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Plants and People of Nepal

Plants and People of Nepal
Narayan P. Manandhar, with the assistance of Sanjay Manandhar
Timber Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 599 p., $69.95

Plant collecting in Nepal for scientific research began just two centuries ago. Due to its remote location, difficult terrain, extremes of climate and topography, and political policy of isolation, there were — and still are — almost insurmountable difficulties faced by plant collectors challenged by the wide diversity of vegetation. Narayan Manandhar has spent a lifetime in Nepal acquiring traditional local knowledge of plants and their relationship to the people of his native land, an invaluable asset to his study of botany, ecology and anthropology.

Manandhar was assisted in the preparation of Plants and People of Nepal by his son, Sanjay. In his book, the ethnobotanist identifies more than 1,500 kinds of plants, approximately one-fifth of the entire Nepalese flora. Classified by botanical and common names in both English and local dialects, each plant is described by its characteristics, methods of propagation, distribution and uses. To aid the reader, the genera of plants are grouped further by utilitarian categories, such as food and medicine, and by their use in individual ethnic communities. Also helpful are a glossary of medical and plant terminology, a biographical reference and indexes containing both common and scientific names. Illustrations and some color photographs further enhance the book.

The plant explorer’s tale of how he gathered this data is awesome. Recognizing that past knowledge of medical uses of plants is fast disappearing as ethnic communities become more exposed to outsiders, he has spent a lifetime in dedicated research. He went on arduous treks by foot several times a year for more than 30 years, traveling from the tropical vegetation along the Indian border to the alpine zone in the Himalayas. His intimate knowledge of the 60 ethnic groups within the country aided him in developing a successful methodology in his scientific research. (This methodology should serve as a guide to plant explorers all over the world.)

Plants and People of Nepal has a much broader application than providing a review of indigent plant materials. Manandhar's remarks on the conservation of plant resources and the history of deforestation in his country are enlightening. Governmental policymakers could gain greater insight into the problems of third world countries through a review of his recommendations on appropriate forest policy. Travelers to Nepal should also read it, as the information about the country and its people has more detail than could ever be found in travel literature. Highly recommended.

— Marilyn K. Alaimo, garden writer and volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden