While it is nigh impossible to capture the essence of a person as engaging as Dr. Schultes, HerbalGram invited several of those who knew him to share their impressions.Editors
In 1980, I left a small mountaintop village in Costa Rica, where I had lived for the better part of a year, to study botany and ethnobotany in Cambridge with Professor Richard Evans Schultes. The move from complete isolation to such an intense center of global activity was somewhat intimidating. I will never forget when I first climbed the Botanical Museum stairs, past a hundred years of botanical historydried plant specimens, traditional artifacts and crafts, and piles of scientific reprintsand knocked on Professor Schultes door. Hoping for a moment with this great man, I was immediately ushered into his office where he spent the next hour, along with another student, discussing his work in the Amazon Valley of Columbia. I was most impressed and surprised that he would drop all of his days work to speak with a young student, to listen to ideas, and help shape my future plans in his gentle, fatherly way, much like the tribal elders he was so dedicated to.
To his students he offered one of the greatest gifts that a teacher can give: opportunity. He was not the kind of professor who would hold his students hands, except to navigate some of the complex political waters of Harvard. As a result, his students were independent, took initiative, and could face successfully the multitude of problems that would develop during their fieldwork, mostly in remote tropical regions. These were essential survival skills for coping with life, I was to discover. My fieldwork followed in the Professors footsteps through Columbia, where I was to hear time and time again legends of this great man from the (now) elders who had worked with him 40 years prior. Richard Evans Schultes: scientist, teacher, mentor, father and friend, has left an extraordinary legacy. I offer his family my gratitude for allowing him to share his life with us.
Michael J. Balick, Ph.D.
F.L.S., Philecology Curator and Director, Institute of Economic Botany
Vice President for Research and Training, New York Botanical Garden,
Bronx, New York
While doing my undergraduate studies in forestry, I wrote to Dr. Schultes about ethnobotany. Not only did he respond enthusiastically but he also came to Syracuse, New York, to lecture passionately about the topic and invited me to visit him at the Botanical Museum. His dedicated attitude during these initial experiences was repeated throughout our association. He provided personal attention and offered opportunities to those interested in pursuing ethnobotany and economic botany.
Also, he instilled in us the appreciation of the importance of plants to people across time and culture. Not only did he draw on contemporary knowledge about plants, but he encouraged us to know the explorers who blazed the trails ahead of us, to consult historical documents and codices as well as to interpret the archaeological plant remains.
Dr. Schultes felt that the significance of plant-people relationships could only be appreciated through interdisciplinary studiesa concept that he not only promoted among students but also defended despite the specialization trends of Harvard Universitys educational program. Ethnobotanists continue to benefit from his example of collaborating with anthropologists, linguists, historians, geographers, chemists, pharmacognosists, pharmacologists, medical doctors, plant taxonomists, to name but a few.
Perhaps the most significant contribution Dick provided us is what has been labeled today as bioprospecting (despite its erroneous association with biopiracy). He was a fervent promoter of the concept that the knowledge of plant-human relationships should not only benefit humankind, in general, but also the guardians of that knowledge (in many cases, indigenous peoples), in particular. The employment of plants goes hand in hand with the conservation of plants and human culture as well as sharing the benefits.
Robert A. Bye Jr., Ph.D.
Director of the Botanical Garden,
Institute of Biology,
National University of Mexico, Mexico City
I think the great contribution of Professor Schultes to the numerous students he inspired was his deep respect for indigenous peoples. He deeply believed in the dignity of all people, and had a special respect for the wisdom and humanity of indigenous peoples.
Professor Schultes respect for others also included students, for whom he had a special affection. At Harvard, I was studying the breeding system evolution of tropical trees and lianas. while Professor Schultes was not on my committee, I had a deep respectalmost an awefor him. You cant imagine what it is like to be just another little graduate student, hiding in the bowels of the biolabs, and receiving, by special courier, a summons to Professor Schultes office. When I arrived, he said he had heard that I spoke several Polynesian languages, and encouraged me to do ethnobotany as well. How could I turn down such a request? Later in my career, when it looked like no one in the world was interested in plant-derived medicines, it was Professor Schultes who encouraged me to go to Europe to meet Laurent Rivier, the famous forensic toxicologist who went with Schultes on the Alpha Helix up the Amazon, and Bo Holmsted, the world authority on arrow poisons. These contacts led to life-long work with many collaborators in Europe, particularly Sweden.
Like so many, I owe much of my career as an ethnobotanist to this wonderful man who always had time to encourage a student. I shall miss him greatly, and know that this world is a much better place for his being here.
Paul Alan Cox, Ph.D.
Director, National Tropical Botanical
Garden, Kauai, Hawaii