the individuals found in the sampling plots.
Next, the proportion of the population of each species that exists in each type of
vegetation was determined by dividing the number of individuals found in each type by
the total of individuals found during the sampling. This would show what percentage of
the population of each species is found in each type of vegetation.
These proportions where then multiplied by the Salience of each species to weigh
them with a value of ethnic importance. The resulting numbers show the importance of
each successional stage with regards to its content of plants pertaining to one particular
species. The use of proportions helps to compare populations of different types of plants
(for example large fruit trees with low frequency and abundance vs. small leafy herbs
with high frequency and abundance). The sum of the products of all the species
proportional populations and their salience values is the ethnobotanical importance of
that type of vegetation (El). This can be interpreted as the importance of each type of
vegetation in providing food plants according to the culture's value of the plants. For this
purpose Equation 3-2 was used to determine the importance of each habitat.
EI = ethnobotanical importance for a particular successional stage
S = Salience
x = the individual species
N = the total number of species
n = the number of plants per hectare of each species
The El allows for permits comparison of the value that particular successional stages
have to different gender, age or cultural groups.
Equation 3-2 was repeated to compare the importance of botanical families, plant
parts and life forms. The categories used for life form were: herb, shrub, palm, tree,
fungus, and vine. The categories used for uses were: leaves, shoots, roots, immature
flowers, stems, seeds, and fruits. The only difference is that the El did not include a value
for n (number of individuals per category). the calculation of the El for each category was
calculated using Equation 3-3.
El = Y (S)
S = Salience
x = the individual species
N = the total number of species
The accuracy of these results depends on the accuracy of the free listing as well as
that of the sampling plots (See Appendix F). The average probability of the species not
having significant differences amongst successional stages was 0.074. As for the
accuracy of the cognitive data, the informant/species curve shows that about 84.12% of
the species composing the cognitive domain were covered. In this way, the results for the
Ethnobotanical Importance can be described as having a significance of 0.074 and
covering about 84.12% of the edible plant species in the Guaymi's edible plant cognitive
Diversity was calculated using both Simpson's and Shannon's diversity indices.
Simpson's diversity index was calculated using the Equation 3-4.
D = 1- (Y ((n)(n-1)))/((N)(N-1)))
N = the total number of species
n = the number of plants per hectare of each species
This shows the probability of two individuals taken from that sample of belonging to
different species. Shannon's index, which is another measure of diversity, was calculated
using Equation 3-5.
Shannon's Index (H) = (n/N)*ln(n/N)
N = the total number of species
n = the number of plants per hectare of each species
These results analyzed through a Kruskal-Wallis test for significant differences (Hoft,
Spatial Relation Between Abundance of Wild Edible Plants and the Distance to
To determine if there is a relationship between the abundance of wild edible
plants and the distance to the nearest point of habitation, a linear regression was run using
180 field plots located in mature forests.
All plots, households and internal roads within the reserve were georeferenced using
a GPS. Based on this data, the distance from each plot to the nearest point of habitation
was calculated. A linear regression using the abundance of each one of the edible plant
species found in each plot and the distance from the plot to the nearest household was
The average similarities between successional stages regarding species composition
are presented in Table 3-1. Similarities take into account the number of individuals of
each species that the habitat has in common.
Table 3-1. Average
corn nositi on
similarities between successional stages regarding species
Early Old Mature Mature Secondary
secondary secondary forest forest edge forest edge
Early 100% 25% 11% 14% 30%
Old 25% 100% 22% 32% 40%
Mature 11% 22% 100% 24% 17%
Mature 14% 32% 24% 100% 41%
Secondary 30% 40% 17% 41% 100%
The Simpson's diversity index for wild edible plants was calculated and compared
through an Kruskal-Wallis analysis (Table 3-2) and the results are presented in Figure 3-
1. Significant differences were found for diversity as measured by Simpson's diversity
Table 3-2. Simpson's diversity index for species of wild edible plants used by the
Guaymi in five different types of vegetation (Kruskal-Wallis analysis).
Sum of Expected Std Dev Mean actual
treatment N Scores Under HO Under HO Score value
succession 60 7322 11280 767.30 122.0 0.30
Table 3-2. Continued.
succession 59 9976 11092 762.09 169.08 0.42
primary forest 112 21663 21056 957.91 193.413 0.47
edge 60 14233.5 11280 767.30 237.22 0.56
succession edge 84 17305.5 15792 872.61 206.01 0.47
Figure 3-1 presents the differences in Simpson's biodiversity indices for the five
different types of vegetation sampled. Figure 3-1 shows that the vegetation with the
greatest biodiversity was the mature forest edge. It is followed by mature forests and
secondary forests and their edges which have similar values. The least diversity is found
in the early secondary forest. Shannon's diversity index gave similar results regarding
significant differences between habitats.
Figure 3-2. presents the Ethnobotanical Value for each of the successions that were
evaluated according to the value that the Guaymi attribute to the plants that grow in them.
The Kruskal-Wallis analysis shown in table 3-3 shows that there are significant
differences for the ethnobotanical importance of the different types of vegetations.
Further analysis for these variables showed there are three groups with significant
differences among them (Figure 3-2).
Figure 3-3 presents the ethnobotanical importance of the different life forms used by
the Guaymi. According to these results, Guaymi culture values palms and vines more
than any other life form. Fungi and shrubs were the least important life forms used as
sources of food.
0.10 0.20 0.30 0.40 0.50
simpsons average diversity index
Figure 3-1. Average of Simpson's diversity index for edible plants calculated for five
types of vegetation. Brackets show groups with no significant differences among them.
02 04 06 08 1 12
14 16 18 2
Figure 3-2. Ethnobotanical importance of five different successional stages of
vegetation as sources of wild edible plants for the Guaymi of Costa Rica. Brackets show
the groups with no significant differences among themselves.
Table 3-3. Ethnobotanical Importance of five different types of successions (Kruskal-
Sum of Expected Dev Mean
treatment N Scores Under HO HO Score
growth 60.00 8,427.50 11,310.00 771.78 140.46
succession 59.00 10,094.50 11,121.50 766.54 171.09
Mature forest 113.00 22,843.00 21,300.50 966.26 202.15
edge 60.00 15,127.50 11,310.00 771.78 252.13
edge 84.00 14,383.50 15,834.00 877.82 171.23
fungi shrub herb palm vine tree
Figure 3-3. Ethnobotanical importance of life forms used by the Guaymi for food.
Figure 3-4 presents the ethnobotanical importance of the different types of foods
(parts used) provided by wild edible plants to the Guaymi. According to these results
fruits and shoots are the most culturally important plant parts used. Seeds and stalks, on
the other hand were not very important to the Guaymi in the sense that there were not
many species that provided them and also that the ones that did, were not very prominent
in the free-listings.
seed stalk fruiting body immature
root leaves shoots
Figure 3-4. Ethnobotanical importance of plant parts used by the Guaymi.
Spatial Relation Between Abundance of Wild Edible Plants and the Distance to
No significant relationship was found between the abundance of edible plant species
and the distance to habitation. All the R2 values for the species studied were less than
There are to many external factors that influence the distribution of species that
were not taken into account in this study; for example a constant elevation change from
500 to 1500 meters above sea level, differences in humidity, differences in soil types, and
presence of seed dispersal vectors. There was insufficient data to conclude if whether
there is or not a relationship and a more detailed study with this objective would need to
be conducted to determine the role of distance from habitation on the abundance of edible
Similarities in species composition
Taking into account the successional stages' species composition and the number of
individuals per species, the edges of both mature and secondary forests are the most
similar types of vegetation, with 41% similarity in their composition.
On the other hand the most dissimilar successional stages are mature forest and its
edges with regard to early secondary growth (11 and 14% respectively), which makes
them the most dissimilar successional stages.
The reason for this is that the main limiting environmental condition is sunlight.
Plants that grow in the mature forest and its edges are subjected to greater amounts of
shade than those in early growth. When comparing older secondary successions and their
edges to early successional vegetation, a great number of species are still present and
thriving from the early stages, this gives them a 25% and 30% similarity respectively.
Also, the environmental conditions of light, humidity and temperature are more similar
between these successional stages and early successional stages.
In this manner, older secondary forests provide a transition in terms of species
composition between mature forests and early growth. Even so, the edible plants that
grow in secondary forests are only 25% similar to those in early successional stages and
22% similar to those of mature forests. This means that none of them can fully substitute
for the other as a source of wild food plants and that, although secondary forests are a
transitional phase between early successions and mature forests, they provide the
successional stage for particular species that are not provided by either of the two
Mature forest edges are, on the average (18%), the least similar to other successional
stages. This interphase between the closed canopy of the forest and the clear cut farming
fields or provides the necessary variation in successional stage for plants with very
different environmental needs to coexist in a small area. Both K strategy species (shade
tolerant and with slower growth rates) and R strategy species (fast growing and
dependant on bright light) can be found here in extended areas not normally found in
natural forest gaps. This coexistence between plants with different survival strategies
makes mature forest edges much less similar to all other types of vegetation where only
one survival strategy predominates.
Secondary forest edges are very similar to mature forest edges (41%), but very
different from mature forests (17% similarity). The reason for this is that they started off
as an early secondary forest where all the species from the older growth were removed
without having had the conditions to regenerate. This is why secondary forest edges show
so much similarity to other successional stages (32% on the average) and so little
similarity to mature forests.
One important aspect of forest edges is not only their abundance of species, but the
fact that they are the most accessible source of food plants for the Guaymi. With few
exceptions such as Licannia sp and hearts of palm, few Guaymi will actually go into the
forests with the purpose of seeking wild food plants. As mentioned before, incursions
into the mature and older secondary forests are done either for hunting or for clearing for
new plots. Instead it is at forest edges where most of the wild plant collecting is done.
One of the most noticeable features of mature forest edges is the presence, in great
abundance ( up to 1623 individuals per ha), of Phytolacca riviniodes. This is among the
most important plants used by the Guaymi, and, although it was found in secondary forest
edges as well, it was only found in large quantities on mature forest edges. Early and late
secondary growth, as well as the mature forest itself, contained this species only in
isolated individuals. A similar, if not so dramatic case is that of Brossimum guianense,
Inga spp, Dioscoria trifida, Passiflora spp, Spondias mombin, Tetragastris panamensis,
Carica cauliflora, Byrsonyma crasifolia, Thobroma bicolor, and Chamadorea tepejilote.
These plants have a greater abundance in mature forest edges than in any other
Secondary forest edges are somewhat similar to mature forest edges, and some
important food plants find them to be an optimal successional stage. Such is the case of
Carludovicapalmata, Cestrum racemosum, Heliconia spp, and Urera spp.
Early successional stages are not particularly diverse, however they do provide the
successional stage for certain plants such as Hypolepys repens, and also for the seedlings
of plants that are typical of the older secondary forests.
Certain plants, even if they are found in the mature forest edges, are only found in
their greatest abundance in the inner mature forest. Such is the case of Clavija
costaricana, Licania belloii, Pouteria sapota, Garcinia madruno and all the heart of
Species Diversity of Successional Stages.
The biodiversity of food plants used by the Guaymi was calculated using Simpson's
diversity index. According to the Kruskal-Wallis test for this index (Table 3.2) for a 0.95
significance, there were three main groups that did not show significant differences in
theirs of species diversity (Figure 3-1).
The first group is composed only of the early secondary growth and older secondary
growth, with the lowest diversities at 0.30 and 0.42. Although both of these successions
have a great abundance of biomass, the edible species found there are not very diverse.
Secondly there is a middle group composed of older secondary growth (0.42), mature
forests (0.47), and edges of older secondary growth (0.48). This group has a mean
Simpson's index of 0.46 and moderate diversity of edible plants.
The final and most diverse group is the edges of secondary forests which have no
significant differences with the mature forest and secondary forest edges. As mentioned
before, mature forest edges provide an area where species from all other successional
stages can be found coexisting in a relatively small area. Its diversity of 0.56 is due to the
combination of pioneer plants taking advantage of the cleared space and bright sunlight,
mature forest plants which appear as remnants of the original vegetation, and older
secondary growth plants that can thrive in the transition between cleared and closed
canopy. The main difference between this type of vegetation and the secondary forest
edges is the absence of remnant plants from mature growth, hence its superior diversity.
It is noteworthy that a higher diversity in a successional stage does not necessarily
mean it is more important in ethnobotanical terms, it merely shows that there are many
useful plant species in it. A less diverse area could be more important ethnobotanically
than a more diverse one if those few species were of wider use. To do this, the cultural
importance is a variable that must be added into the analysis.
Also, the diversity indices are not only related to the ecological conditions of the
vegetation, but also (if not more so) to the culture that is being studied. This means that
diversity of wild edible plants is also dictated by the preferences of the culture that uses
the plants. In this case, the adequate interpretation of Simpson's diversity index is that the
plants used by the Guaymi are more diverse in the disturbed successional stages,
particularly mature forest edges. This means that their knowledge is richer in such types
Ethnobotanical importance of successional stages as sources of food plants
After evaluating each type of vegetation according to the edible plant species and
their respective salience values in Guaymi culture, I found that the most important
sources of plant food for the Guaymi are mature forests and their edges (Figure 3-3). Of
these types of successional stages, edges in particular, have a very high ethnobotanical
importance to Guaymi culture. This is confirmed through the Kruskal -Wallis analysis
shown in Table 3.3. Mature forest edges have significantly more importance (a = 0.05)
with all other successions. Mature forests, older secondary edges and early successions
have no significant differences between and are therefore considered equally important.
Finally, the least important succession in terms of wild food plants provided is the older
secondary growth, which is significantly different from the mature forest and primary
forest edges in this respect.
While edges combine the plants from mature forests with those from early
successions in a small area, mature forests contain several plants which are found
scarcely or not at all in any other successional stages.Licania belloi, and all the hearts of
palm are good examples of this.
The existence of mature forest edges is rooted in the agricultural cycle of shifting
cultivation. The fact that most of the plants that the Guaymi value come from it is not a
coincidence but more likely an adaptation of their culture to the part of the forest that
they come in contact with more often. The constant clearing of forest patches for
farmlands implies that the Guaymi will spend most of their working days in contact with
mature forest edges more than with other types of natural vegetation cover. This comes
from the fact that the shifting cultivation cycle favors the clearing of mature forests over
younger ones to provide richer soils that have had a greater fallow period. Hence, cleared
fields are more likely to border mature forests rather than secondary ones.
Early and older secondary forests are not commonly entered but are still in accessible
places where the Guaymi pass on the way to their active fields. Mature forests, however
are usually not entered unless for specific reasons, such as hunting, which is not an
everyday activity. Even if it is not as common for the Guaymi to enter the mature forests,
the plants there are highly valued foods (hearts of palm and fruits for the most part).
As the Guaymi have adapted to modem conditions and technology, their contact with
the mature forest and their dependence on it have diminished and they spend their time
farming rather than hunting and foraging. This implies that their contact with natural
vegetation covers is more often because of its role in the farming cycle. As a result their
contact with disturbed vegetation (forest edges) has increased. The diversity indices and
the El show the culture's focus on mature forest edges.
In this way, it is probably not that disturbed vegetation produces more plants that are
edible to humans, rather that the modem day Guaymi, thorough their more constant
interaction with disturbed vegetations, have come to use more of the plants that grow in
them. As can be seen in Figure 3-1, the diversity of edible plants from the mature forest is
high (0.47), this means that the knowledge of edible plants from it exists and quite
abundantly, it is just that, as is the these species are not considered to be as important for
every day consumption as plants found in more accessible parts of the forest. Many of the
plants in the mature forests are considered delicacies, such as heart of palm and Licania
belloi, or snacks such as Inga spp., and Clavija costaricana. This is why even if mature
forests and secondary forest edges have similar diversities of edible plants, the value of
mature forests is still higher. On the other hand, plants from the mature forest edges such
as Cestrum racemosum, Phytolacca riviniodes, Hypolepis repens, and Urera spp. among
others, are part of every day diet since people can bring them from the fields or roadsides
at any time.
Although mature forests do not have as much importance as their edges, they are
essential in an indirect way. First of all, there would be no mature forest edges if there
were no mature forests. This means that although the forest itself is not as important
source of food (since it does not provide everyday foods but rather specialty foods), it is
essential in creating the unique edge environmental conditions that are required to
maintain the most important and diverse source of food plants and that cannot be found
elsewhere. Also, many of the species found as remnants in the edges, only regenerate
under mature forest conditions (hence the lack of similarity between secondary and
mature forest edges). Mature forests also serve as sources of seeds for plants in secondary
successions. Clearings within the forests are populated with small colonies of secondary
forest plants that serve as a source of germplasm needed for the succession cycle of
One good example of this is the distribution of P. riviniodes. Even though it is a plant
that thrives in highly disturbed sites, it is only found in great abundance as a pioneer at
the edges of mature forests. It is not found in early successions since it does not seem to
compete very well with more aggressive species, and it is seldom found in older
secondary successions. In contrast, it can be found sporadically in gaps within mature
forests from where it seems to spread fairly quickly when a farm plot is opened near it.
In the cycle of shifting cultivation the most productive stages in terms of wild food
plants are the extremes: the mature forest and their edges and the early secondary growth.
The older secondary forests serve as a gap, or transition for mature forest species to
regenerate yet they do not provide the proper conditions for disturbance vegetation to
In conclusion, under the Guaymi perception of importance of plants, it is not possible
to identify one type of vegetation as a more important source of food plants than others
without looking at the fact that all these are linked to one another in the cycle of shifting
cultivation. Mature forests are a source of seeds and K strategy species, early
successional stages provide the successional stage for pioneer species and for the
seedlings of important species of the older stages. Secondary forests provide their own
assortment of edible plants while creating conditions for the K strategy plants of the
mature forest. Finally, the edges of these successional stages, provided by constantly
opened shifting cultivation plots, not only provide a combination of all these
environments but an interphase where humans commonly interact with them and obtain
The role of shifting cultivation is central to this system in that it is the main source of
disturbance, creating the successional stages for the species to grow as well as preserving
areas in various regeneration stages. Furthermore, it is also the source of contact between
the Guaymi and the vegetation since it creates the edges that are most important for the
Guaymi as a source of food plants. The variety of plants favored by the Guaymi are those
that are also promoted by the slash and burn cycle.
A culture's farming techniques shape the environment and vice versa. The high
rainfall, high diversity of pests, soils with rapid loss of fertility of the area have led the
Guaymi to favor shifting cultivation as a technique. This practice, in turn, has affected the
environment by creating sharp gradients between disturbed and undisturbed vegetation.
As a reaction, the Guaymi culture has also adapted to these self generated changes by
using the diversity of plants found in these types of vegetation.
The growing demand for land by the increasing Guaymi population and their
incorporation into the market economy dictates the adoption of more permanent uses of
the land such as cattle, coffee, cacao and other cash crops, and also immigration to urban
areas. This means the current system, where the mixture of disturbed and mature
vegetation creates the environment for these wild edible plants, may be endangered and
with it the ethnobotanical knowledge of these and other non timber forest products.
This is the case of the Guaymi of Coto Brus, Costa Rica, but the principle could be
extrapolated to other cultures reliant upon shifting cultivation and under similar
socioeconomic conditions as the Guaymi. It is likely that other cultures would have
developed a similar relationship with their environment relying more on the vegetation of
the forest edges than on exclusively mature or secondary forests. Further studies are
needed to confirm this hypothesis.
As with the case of the Huastecs in Mexico (Alcorn 1981), the successional stage that
surrounds the Guaymi, even that considered as mature forest, is an anthropogenic
vegetation. Even though the management for wild resources may not be as conscious as
that of the Huastecs, or as it might have been in the past of the Guaymi, the plants that
compose each successional stage are all influenced by the swidden cycle of agriculture. If
this management could become more conscious to Guaymi society, then a better
utilization of resources could be achieved.
Ethnobotanical Importance of Life Forms and Uses of Wild Edible Plants
Life forms with greater importance for the Guaymi as sources of food are herbs and
trees. Herbs contain important, commonly used plants with a prominent place in the
edible plants cognitive domain. Trees, although in general have a lower cultural
importance than herbs, are very numerous in terms of species. The large number of tree
species that are used as sources of food (Figure 1-5) put this life form category in a
prominent place. Tree products seem to increase as the succession matures, and
inversely, the importance of successional stages decreases as this happens. Vines are the
third most important life form. The palm category, although abundant and with important
uses, possesses few species, therefore its importance is diminished as a source of food.
Finally, shrubs and fungi are the least important life forms in Guaymi culture.
The importance of herbs as a source of food is also linked to the Guaymi's preference
for plants from disturbed vegetation. Most of the herbs used for food are pioneer species
that thrive in the edges of forests.
The plant parts that the Guaymi favor as food and collected from the wild are shoots,
fruits and leaves (Figure 3-4). The inaccessibility of vegetables and fruits from outer
markets probably plays an important role in this choice of products. Most of the crops the
Guaymi grow are roots, grains, or cash crops. The need for greens and vegetables is
supplied by the wild vegetation.
Seeds and stems are the least favored plant part by the Guaymi. This may be due
either to the lack of edible stalks and seeds, or to the satisfaction of this necessity from
Mature forest edges are the richest type of vegetation in terms of being a source of
food to the Guaymi.
Primary forests and their edges are the most important types of vegetation that
serve as sources of wild food plants to the Guaymi.
Since the most important sources of wild food plants are the mature forest edges,
the cycle of shifting cultivation plays an important role in providing these foods to the
Guaymi since it is what generates this type of vegetation.
Trees, although individually do not tend to be very important wild food plants,
have a diversity of species such that they are the most important source of wild foods for
Fruits, because of the high number of species available to produce them, are the
most culturally important source of wild foods.
Shoots, although not as diverse as fruits in terms of species that produce them,
hold significant importance to the Guaymi and are the second most important (culturally)
source of wild food plants.
PERCEPTIONS OF IMPORTANCE OF SUCCESSIONAL STAGES AS A
SOURCE OF WILD FOOD PLANTS AMONG DIFFERENT AGE AND GENDER
During the field work for this research, differences in the knowledge of wild food
plants were observed among age and gender groups. It is logical to think that the Guaymi,
as many other indigenous cultures are losing their ethnobotanical knowledge. The reasons
for these are many: aculturization of younger generations, the breaking of oral
transmission systems for information, the incorporation into a market economy that
favors monocropping of more valuable cash crops over diverse subsistence crops. These
are only a few examples of possible reasons for the loss of traditional ecological
knowledge. As a result of this loss of knowledge, it is hypothesized that younger
generations will tend to value wild vegetation less than their elders since they lack the
information needed to transform the plants therein into useful products.
As for gender as a factor of ethnobotanical knowledge, it was observed that Guaymi
culture in particular, does not promote the incursions of women into more forested areas.
Instead, they are limited to farm fields, home gardens, and secondary vegetation of
roadsides. Men, on the other hand, are the ones who commonly bring in wild foods, and
go into the forests to hunt and gather. Based on this observation, it was hypothesized that
men would posses a higher degree of knowledge of edible plants in general and value the
mature forest as a source of food plants than women.